Department of Anthropology and African Studies publishes new online database on African independence jubilees

Users worldwide now have full digital access to about 16.000 pictures and data collected in collaborative research on the independence jubilees in twelve African countries


Based on the work of its postgraduate research group "The poetics and politics of national commemoration in Africa" the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has started a new online picture database on "African Independence Jubilees." The online archive is now publicly accessible. It provides scholars conducting research in relevant fields access to more than 16,000 images of material collected in the course of fieldwork in twelve African countries over the last couple of years. In 2010, a group of graduate and doctoral students under the direction of Carola Lentz, Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies, JGU, conducted fieldwork on the independence jubilees in different African countries and explored the partly government-controlled, partly popular politics of commemoration. Most of the pictures in the new online archive "African Independence Jubilee" result from this project.

Since October 2009, six doctoral students at the JGU Department of Anthropology and African Studies have been collaborating in the postgraduate research group "“The poetics and politics of national commemoration in Africa” on topics such as nation building and the poetics and politics of national commemoration in Africa. In cooperation with a group of Master's students, also supervised by Carola Lentz, comparative field research was conducted in 2010 on the golden jubilees of independence in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mali, and Nigeria, as well as on the twentieth anniversary of independence in Namibia. This allowed for unique insights into national cultures of commemoration and political celebrations in Africa. A collectively designed research program provided the basis for a comparative analysis of African national memories at work. The documentations of the 50th anniversaries of Ghana (2007) and Tanzania (2011) round off the archived materials.

As part of the archiving project, conducted over a period of almost over two years and also supervised by Carola Lentz, the ethnographic data collected on the independence jubilees was sorted, compiled, and assigned both brief descriptions and key words by Helen U. Okafor, an anthropology student and student assistant at the JGU Department of Anthropology and African Studies. The project was made possible by funding provided by the Research Center of Social and Cultural Studies Mainz (SOCUM) and the Department of Anthropology and African Studies. Annette Holzapfel-Pschorn, Director of the Desktop Publishing Group at the Mainz University Center for Data Processing, created the intelligent web interface. Depending on the browser's language setting, users may enter via an English or German language platform. The image descriptions, however, are mainly in German. The full-text search function enables the user to easily conduct general searches within the 16,000 digital images and the text data. It is also possible to carry out targeted and combined searches in the categories "document," "newspaper," "object," and "photograph."

The online archive allows users to view more than 12,000 photos of the different events that were part of the official jubilee anniversary programs as well as other events that also celebrated the nation in some way. The photos include depictions of the anniversary parades, cultural displays, theatrical performances, concerts, torchlight processions, conferences, and football matches, but also of election-campaign events or other national holidays like Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of Pentecoast, or the Journée nationale du drapeau (national flag day). Users may also access photos of approximately 500 documents pertaining to the organization and the contents of the independence day celebrations, including posters, flyers, book excerpts, brochures. There is also a photo documentation of approximating 3,000 newspaper articles taken from several daily newspapers held in various national archives.

The online archive also includes catalogues of documents and "gray literature," i.e., literature and material not published commercially and thus not widely accessible, as well as of newspapers and objects that were also collected in the course of the Mainz research project on the recent African independence jubilees. The about 150 documents of gray literature and 6,000 newspaper articles on the independence jubilees and commemoration of national history, including articles taken from more than 150 local African newspapers mostly in English and French, but also in Afrikaans, German, Malagasy, and Swahili languages, can be accessed for study at the Library of the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Mainz University. Approximately 150 objects produced as part of these commemorations, such as paraphernalia featuring the anniversary logos and merchandise items, are preserved in the department's ethnographic collection and may also be accessed for on-site study.