Digital historical research and the repositioning of Africa in knowledge production

by Bernard Kusena and Miriam Zhou

12 Apr 2021
Journal of the British Academy
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Number of pages
14 (pp. 243-255)

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Abstract: Africa’s historical knowledge production has exhibited promising signs of progress, particularly in strengthening the continent’s weak link in the global knowledge network. While such knowledge ought to intersect and interact with other bodies of knowledge from the rest of the world, the terrain is shifting quickly due to changing historical circumstances. This study deploys a case study of Zimbabwe to illustrate how the slow digital transformation in historical research has hindered efforts to confront the overarching question of constrained knowledge production in Africa. The over-reliance of economic history, archaeology, or history on the use of centralised state archives poses complex methodological challenges, particularly for the study of the recent African past. Despite the advantages offered by digital humanities, the research options for these disciplines continue to shrink in the face of serious discomfort by academics in embracing digital sources of data that complement paper-based archival evidence and re-gear the continent’s research performance. The article stresses that the sources of historical data, particularly on Africa’s post-colonial history, can be found in digital form outside state repositories.

Keywords: Digital humanities, archival evidence, repositories, knowledge production, digital historical research.

Article posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 9, supplementary issue 1 (Repositioning of Africa in Knowledge Production: Shaking off Historical Stigmas).

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