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Reanimating cultural heritage in Sierra Leone


The resource provides global digital access to over 4,000 Sierra Leonean objects, images and sound recordings. This material was largely hidden away in museum stores and low on museums’ priority lists. Many of the artefacts had been housed at museums in the UK, including the British Museum, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums, World Museum Liverpool and the British Library Sound Archive. The project encouraged museums to prioritise the digitisation of these collections, providing access to much of the material for the first time. A further 2,000 objects from the Sierra Leone National Museum – which previously had no accurate record of its collection – were digitised. Beyond providing access to the objects, this complete written and visual record of the collection significantly improved its security.

In 2013, the British Museum held a 3 month exhibition focusing exclusively on Sierra Leonean collections, inspired directly by the project. The six week exhibition attracted approximately 67,000 visitors and was selected for the British Museum’s ‘History of the World’ tour to Abu Dhabi, Japan and Taiwan in 2014.

Professor Paul Basu (University College London), the project leader, has subsequently been appointed as an official advisor to the Sierra Leone Monuments and Relics Commission, and is currently assisting the Sierra Leonean government formulate new cultural heritage legislation.

Launched in October 2011, the resource not only preserves Sierra Leone’s heritage by creating a digital archive, it also 'reanimates' forgotten objects by showing them alongside contextualising videos, images, sounds and other media. The majority of the videos were made by Sierra Leoneans themselves, thereby fostering a sense of shared ownership in the project and ensuring local perspectives are brought to the fore.

Mural painted by Julius Parker on the wall of the Sierra Leone National Museum promoting the www.sierraleoneheritage.org digital resource.  Credit: Paul Basu

Sierra Leone’s Director of Cultural Affairs said the project had led him to recognise the importance of the Sierra Leone National Museum and the contribution it can make to national development. The museum now attracts increased press coverage and high level functionaries at openings and events. The Museum’s higher profile has even resulted in a change in staff employment conditions and pay.

For more information on the project visit: www.sierraleoneheritage.org

Gateway to Research Project Links: Reanimating cultural heritage: digital repatriation knowledge networks and civil society strengthening in post-coflict Sierra Leone (Feb 2009 – Feb 2012)