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Libraries, archives and the construction of (historical) knowledge : interrogating British holdings of archives and ephemera on twentieth-century Africa.

'Unnatural selection?  The political materials collections in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS)' by Danny Millum

The Commonwealth political ephemera collection was begun in 1960-1961 with material continuing to be collected up to the present day.  The Commonwealth Political Party, Trades Union and Pressure Group Materials collection consists of over 13 000 items from more than sixty countries, including most Commonwealth member nations and from some of the Dependent Territories of the UK.  There is also a substantial amount of material from some countries before they became independent (such as Rhodesia and Nyasaland).  For periods where countries left the Commonwealth material continued to be collected, most significantly for the purposes of this paper in the case of South Africa.  In addition there is a small amount of material from countries (for example Angola) that are neither Commonwealth members nor were British colonies, but were colonies of other European imperialist countries.  This paper begins by describing the collection in more detail, obviously concentrating on the African holdings, before discussing the policies and processes which have shaped and continue to shape the collection from the original intention simply to place "special emphasis on primary material" [1] .  Evidence for these processes will be sought both in the library archives themselves (from the "data regarding the context of creation" [2] ) and in the contents of the collection itself. 

This evidence concerning the nature of these holdings will then be interrogated to ascertain to what degree they can be considered to be archival in the conventional sense of the word, and recent post-modern approaches to archival methodology which question the assumptions which lie behind archival practice and use will also be introduced.  For instance, Canadian archivists Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook stress the need to understand "records and archives as dynamic technologies of rule which actually create the histories and social realities they ostensibly only describe" [3] , whilst Harris [4] raises the concept of the  'archival sliver' [5] , a metaphor for the limited and refracted view of history that archives give. 

Ideas of how the acquisition processes and organisational policies of an archive help construct the context in which individual items are used as sources will then be applied to the analysis of individual items from the collection, augmented by reference to the theories both of other studies of ephemera and those of printing techniques and visual methodologies.  Interpretations by archivists of the writings of Derrida on deconstructionism will be introduced.  Thus it is hoped to elucidate a method of approach to collections such as that at ICS wherein an appreciation of the archive as a whole feeds in to the analysis as historical source material of the items within it.

Interrogating the collection as a whole:

The collection is principally made up of two types of record.  Firstly, policy documents such as manifestos and policy statements, speeches and articles by prominent figures, printed resolutions, constitutions and members' handbooks.  Secondly, material produced for election campaigns, consisting of pamphlets, leaflets, posters, sample voting papers, badges, stickers and the like.  The holdings are arranged first by country, then by type of organisation (political party, trades union, pressure group), then by name of organisation and finally at an item level in chronological order.  Although recently collecting has recommenced, the majority of the materials date from the period between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.

Perhaps half of the material in the overall collection originates from or is concerned with Africa.  More than 5 000 items are held from at least 200 South African organisations, as varied as the African National Congress, the Herstigte Nasionale Party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the End Conscription Campaign and the National Union of South African Students.  There is also material from other Southern African organisations like the Botswana National Front, the Lesotho Congress Party and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress.  The main political parties of each country in Central Africa are also well represented, and there is also material from many smaller political parties, trade unions and pressure groups.  Items are held from 70 organisations in East Africa, including the Democratic Party of Uganda, the National Resistance Movement (also of  Uganda) and Chama Cha Mapinduzi (Tanzania), whilst the West African holdings consist of materials from about 75 different bodies, such as the Convention People's Party (Ghana), the National Convention Party (The Gambia), the Dynamic Party of Nigeria and the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria.

The development of the collection and the collecting policy can be traced through the Institute's Annual Reports, which as indicated above first allude to this material in 1961, when it is reported that "a beginning has been made in building up a collection of documents on political parties in the Commonwealth ... Many of the parties approached have responded generously and it is hoped to expand the collection as quickly as possible" [6] .  That the acquisition of materials in a coherent fashion would not necessarily prove straightforward quickly became evident, especially with world events moving apace: "As increasing numbers of Commonwealth countries become independent new problems are arising in obtaining material for the Library." [7] It also becomes clear that a pro-active approach to gathering material was adopted at an early stage, as evinced by a 1968 description of a visit by staff to Ghana and Sierra Leone which proved to be "extremely useful, as it was possible to establish many personal contacts and collect much elusive local material for the library." [8]

The difficulties involved in building a collection of this kind at this time were discussed by Valerie Bloomfield (ICS librarian at the time) in a piece on 'African Ephemera' [9] .  In it she stresses that such ephemera are unlikely to appear in a national bibliography, even if such a thing exists, and as a consequence the librarian must rely on "periodicals and newspapers, press digests, conference and seminar papers and word of mouth" [10] , the deduction of the existence of material from an event such as an election, and strong co-operation with the research worker actually in the country in question.  Another factor identified as influencing the composition of such a collection is the difficulty of acquiring materials in the vernacular, as "many publications in African languages are ephemeral in that they are printed on local presses in very small runs and go out of print rapidly". [11]   Indeed, apart from in the case of Tanzania where Swahili was the official language very little non-English material was collected [12] .

In addition to this ongoing process the collection was also augmented by the University of London-sponsored Southern African Materials Project (1973-1976), which aimed to "survey existing holdings, make recommendations for filling gaps and for locating and acquiring a range of research materials". [13]   These materials were deposited at both the ICS and at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and only items meeting certain criteria were added to the political ephemera collection.  This included material from "ZAPU, ZANU, FROLIZI, PAC, ANC, NDP, BCP, COREMO, FRELIMO, UNITA, MPLA [14] , Unity Movement of SA, and others ... [which is] comparable to what is in the Political Parties collection at the ICS and would fit into it very easily - consisting of press releases, annual reports, pamphlets, circulars etc, much of it mimeographed". [15]   As a consequence of the project not only was the collection in this area significantly enlarged, but the ICS "now maintains a co-ordinated programme of acquisition of earlier and otherwise unobtainable African materials". [16]

By the time the electronic cataloguing of the political ephemera was undertaken in 2003 this "co-ordinated programme" had lapsed, with material at best being collected on an ad-hoc basis and with items often being added to the collection solely on the grounds that they were physically too small for the main library sequence [17] .  The influence of staff continuity, or lack of it, on a collection such as this cannot be underestimated given the importance of the maintenance of personal contacts often developed through informal, extra-institutional networks.  A start has been made in re-activating the collection, and priority is being given at present to the identification and down-loading of material from the web-sites of organisations for whom there are already holdings.  It must of course be borne in mind that as it is the larger, more sophisticated organisations which maintain accessible websites their materials are more likely to be collected.

There are thus a variety of factors shaping the development of the collection in question.  The response of local groups, the changes brought by independence, the success of personal ephemera-gathering trips (although these were relatively rare), the difficulty of obtaining vernacular materials and the availability of funding for programmes such as the Southern African Materials Project all affected the question of which material was eventually deposited at the ICS, with the aforementioned project augmenting the collection only in those areas in which it already had strengths.  Thus the pre-existence of collections at different London institutions was itself exerting an influence on how these collections later grew.  A final important factor was revealed when the 2003 cataloguing project was begun, namely that without institutional support for an agreed collection policy such a policy could easily fall into abeyance and collecting cease.

Having summarised the contents of and information about the collection the question of how far these holdings of political ephemera can be considered to constitute an archive now arises.  In Theo Thomassen's (lecturer in archival science at the Netherlands Archiefschool) article 'A First Introduction to Archival Science' an archive is defined as consisting of records, regarded as constituting "information generated by coherent work processes" [18] and is itself considered to have "the function of documenting work processes" [19] .  The archive has both a physical and a logical dimension, but it is the latter that is most important to maintaining archival quality.  Records may be physically relocated, but with the use of finding aids it is possible to maintain a coherent representation of the relationships between those records.  In addition, it is vital for that information regarding the processes that created the records also be kept.  Thus archival methodology stresses "respect for the structure (the principle of the original order) and the context of creation (the principle of provenance)." [20]

It is clear the collection here neither resembles the archive described as being generated by work processes nor demonstrates a respect for original order, though with regard to provenance a set of card files was kept recording all the approaches that were made to each organisation [21] .  The materials in the collection are discrete items produced not to provide a record of the operations of an organisation but most frequently to appeal to the outside world on behalf of the organisations producing them.  Their initial arrangement when deposited has been disregarded, and they have been arranged to fit in with the pre-existing order of the collection [22] .  That this is a collection of individual units rather than an organically inter-related archive is made clear by the method chosen to catalogue them - as library items rather than using hierarchical archival descriptions.

These factors ensure that the collection here is even more open to the above criticisms of the model archive, given that these are frequently concerned with debunking the perception of the archive as a neutral representation of a process and that it has been demonstrated that the acquisition and categorisation of the ICS political ephemera holdings have already been strongly affected by external factors and subsequent interventions in the organisation of the collection.

The main thrust of these arguments is that hitherto archivists have refused to recognise the importance of their role in shaping "historical scholarship, collective memory, and national identity" [23] as a consequence of their tasks is appraisal and selection of archives, description, preservation and use.  The archive is a site on which power relations are contested (this idea is explored below in a discussion of the ideas of Verne Harris), and the assumption that this is not so means that the consequences of these contestations are accepted as value-free collections of documents to be mined for historical truth.  Schwartz and Cook reveal how the collection, weeding and reconstruction of medieval archives served to give prominence to certain figures and events at the expense of others, and how archives have excluded the role of women from society's collective memory. [24]  

It is easy to see how processes such as these may have taken place in the assembly of the collection under discussion here.  The very decision to begin collecting political material assumes the value of this type of material produced by these kinds of organisation, as opposed to that produced by private individuals.  Secondly, there is the question of which organisations are privileged by the collection process.  Whilst the majority of material was collected by means of regular scrutiny of current press, press digest and journal sources [25] , it has been seen that some material was gathered as a consequence of personal contacts, which may have led to the arbitrary inclusion or exclusion of groups dependent upon a serendipitous meeting, and must certainly have favoured urban African organisations over less accessible rural groups.  Many smaller organisations would have had no means of supplying materials to or billing foreign countries [26] .  The advantage of having a London-based office or branch should not be overlooked - certainly many of the African National Congress (ANC) items held in the collection came from here rather than from Africa.

An example of how the archive is a site on which the competition for western support among African parties is represented can be seen in the case of Namibia (South West Africa).  The two major groups opposed to South African occupation were the South West Africa National Union (SWANU) and the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO).  In 1976 the UN recognised the latter as the sole representative of the will of the Namibian people, and SWAPO have ruled Namibia since 1990.  The collection contains three times as many items from SWAPO as from SWANU, and none from SWANU following the controversial 1976 decision.  Thus it is revealed how the collection policy may be shaped by external factors, in this case the decisions of the international community, and consequently clear that histories written using the collection may be more likely to present SWAPO's eventual hegemony as inevitable than would have been the case had materials been collected on the basis of different priorities.

Harris argues that archives both express and are instruments of prevailing relations of power using the example, particularly pertinently for this paper, of South Africa.  He suggests that whilst "characterisation of apartheid's archives system as being one controlled by whites and preserving services to whites is an over-simplification ... it captures nevertheless the essential character of the system." [27]   Apartheid used its control over educational and cultural institutions, including the archive, to legitimise itself - records which reflected the viewpoint of the white state and served to support its claims to legitimacy would be privileged whilst "a vast simmering memory of resistance and struggle was forced away into informal spaces and the deeper reaches of the underground." [28]  

The existence of two fundamentally different discourses in apartheid South Africa and the privileging of one by contemporary archivists inevitably shattered any illusions their post-apartheid successors might have had as to the neutrality of the archive.  However, Harris worries that whilst this has been accepted, South African archivists have not necessarily grasped his concept of the 'archival sliver'.  The 'archival sliver' acts as a metaphor for the idea that the preservation of all of a country's records would still only provide a sliver of a window onto the experience of that country, and that with the loss of records through deliberate and inadvertent destruction that sliver shrinks still further.  Extending the metaphor, "the window is not only a medium through which light travels; it also reflects light, transposing images from 'this side' and disturbing images from the 'other side.'" [29]

Harris intends to show that the necessarily incomplete archive is affected by many actors, including archivists selecting and ordering the records and the researchers using them to write history.  Archival records are not a fixed mirror reflecting reality, but rather participate in the ongoing process of memory formation.  As such, the concept of the archive must also be re-evaluated.  It is not enough to replace one narrative with another, to substitute for archival practices complicit with the apartheid regime a set of practices that simply seek to correct this bias in the archival record. The very criteria for determining what constitutes a valid archival source will affect what kind of story of the experience of the country the archival record will support, for these criteria are part of the images transposed from 'this side' of the sliver.

Harris is particularly concerned about the neglect of oral history, both in terms of its exclusion from the archive and in terms of trying to force it to conform to the same structures applied to written sources, ignoring its essentially fluid nature. [30] This is a particularly appropriate in terms of the collection under consideration here - again, the use of the ephemera here as a source for the construction of knowledge privileges those groups and individuals who wrote, and who in general wrote in English, and downgrades the historical importance of those whose political activities were either conducted or reported and transmitted orally.

Furthermore, it can be argued that the collection policy adopted by the ICS has led to the accrual of material weighted towards the anti-colonial meta-narratives that Harris warns about when he talks of "using our exhibitions, posters, pamphlets, and so on to tell the story of ... the struggle against apartheid, or of nation building, or of transformation." [31]   The reliance on the personal contacts [32] built up by a liberal institution collecting material from and about what was fast-becoming a 'pariah state' could be seen to be likely to marginalise "racists more than reformers" [33] as Schwartz and Cook would put it.

Examining the materials from South Africa partially vindicates this theory.  There are over three hundred items originating from the ANC held in this collection alone, and over one hundred from the PAC, as well as numerous other materials from smaller anti-apartheid parties and pressure groups.  In terms of legal white parties allowed to stand in elections there are substantial holdings from the National Party of South Africa, the Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Herstigte Nasionale Party van Suid-Afrika amongst others.  Whilst in terms of the size of their political constituencies this level of representation for parties representing white voters seems proportionate, in terms of political clout it may be questioned why there is more than three times as much PAC as National Party material.

The application of these ideas to the ICS political ephemera collection shows how the acquisition of material can be prejudiced in further, subtle ways beyond those inherent in the collection's failure to adhere to the conventions of the classical archive model.

Interrogating the collection at an item level

Discussing the collection as a whole and in terms of organisations raises a question as to what is assumed of the content of the items themselves.  There is a danger that in looking for general patterns amongst the pamphlets these assumptions will mean that one simply finds what one is looking for, superimposing theories over a more complicated whole and ignoring those aspects of the material that appear not to support the argument that is being advocated.  For example, it was assumed above which narratives will be represented by different pamphlets produced by white settler and by anti-colonialist parties.  As Ann Laura Stoler, a critic of this broad brush approach, states, "Assuming we know these scripts ... diminishes our analytic possibilities.  It rests too comfortably on predictable stories with familiar plots." [34]

Stoler is concerned with the colonial archive, specifically the nineteenth and twentieth century archives of the Dutch authorities in the Indies, a state-produced collection of documents both recording and informing the administration of the colony.  As such, this is a very different body of material to that which is being considered here.  However, the importance that she places on re-reading the archive "for its regularities, for its logic of recall, for its densities and distributions, for its consistencies of misinformation, omission and mistake - along the archival grain" [35] can also be applied to the political ephemera.  Rather than assuming what a pamphlet or poster represents it is necessary to at least acknowledge, if not challenge, those assumptions by turning the attention from the collection as a whole to individual items within it.

Bearing in mind that the remit of this paper is to interrogate the way in which the collection serves as a site for the construction of historical knowledge, these individual items will be considered in terms of the influence upon them of the archival practices discussed and critiqued above and in relation to ideas developed in previous studies of ephemera which will be detailed in a moment.  However, in keeping with the post-modern rethinkings of the archive that have already been described, the approach to the individual pamphlets will also be informed by some of the deconstructionist ideas which have recently been taken on board by some writers on the archive.

Brien Brothman, an American archivist working at the Rhode Island State Archives, has sought to make clearer to those working in this field the relevance of the ideas of French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida.  According to Brothman's interpretation of Derrida, the concepts of deferral and difference argue firstly that meaning can only be conferred on a piece of writing by a subsequent reading and secondly that words have no intrinsic meaning, but that "meaning arises from the internal differentiations among a network of signs in a language system" [36] .  The combination of this ensures that the meaning of a text can never be fixed - the meaning is deferred awaiting a subsequent reading, and in the time that elapses before the text is read the network of signs will have shifted in their relations to each other, thus changing the meaning of the text. 

A simple example of the application of Derrida's deconstructive tools can be shown by considering the pamphlet 'The South African Rhodesian', and its reference to "the terrorist war" [37] which was being fought in Rhodesia at the time (1977).  Whilst Derrida would of course argue that the meaning of the word 'terrorist' will have been constantly in flux, it is clear over a quarter of a century later that the meaning signified by the use of the term in this pamphlet has been changed by the different way in which the conflict is now perceived.  Whereas, at the time of creation, the threat of communism and the strength of support in South Africa for the apartheid system would have meant many potential readers of the pamphlet conceived the war in terms of a struggle against, it now stands out as an anachronistic term given the general acceptance with hindsight that the war was a justified national liberation struggle.  Thus already the average reader views the pamphlet in a different way, as a contentious document swimming against the tide of the prevailing historical narrative.

It is important to remember in approaching texts in this way the dangers of misrepresenting Derrida's ideas, as it is obvious that even in writing about meaning assumptions are being made that are themselves open to deconstruction.  In particular, the pamphlet was still being discussed within its historical framework, something that radical deconstructionists would take issue with, arguing that all historical sources are texts and that there are no philosophical grounds for privileging a reading of the above pamphlet in the context of the history of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe over a reading of it in relation to a book on gardening.

Even archivists sympathetic to ideas of deconstruction find that "it is still necessary to draw the line between those who regard the record as having no particular distinctive characteristics from other texts, and those who recognise its 'recordness'". [38] In other words, the methods used by archivists in evaluating materials for inclusion in the archive mean that those records can be relied on by historians to be of a different nature to sources whose provenance and original organisation is less clear. 

This quality of 'recordness' will be borne in mind when applying deconstructionist ideas to the pamphlets of the ICS collection - despite the differences outlined above between this and the classic archive there is still sufficient information about the origins of the materials and sufficient rationale behind their arrangement for it to be counter-intuitive to treat them as a series of un-related items adrift from the circumstances of their historical creation.

Other ideas relevant to the following pamphlet analysis come from writings on other political ephemera collections, such as those of Laura Lyons [39] (concerning Irish Republican posters), Susan Tschabrun [40] (an archivist writing about the experience of managing a collection of political posters) and Joanna Lewis [41] (a historian interested in the pamphlets produced during the Mau Mau crisis in Kenya).  In addition Alison McClean-Cameron's [42] thesis on the Mexican printing house El Taller de Grafica Popular and Gillian Rose's [43] introduction to the critique of visual images also provide perspectives applicable to the items here.

The pamphlets chosen for analysis, all originating from Southern Africa, were selected on the basis that they would prove illuminating in what they revealed of themselves and of their relations to the other materials. 

Exposure : The Farm Labour Scandal' by Ruth First (fig. 1) was first published in South Africa in 1959 [44] .  In the ICS collection it has been catalogued as part of the South African Congress of Democrats sequence (PP.SA.SACOD.1), of which First (a lifelong anti-apartheid campaigner whose personal papers are also held at the ICS) was a founding member.  This body is not, however, mentioned in the item, an indication of the value that archival context can give to an individual item as well as of the power to create meaning (for it could have been decided to locate the pamphlet elsewhere had different criteria been applied) that such contextualisation has.



 fig. 1

The pamphlet itself is an illustrated 24 page journalistic investigation into the farm labour scandal, which "resulted in many thousands of Africans who fell foul of pass law restrictions being shanghaied away from their families and out of the towns to do enforced labour on farms." [45] The report is followed by an appeal for a change in the law and in policy, coupled with an attack on the Nationalist government. 

In her analysis of Kenyan pamphlets Lewis talks of how "various narrative explanations ... were laid out in pamphlet form for which this was a particularly suitable genre since it allowed for enough space to construct a story through which the present could be understood and yet not demand too much attention or paper" [46] .  In the Farm Labour pamphlet the narrative that is constructed is one of apartheid as a system of economic oppression, with cheap labour and racism going hand in hand.  However, barring an imprecation to subscribe to the New Age newspaper there is no direct call to action of the sort identified by Lyons in much of the Irish Republican political ephemera with which her study is concerned. [47] What there is is a concern with the "dailiness of struggle" [48] - the pamphlet is concerned with a particular issue at a particular time, which is then broadened to construct the narrative described above.

Tschabrun [49] is interested in the way in which ephemera provide a site for information and discussion which unlike other media is not dominated by the interests of elites.  The back page of the pamphlet refers to the closure of the 'Guardian', the mouthpiece of the South African Communist Party, for raising just the sort of issues considered here, suggesting the idea that it may have been easier to oppose government policy through the one-off pamphlet than through a newspaper requiring regular publication.  In fact, the SACP newspaper was closed down repeatedly during the 1950s - Clarion, People's World, Advance , New Age and Spark were all monikers used to disguise its reappearance.

Turning to the layout of the pamphlet, the illustrations on both the cover and inside can be looked at with "concern for the way in which images visualize ... social difference." [50]   In this case the farm labourers and their families (all black) are clearly portrayed as victims forced to endure oppressive conditions, whilst the only whites in the pictures are a farmer 'herding' his workers and a policeman inspecting a pass card.  The attached captions (""Pass!" demands the policeman.  Is the next step forced labour on the farms?" [51] ) leave no doubt as to the intended impression. 

Our views of this pamphlet must be tempered by the fact that we are viewing the text at a different time and place to that which it was (particularly by its nature as ephemera) originally designed to be viewed.  It was published during the period in which the South African apartheid system was establishing itself, but of course to contemporary Western eyes can only be seen through the prism of what was to come, of Sharpeville and Soweto, with the former set to change the context of the anti-apartheid struggle forever only a few months later.

The second item under consideration encompasses both sides of this pivotal moment.  'The Freedom Charter' (fig. 2) is a twelve page re-publication by the ANC which marks the ten year anniversary of the adoption of the charter at the Congress of the People, Kliptown, 26 June 1955.  Catalogued as part of the ANC sequence (PP.SA.ANC.13), it is a declaration "of the common demands and aspirations of the people." [52]


freedom charter

 fig. 2

This is a different type of pamphlet: free [53] ; published externally (as a result of the banning of the ANC in 1960, but with the consequence that increasingly such pamphlets had two audiences - the opinion of the international community being cultivated as much as that back in South Africa) and lacking the true ephemeral qualities of the Ruth First publication.  'The Freedom Charter' places itself in historical context with a five page introduction detailing the background to the adoption of the charter and the political developments since.

It is essentially referring to other versions of itself, of which there are five more at the ICS alone, three from 1955 and two from the 1980s.  Here is another example of the way in which the archive functions to create meaning, in that the repeated occurrence of the same charter couched in changing historical circumstances gives a sense of ongoing struggle in a way that simply reading the 1989 edition would not.  Each edition is to an extent rendered ephemeral by the next, ceasing to be a history and becoming instead evidence of how history was written at that time.

Another contrast between the two items is the lack of illustrative material in the ANC document.  There are merely two illustrations, the front cover and a picture inside of a mass demonstration.  Both of these are evidence for Tschabrun's argument that "the visible vocabulary of political posters is simultaneously rich and limited, with artists constantly recycling, re-interpreting and transforming a large but restricted body of icons and images." [54]   Certainly the scene of revolutionary defiance on the front cover here is interesting to compare with the 'Women in Struggle' poster reproduced by Lyons [55] , which uses very similar imagery to make a very different point, contributing to an internal debate on the value of women to the struggle rather than projecting armed unity.  Again in approaching these texts as sources of historical knowledge it is necessary to relate them not just to their historical context or to other items in the archive but to external texts which can also inform this reading.

A further type of pamphlet is the United National Independence Party (Northern Rhodesia) manifesto 'When UNIP becomes government' [56] (fig. 3), catalogued as part of the Zambian holdings at PP.ZA.UNIP.10.  With a price of one shilling, it was produced for elections to be held in January 1964 following the participation of UNIP in the government of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and prior to the eventual independence of Northern Rhodesia as Zambia in October 1964. 

The lack of information on the item itself as to its date and the elections to which it refers again indicates how historical context (and in order to provide this, archival context) is necessary to provide a 'deeper' meaning than could be achieved by merely relying on the textual analysis of the radical deconstructionists.  Nonetheless it is valuable to bear in mind the counter-argument that this is still an artificial context imposed by the archivist on the item, with the consequence that any researcher should be aware that their use of this source will be to some extent conditioned by this archival decision.



 fig. 3

In contrast to the Freedom Charter this is the work of a party that has at least shared power, and is therefore both a proposal for a new program and a paean to the achievements of the party in government thus far.  Any analysis of the ICS ephemera collection must take into account the fact that the pamphlets do not just present competing narratives [57] but that these narratives can be of very different types depending on the authoring party's access to political power.

Yet whilst this means that the UNIP manifesto presents specific policies ("It is UNIP Government's plan to link the Zambia Airways with East African Airways" [58] ) in contrast to the ANC's broader declarations of principle ("All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province and from South Africa abroad" [59] ) there are still snapshots from the former that allude to larger political themes of the time.  The call for the elimination of inequalities of income and wealth [60] is an interesting example of what Lyons calls ephemera's "timeliness and their relation to history" [61] , as it masquerades as a policy to be implemented after the election whilst in fact in historical terms merely indicates the kinds of discourses which were permissible in mainstream African politics in the 1960s but which would no longer be found today.

A further difference between this item and the others we have considered is in its use of imagery.  Besides a portrait of future President Kenneth Kaunda there are a series of portrayals of classrooms, houses, agriculture and industry, all of which have an idealised look as if representing a future, improved society.  This can be seen in terms of McClean-Cameron's idea [62] (taken from her work on Mexican political printers) of different iconography being used for different audiences and purposes, so we have the victims in the First pamphlet, the revolutionaries in the ANC Charter and the technocrats in the manifesto.

The final item to be considered has already been referred to previously, namely 'The South African Rhodesian' (fig. 4) [63] , a pamphlet produced by a group of South Africans involved in the conflict in South Rhodesia in the 1970s, and catalogued as part of the South Africa First Campaign (SAFC) holdings (SA.PG.SAFC.5).  Just as with the Ruth First pamphlet there is no reference on the item to the body with which it is housed, and the question of the context that has been created for it by this archival choice is rendered more interesting because of the debate as to whether the Zimbabwean or South African sequence is its most suitable home.  Including it with the South African material reinforces the pamphlet's argument (not necessarily a contentious one) that the 'independence' struggle in South Rhodesia is essentially linked to the anti-apartheid movement in its neighbour.


 fig. 4

This narrative is just one of many that this item seeks to construct or strengthen.  The progress of the black liberation movements is equated with the advance of communism, whilst those seeking to oppose this are acting in defence of both Christianity and the right to own property.  The pamphlet also seeks, in Lyons' phrase, to "call [the] audience into historical agency" [64] - its intended audience are South Africans of the ilk of those fighters portrayed in its pages, and in addition this audience is reminded that "a percentage of the proceeds ... will go to the rehabilitation of those disabled in the terrorist war." [65]   If you cannot join up yourself, at least you are making a contribution.

An analysis of the iconography used is also rewarding.  The juxtaposition on the cover of the Rhodesian ridgeback with the text "The South African Rhodesian :  a very special breed" is a demonstration of how pamphlets such as this "engage in a form of political communication that melds words and images into a single potent message" [66] - the South African Rhodesian is subtly associated in the reader's mind with a loyal guard-dog protecting its territory.  Inside, the map of Southern Africa showing the 'encirclement' of South Africa and Rhodesia serves to further strengthen the aforementioned narrative of the remaining white countries standing against the tide of communism, disguised as black liberation.

Rose's work on visual methodologies provides another means of approaching the use of imagery here.  In her summary of Paul Gilroy's discussion (in his work on the cultural politics of race and nation in Britain) of a Conservative Party election poster from the 1983 British General Election (which features the image of a black man in a suit with the caption: 'Labour says he's black. Tories say he's British.') it is argued that "the poster depends on other stereotyped images (which it does not show) of young black men, particularly as muggers, to make its point about the acceptability of this besuited man.  This poster thus plays in complex ways with both visible and invisible signs of racial difference." [67]

This pamphlet portrays blacks in two roles, either fighting alongside the whites or as victims of the 'terrorists'.  Yet the image that is omitted is that of the black man as terrorist.  This is even more interesting, for this is an image that they would like to show (the text refers to not giving up the country "just because a guy who has black skin demands it" [68] ) and cannot, presumably because that would revive the powerful narrative of the white South African/Rhodesian as a racist oppressor.

In conclusion, it can be seen from the above that whilst there is validity in approaching these items using concepts of visual and textual analysis this appears to yield most value when conjoined with an appreciation of the historical context in which the items themselves were produced.  Similarly in the discussion of the ICS ephemera as a whole whilst appreciating the value of approaches such as those of Schwartz and Cook and Harris it is also essential to have gathered as much background information as possible on the actual motives and policies behind the development of the collection in order to avoid "readings of the archive based on what we take to be evidence and what we expect to find." [69]

While the Commonwealth political ephemera collection is substantially removed from the archive as traditionally defined,  theories which warn of the dangers of treating the archive as a 'neutral' source have been proven applicable.  These theoretical approaches may also be applied to individual items in the collection. That such approaches require methodological refining is without doubt.  Yet it is to be hoped that any researcher seeking to use the collection will be more aware of the way in which its background and organisation can affect approaches to and perceptions of the potential 'sources of historical knowledge' that lie within it.


[1] Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Twelfth Annual Report 1960-61 (London, 1961), p. 11.

[2] Theo Thomassen, "A First Introduction to Archival Science", Archival Science 1 (2001), p. 379.

[3] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, "Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory", Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 6.

[4] Verne Harris, director of the South African History Archive.

[5] Verne Harris, "The Archival Sliver: Power Memory and Archives in South Africa" Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 63-86.

[6] Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Twelfth Annual Report 1960-61 (London, 1961), p. 11.

[7] Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Thirteenth Annual Report 1961-62 (London, 1962), p. 11.

[8] Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Nineteenth Annual Report 1967-68 (London, 1968), p. 16.

[9] Valerie Bloomfield, "African Ephemera", in J. D. Pearson and Ruth Jones (eds.) The Bibliography of Africa: Proceedings and Papers of the International Conference on African Bibliography, Nairobi 4-8 December 1967 (London : F. Cass, 1970).

[10] ibid, p. 225.

[11] ibid, p. 230.

[12] Interview with Patricia M. Larby, London, 18th August 2004.  Patricia Larbv was librarian at the ICS between 1971 and 1991.

[13] Brian Willan (comp.) and Patricia M. Larby (ed.), The Southern African Materials Project 1973-1976  (London : University of London, 1980), p. 1.

[14] ZAPU = Zimbabwe African People's Union; ZANU = Zimbabwe African National Union; FROLIZI = Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe; PAC = Pan Africanist Congress of Azania; ANC = African National Congress; NDP = National Democratic Party (Zimbabwe); BCP = Basutoland Congress Party; COREMO = Comité Revolucionario de Mocambique; FRELIMO = Mozambique African National Union; UNITA = União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola; MPLA = Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola.

[15] London, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Southern African Materials Project Records, Materials Officer Progress Report, 28 Sept. 1973, [p.1]

[16] Brian Willan (comp.) and Patricia M. Larby (ed.) The Southern African Materials Project 1973-1976  (London : University of London, 1980), p. 5.

[17] Interview with Patricia M. Larby, London, 18th August 2004.

[18] Theo Thomassen, "A First Introduction to Archival Science", Archival Science 1 (2001), p. 374.

[19] ibid, p. 377.

[20] ibid, p. 383.

[21] Interview with Patricia M. Larby, London, 18th August 2004.

[22] It should be noted that this is not unusual with collections of this kind.  See Susan Tschabrun, "Off the Wall and Into a Drawer : Managing a Research Collection of Political Posters", American Archivist Vol. 66 (Fall/Winter 2003), p. 309.

[23] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, "Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory",  Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 2.

[24] ibid, p. 7.

[25] Interview with Patricia M. Larby, London, 18th August 2004.

[26] ibid.

[27] Verne Harris, "The Archival Sliver: Power, Memory and Archives in South Africa", Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 74.

[28] ibid, p. 69.

[29] ibid, p. 65.

[30] ibid, p. 84.

[31] ibid, p. 83.

[32] Certainly it was the policy of the Institute during the apartheid era to encourage participation in its activities, including the collection of library materials, by exiled South African academics (Mary Benson for example)

[33] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, "Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory", Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 17.

[34] Ann Laura Stoler, "Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance", Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 100.

[35] ibid, p. 100.

[36] Brothman, Brien, "Declining Derrida: Integrity, Tensegrity, and the Preservation of Archives from Deconstruction", Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999), p. 71.

[37] The South African Rhodesian (s.l. : Lin Mehmel Associates, 1977), p. 16.

[38] Sarah Tyacke, "Archives in a Wider World : the Culture and Politics of Archives", Archivaria 52 (Fall 2001) p. 24.

[39] Laura E. Lyons, "Hand-to-Hand History : Ephemera and Irish Republicanism", Interventions 5 (3) pp. 407-425.

[40] Susan Tschabrun, "Off the Wall and Into a Drawer : Managing a Research Collection of Political Posters",  American Archivist Vol. 66 (Fall/Winter 2003), pp. 303-324.

[41] Joanna Lewis, "Mau Mau's War of Words : The Battle of the Pamphlets" in James Raven Free Print and Non-Commercial Publishing since 1700 (Aldershot : Ashgate, 2000).

[42] Alison McClean-Cameron, El Taller de Grafica Popular : Printmaking and Politics in Mexico and Beyond, from the Popular Front to the Cuban Revolution  (Essex, PhD 2000)

[43] Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials (London : SAGE, 2001).

[44] Ruth First, Exposure : The Farm Labour Scandal (Johannesburg : New Age, 1959)

[45] ibid, p. 2

[46] Joanna Lewis, "Mau Mau's War of Words : The Battle of the Pamphlets" in James Raven Free Print and Non-Commercial Publishing since 1700 (Aldershot : Ashgate, 2000), p. 242.

[47] Laura E. Lyons, "Hand-to-Hand History : Ephemera and Irish Republicanism", Interventions 5 (3) p. 415.

[48] ibid, p. 410.

[49] Susan Tschabrun, "Off the Wall and Into a Drawer : Managing a Research Collection of Political Posters", American Archivist Vol. 66 (Fall/Winter 2003), p. 304.

[50] Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials .(London : SAGE, 2001), p. 10.

[51] Ruth First, Exposure : The Farm Labour Scandal (Johannesburg : New Age, 1959), p. 10.

[52] African National Congress, The Freedom Charter (London : ANC, [1965]), p. 1.

[53] See Lewis's analysis of the various strategies used in pricing pamphlets: Joanna Lewis, "Mau Mau's War of Words : The Battle of the Pamphlets" in James Raven Free Print and Non-Commercial Publishing since 1700 (Aldershot : Ashgate, 2000), p. 222-223.

[54] Susan Tschabrun, "Off the Wall and Into a Drawer : Managing a Research Collection of Political Posters", American Archivist Vol. 66 (Fall/Winter 2003), p. 315.

[55] Laura E. Lyons, "Hand-to-Hand History : Ephemera and Irish Republicanism", Interventions 5 (3) p. 419.

[56] United National Independence Party (Northern Rhodesia), When UNIP becomes government, (Lusaka :  UNIP Publicity Bureau, [1963?])

[57] Joanna Lewis, Joanna Lewis, "Mau Mau's War of Words : The Battle of the Pamphlets" in James Raven Free Print and Non-Commercial Publishing since 1700 (Aldershot : Ashgate, 2000), p. 243.

[58] United National Independence Party (Northern Rhodesia), When UNIP becomes government, (Lusaka :  UNIP Publicity Bureau, [1963?]), [p. 17]

[59] African National Congress, The Freedom Charter (London : ANC, [1965]), p. 8.

[60] United National Independence Party (Northern Rhodesia), When UNIP becomes government, (Lusaka :  UNIP Publicity Bureau, [1963?]), [p. 13]

[61] Laura E. Lyons, "Hand-to-Hand History : Ephemera and Irish Republicanism", Interventions 5 (3) p. 410.

[62] Alison McClean-Cameron, El Taller de Grafica Popular : Printmaking and Politics in Mexico and Beyond, from the Popular Front to the Cuban Revolution  (Essex, PhD 2000), p. 86.

[63] The South African Rhodesian  (s.l. : Lin Mehmel Associates, 1977)

[64] Laura E. Lyons, "Hand-to-Hand History : Ephemera and Irish Republicanism", Interventions 5 (3) p. 414.

[65] The South African Rhodesian  (s.l. : Lin Mehmel Associates, 1977), p. 16.

[66] Susan Tschabrun, "Off the Wall and Into a Drawer : Managing a Research Collection of Political Posters", American Archivist Vol. 66 (Fall/Winter 2003), p. 304.

[67] Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies : An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials, (London : SAGE, 2001), p. 11.

[68] The South African Rhodesian  (s.l. : Lin Mehmel Associates, 1977), p. 14.

[69] Ann Laura Stoler, "Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance", Archival Science 2 (2002), p. 100.