Archives and oral history in the past and present struggles: Practices and Experiences from the Middle East and Southern Africa

Beirut, 10-13 January 2023
Venue : Ifpo and Institute for Palestine Studies

Middle Eastern and South African scholars have for many years elaborated ideas and practices to recover, interpret and disseminate histories on their own terms. Cognisant of the problems with official archives, many scholars turned to oral history to produce new and counter-hegemonic histories, particularly by centering the experiences of subaltern and marginalised groups. This approach also engendered new practices of the co-production of histories with subaltern communities previously erased from dominant historiographies and excluded from the process of producing their own histories. Public history thus became a central focus of the work of scholars who sought to transcend the boundary between universities and communities/publics, and to bring community spaces more centrally into the making of histories. An equally significant dimension of this work has been the creation of new, independent archives that are integral to the coproduction of histories and also draw on innumerable collections belonging to individuals, families, communities, movements and various emancipatory movements.
Over the past year scholars and practitioners in the inter-related fields of Public History, Oral History and Archives have convened to interrogate and reflect on their respective research and experiences in South Africa and the Middle East. Participants from Birzeit University, History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand, Institute of Palestine Studies, IFAS, Ifpo (Beirut) and OMAM (Université libre de Bruxelles) have initiated a partnership that aims to share ideas and
experiences from their varied contexts. At a very successful workshop held in Johannesburg in May 2022, it was agreed to strengthen the emerging partnership through further engagements, including a seminar series, workshops and joint research.
In our second workshop in Beirut from 10-13 January 2023, three activities acknowledge progress in building a scholar team around this important topic – politics of archiving. First, during two days, core group present paper dealing around two main issues. First, archiving implied institutions that through their regulations and positions, affected access, conservation, capacity to give voice or silence them. Also, a serie of papers will question the relation between archiving and set of institutions. Second, how researchers in a difficult environment, create an archive. Their positionality and ethical concerns affected how they kept, recorded, collected, offered or destroyed their material. These two broader issues show the three dimensions under consideration: documentation in the making, institutions and researchers. Apart from this important discussion, the present meeting will help the core group expand their scope and interest. First, a group of PhD
candidates will investigate how their fieldwork echoes these concerns, highlighting how research in the making is also a way to think about archiving. Second, scholars and activists will present  archiving projects that put aside state institutions and focus on the local stage as a central place to develop a new polity. Egypt, Lebanon, Lesotho, Palestine, South Africa, Namibia, Iraq and Syria will consequently enter into dialogue.
This activity will not be possible without the support of the CNRS and its “Initiative for Africa” which aims to connect teams around the continent and allow scholars from the Global South to discuss and bring French and European institutions into the debate.