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Series: Preserving History
Ethiopian National Archives: "Folly" and "Disaster" Justified
Professor Richard Pankhurst writes:
Mr Thomas Lampton, of Queensland, Australia, commenting on our recent article on Ethiopian National Archives(Addis Tribune, 7 May), says: “Why trouble yourself, Professor: You should take a more optimistic view of life: if they muddle together Ethiopia’s National Archives and Ethiopia’s National Library, and thus make a mess of both institutions, it may be an unmitigated disaster to the cause of Ethiopian studies, but it will not be without some little interest as a bibligraphical folly. The arrangement has the merit that it can be put in the Guinness Book of Records, and will moreover confirm the wisdom of the old adage that there is “ALWAYS SOMETHING NEW OUT OF AFRICA”.
I would reply:
I cannot accept Mr Lampton’s premises. Ethiopia has a unique history, which has hitherto been written largely on the basis of foreign sources. The former Ministry of the Pen and other Ethiopian Archives are essentially closed: they are not properly organised, and it will require considerable effort to put them in order, for scholars and research workers to use.
It is my belief that a National Archive is entirely different from a National Library. A National Archive is essentially concerned with unpublished Government documents, produced in the country for which the Archive is established; a National Library is for the most part concerned with published materials, books, periodicals, many of them produced in the world at large.
The two institutions require entirely different acquisition and cataloguing procedures and policies, as well as entirely different arrangements, and equipment, of all kinds. That is why, throughout the world, the two institutions are almost invariably kept entirely separate, as different institutions: compare the Public Record Office in Kew for example with the British Library – or their counterparts in Italy, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere!
The Draft Proclamation may, as Mr Lampton says, indeed be a “folly” and a “disaster”; but I not believe that we want Ethiopia to institute “folly” and “disaster” merely to get into the Guinness Book of Records!
I feel that Mr Lampton is not being serious. It is unhelpful of him to write about the value of proving that there is “always something new out of Africa”. It is my conviction that the efficient establishment, and subsequent operation, of Ethiopia’s National Archives should be put on the most efficient basis possible, and that this will necessitate extracting documentation from a wide range of Government departments. I feel that, to give authority to the Archives, it would be best for them to be placed under the Prime Minister’s Office, as proposed in previous draft laws, rather than under a single Ministry, i.e. that of Information and Culture., whatever its other essentially mixed responsibilities may be. It is my further conviction that the previous proposal to place the Archive under the chairmanship of a Deputy Prime Minister would have given the Archive valuable powers which will be lost if the institution is relegated, as at present proposed, to the chairmanship of merely a Ministerial “representative”.
I may add that it would seem to me sensible to extend the statuary Law of Deposit, so that books and other publications should be deposited by law in the University’s Institute of Ethiopian Studies as well as in the National Library. This would make books more widely available, as well as serving as an insurance against loss by fire.
Mr Lampton and others: if you want to discuss this further, please e-mail me at: [email protected]. et