Conducting Research at the National Archives in Tanzania

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Getting there: The archives are located on Vijibweni Street in Dar es Salaam’s CBD. If you are coming from anywhere around Mikocheni, Namanga or the Peninsula, you can take a dala dala heading to posta (which, in October 2016, costs 400 shillings, or 25 from Namanga). Get off at ‘Aga Khan’, cross the street and follow Ali Hassan Mwinyi around the curve. Take your first right up Magore street & then your first right after that onto Vijibweni Street (see here on Google Maps). You’ll walk a few minutes down the Vijibweni and the archives will be on your left. Alternatively, if you are primarily in Dar es Salaam to access the archives, you can stay in Upanga or Kisutu, and simply walk to the archives everyday. There are plenty of hotels (both upscale and budget) in the area, as well as a handful of hostels (such as the YWCA).

What you need: As a foreign researcher, you will absolutely need to have your research permit from COSTECH in order to access the archives. When I was waiting for my research permit to be processed I brought a letter from the research institution I was working with, as I had read that foreign researchers could recieve short term access if they brought a letter from their local institutional affiliate. Be aware that this is no longer the case. You absolutely must bring a photocopy of your permit with you to the archives.

When you arrive: When you get to the archives you will sign in at the front desk. No bags, or drinks (including water) are allowed within the reading room, so you must leave your bag in one of the available lockers. However, you may bring your laptop, phone, notebook and pencils into the reading room. I recommend bringing a folder to help you organize notes, and keep loose papers organized.  The reading room is a single room, with a long table in the middle where researchers sit. The first time you arrive, you must provide the photocopy of your research permit & one of the archivists will set you up. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes.

Accessing files: This is where the process gets tricky, and time consuming. The archives have not been digitized, so there is no searching by keyword, and easily coming up with the relevant files. Instead, you have to roll up your sleeves and start digging through the physical record books. The record books are kept on two shelves within the reading room, and it takes a serious time committment to work your way even through these books. The records books themselves are not ordered, so your best bet is simply to pick a starting place and work your way from left to right, top to bottom. Each record book itself contains a list of files, related to either a single subject matter (such as education) or a single region (such as Mara). However, maybe half the records are well labelled, so it occassionally takes some flipping through each record book to realize the subject. Unfortunately, many of the record books are also falling apart at the bindings. You can order up to five files at a time. The extremely friendly archivist will provide you with a blank sheet of paper. Make sure you write down the accession number, as well as the file number and name. I once neglected to write down the accession number (usually printed at the top of each section of the record book, and was never able to find the record book that I had been going through again. Once you have ordered the files, you wait, and you hope that the files you want can be found by the archivist, or are indeed held at the National Archives. I am interested in the history of welfare policies in the Mara region, but approximately two-thirds of the files from the Mara region seem to be missing, including the files on the border councils between Kenya and Tanzania that I so desperately wanted to access. I am sincerely hoping that the archives in Kenya have the border council records, and that their holdings are better organized.

Reading/recording files: I find that there is something extremely satisying about a stack of old files being placed gingerly in front of me. Digging through the archives feels akin to a treasure hunt; searching for those valuable nuggets of data is both exhilirating and exhausting all at once. I sat in that reading room for hours upon hours, carefully turning pages of handwritten and typewritten notes dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, trying to decipher notes scribbled in the margins. Each gentle turn of the page (some of the pages seem to almost disintegrate under my touch), potentially brought new, useful data on colonial-era social welfare policies. You can take all the notes you want on the files, and honestly, after four days of taking handwritten notes, I brought my laptop with me and regretted not bringing it earlier. You can take up to five photos of each file. Of course when the files range from five to over a hundred pages, this sometimes requires assidious note taking for the files that happen to be both extremely relevant to your research and incredibly large.I recommend going through the entire file before choosing the documents you want to photograph. It can be helpful to bring strips of paper to mark potential documents that you may want to photograph.The five photo rule is strictly enforced by the archivist. If you want to take photos, you must first ask an archivist, who will come stand by your side as you take photos. The young archivist and I got into a steady routine and so one day he had stepped aside to help another researcher, while I was still taking my five photos. One of the senior archivists happened to come into the room just at that moment, and promptly (and angrily) demanded why I had not asked permission first. So, out of respect for the archives, the archivists, and the researchers that come after you, please follow the guidelines!

Practical information: The reading room is only open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. For more information, please see the Tanzania Records and Nation Archives website. If you are not finished with certain files when the reading room closes for the day, there are shelves where you can store the files you are currently working with. The archivist will provide you with a sheet of paper to write your name and “in use”, which you will then place on top of the files. A simple, but effective system!

Technology for the archives: Personally, I recommend Evernote for helping organize your notes and photos of documents from the archives. I have a notebook “Tanzania National Archives” that has notes from each file I have consulted, and the corresponding photos. I have labelled and can search each file, which will (hopefully) make consulting these files while I am writing much easier. I have Evernote on both my laptop and phone so I can easily sync both my notes and the photos I take.

 

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