Monthly Archives: March 2014

South Sudan National Archives: New country, New Paperwork

In this post Nicki Kindersley discusses the creation of the South Sudan National Archives, highlighting how the collections will not only help to inform academic research but could also serve as an important ‘nation-building’ project. Nicki worked as a coordinator for the South Sudan National Archives project from mid-2012 until mid-2013. You can find out more about her work for the archives and her PhD research on her blog

South Sudan is not an obvious country to have a national archive. The country became independent in July 2011, after decades of civil wars and maladministration. Most administrative towns were violent garrison bases, and the capital city, Juba, has seen its paper history stuffed into sacks and stored in basements and sheds for thirty years.

The continuing semi-existence of these regional government papers, the oldest of which date back to 1901, is due to Douglas Johnson’s efforts in the 1970s and early 1980s, when he spent his post-doctoral fieldwork (and some of his Fulbright cash) on collecting the papers that survived the first civil wars across South Sudan, under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture in Juba. By 2006, after the second civil wars ended in 2005, the papers were collected into a tent in the centre of the city, where they continued to rot in sacks and piles. Termites have enjoyed a good portion of South Sudan’s historical record.

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Members of the South Sudan National Archives project begin the process of sifting and organising the country’s historical record © Nicki Kindersley

The salvaged documents are unfortunately fragmented, but they still make up 100 years of the history of attempting to govern southern Sudan. The strength of the collection is from the 1930s to the end of the 1970s, spanning the first civil war, with just under half the documents in Arabic. Some of the most valuable material is on law, traditional justice and local courts; internal and international borders and raiding; ‘tribal’ files on local issues at district level; and hundreds of government files on security and intelligence, documenting local resistance and collaboration in the first civil war and the lead up to the second civil war, when the documents end. These files are immensely valuable – particularly the District government files, which provide detail unavailable in any other collection, and which was previously thought to be lost. They are counterpoints to correspondence, personal records and more generalised, province-level administrative records in the Sudan Archive Durham and Khartoum.

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 The history of South Sudan on the move © Nicki Kindersley

The papers – which now constitute the South Sudan National Archives – are probably the least-loved, and most bizarre, “development project” in South Sudan today. But South Sudan needs these papers. As well as providing a surprisingly still-full and detailed history of southern Sudan’s local politics and conflicts since the beginning of British “pacification” and administration in the 1900s and 1910s, they form the basis of a national institution that could provide educative support for the country’s universities, an evidential basis for on-going border disputes and inter-ethnic conflicts, the foundation for the proposed national museum, and most importantly, a communal and inclusive foundation for national solidarity and shared experience. It is rare to find a “nation-building” project that has such substance.

In 2012, after two trial projects excavating the papers and training local Ministry staff, the Rift Valley Institute (RVI), in collaboration with the South Sudanese Ministry, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and US Ambassador funds, the Norwegian government provided funding for a six-month project. With the Director and staff of the then-National Archives, I worked as the coordinator on a massive rescue project, sorting and handlisting the papers, and (with the RVI) digitizing the most valuable documents, to thwart the march of the termites.

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The USAID tent, which from 2006 provided the first post-war home for the archival collection © Nicki Kindersley

The archives, which were fully handlisted and roughly searchable by the end of March 2013, are now in semi-permanent storage in Juba, with an interim building nearing completion, and a design for a final National Archive building completed. The archives consist of some 10,000 files, of which around 60,000 pages have been digitized. The greatest success of recent work has been the training and organisation of a core National Archives staff, led by director Youssef Onyalla. The dedication of the inspectors Thomas Becu, James Lujang, and Nyarek Yohannes has meant that, despite extreme violence in South Sudan since the end of 2013, the work of digitization and preservation has continued – in contrast to the abandonment of the archives in the previous civil wars.

Further Advice on Writing a Post-Doc Proposal

Following on from our successful post on how to write a post-doc proposal, we’ve some further helpful advice from Paul Woolnough, who is the Research Development Manager and Stakeholder Lead for the ESRC at the University of Exeter. Paul has considerable experience of managing institutional funding applications, as well as helping academics to develop successful research proposals. Paul also works closely with early career researchers at the University of Exeter to develop applications for the ESRC’s Future Research Leaders scheme, so his advice is based on his extensive knowledge of how to plan and write a successful proposal:

Are you eligible? For competitions targeted at early career researchers, it’s important to check your eligibility, which is measured in various ways for different schemes. For example, ESRC’s Future Research Leaders can support applicants up to four years from the point of their PhD submission. For AHRC, a minimum of two years postdoctoral experience is expected with a maximum of eight years or six years from your first academic appointment. Usually, eligibility is measured from the date of your submission to the scheme submission date but if in doubt, check with your research office and/or sponsor contact points. Career breaks for child care and periods of illness are normally taken into account in relation to eligibility and adjustments can be made. Also, there can be differences on employment rules at the point of applying – these differ between ESRC and AHRC for example.

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Different schemes have different eligibility criteria, it’s important that you apply to the scheme that best suits your research profile.

Outputs: This varies according to the expectations of different disciplines but generally the stronger candidates have published, and sole-publications are particularly valuable. A candidate’s outputs are a crucial measurement of their progress towards future 4* attainment in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This is an issue to consider when assessing whether the timing is right for you and your current portfolio. It is best to consult with your academic mentor or Director of Research about what would be expected for your stage of career. Resubmissions are rarely requested now by sponsors given demand management imperatives and the high demand for early career schemes, so applying at the right time, with the right profile is crucial.

Balance between academic ideas and intellectual leadership: Although your research portfolio is an important factor, the keys to a successful proposal are the research ideas and the the research design. As David Thackeray suggests in his post, the balance between academic ideas, innovative methods and evidence of intellectual leadership has narrowed considerably. There also needs to be clear evidence of career progression and intellectual progression milestones – such as awards, presentations, activities within your research area, quality publications, impact activity and external responsibilities with stakeholders – all of which will make you stand out as a leader of your field in the future.

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Research Councils, such as the AHRC, are increasingly looking for proposals that combine innovative research design with impact activities. Seek advice from colleagues and non-academic partners about the type of activities that will make your project stand out.

Planning: Planning is essential in order to be competitive for Fellowship schemes. Utilise university research offices, find an appropriate academic mentor with the right mix of intellectual profile and interpersonal skills and time. Some schemes, such as the ESRC Future Research Leaders competition, stipulate that your PhD supervisor cannot supervise you post-doc. project. You should also find out who has been successful in the last 3 years at your HEI for the scheme you are considering and ask them how they found the process. Think about your research questions well ahead of time and how they address gaps in the field and how your design will best enable you to realise your objective. Have a clear vision on who the project would benefit – academics and particularly non-academics. All projects DO have impact, however theoretically-led they might be! Again, most HEIs employ impact specialists, so seek out their advice. Above all, your mentor and research office can help you find an internal peer review network to test your research ideas and design, as well as offering helpful suggestions on how to improve your research profile