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Sudan Memory Project – Background

This summer, I am working with an organization called the Sudan Memory Project. Based in London, the project works with Sudan to digitize hundreds of thousands of historical Sudanese material that has come under threat due to neglect and political turmoil on the ground in Sudan. I knew that I had to be a part of this project. As one of the most diverse and culturally rich countries in the world, preserving Sudanese memory is something that is key to the history of the world. Some of the most vital parts of Sudanese culture includes tradition, ceremony, language, poetry, art, drama, music and dance. Sudan is one of the richest countries in Africa as it was home to the earliest kingdoms and civilizations south of the Sahara. The world knows much about other ancient civilizations, but not much about Sudan.

Why Digitization?

Digitization will help show the riches of Sudan to the world–and to itself. Many citizens are ignorant of the greatness of the history of their country. Schoolchildren and their elders can benefit greatly from easy access online to their rich heritage. We have to learn from history. Twenty years ago, the library in Sarajevo was burnt to the ground with the loss of 3 million books and hundreds of thousands unique documents. Much more recently, two libraries in Timbuktu and Mali, were set on fire by jihadist rebels. Luckily, many of the most precious manuscripts had been smuggled away, but some loss still occurred. If the world’s cultural heritage can be digitized, the loss of the objects themselves, though unfortunate, need not mean the loss of culture. In the case of Sarajevo, the loss of culture was severe, but this must not be allowed to happen in Sudan.

My Role

After speaking with Marilyn Deegan, the project supervisor and my manager for the summer, I felt many things. There were so many moving pieces, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed and nervous. How could I, a college student, work on such a pivotal project and actually make adequate change? It is such important work what this organization is doing, and I wanted to make sure that I could help in any and every way possible. Thus far, I have been reading different documents and familiarizing myself with the different aspects of the project’s website as it is truly elaborate and a tad confusing to navigate in the beginning. After reading so much documents about the history of the project and the country, I think that I am most excited to begin researching some of the pieces that I have been tasked with writing a bout. In addition to this, I have been tasked with using different educational institutions in this country to hopefully find more sources of historical material for the site.

Initial Observations

Although I should not have been surprised by this, I was very much surprised to hear about the different obstacles that the project has faced since its establishment in 2013. One of which has been the constant search to secure long-term funding for the future of the project. Another of which is the political turmoil that the country has faced in recent years. The recent change in regime has forced the organization’s leaders to navigate the changes in people in key government roles. A high turnover rate can mean that different people who inherit the role are ignorant of the project. This places the organization back at square one in the relationship with that specific government department. Often, the project is met with skepticism at the idea of granting access to Westerners in a country with such an extensive  colonial past. I think that I am a bit worried about how the split of the country into Sudan and South Sudan will impact the project. How will the project navigate ensuring being able to adequately represent the culture of both while acknowledging the separation?