The New Persistence of Memory: The Language and Popular Culture in Africa Archive

Some readers here may have seen my review of Johannes Fabian’s recent books, which are linked to a site he co-created with Vincent de Rooij called The Language and Popular Culture in Africa Archive. It’s a great small collection of original texts, translations and commentaries, curated with scholarly care, and representing hard to find and valuable resources. What’s more, even though it is a small-scale project, it was one of the first open access publications in anthropology, and could continue in this fashion if there were interested people.

Fabian wrote to me recently concerned about the future of this archive, highlighting several issues that I think we will all face in the near future:

As you may have noticed in my email signature below the address of our LPCA archive has changed (because of some reorganization at the University of Amsterdam). The old address that appeared in publications so far will get you there for a while but probably not forever. One of the vagaries of presence on the net. Also I say “our” archive because it has been a truly collaborative effort with Vincent de Rooij, a former student and a linguist-cum-anthropologists whose dissertation was about Katanga Swahili. He designed, maintained, and edited the website meticulously. And he did this for almost 10 years without any institutional funding or even academic credit, on his own time. This has become untenable for me but, more importantly, he has turned to other subjects and interests, which is of course entirely legitimate. So the sad news is that LPCA, though it can run, as it were, on autopilot for years as long as it keeps its space on the server, is, if not dead, in suspended animation.

I think such projects are the very lifeblood of anthropology today–far more so than the increasingly sterile walled gardens of the academic journals run by the Publishing Borg and its scholarly society minions. So what should we do to keep them alive:

  1. Volunteers? Is there anyone out there with an interest in and focus on popular culture in Africa, african linguistics or swahili who wants to help? This could be an editorial opportunity as well, since there is both the archive and a Journal associated with the project.
  2. How can we improve it, or make it more 2.0-y and social interneterrific without sacrificing what is already there? What’s the right back-end? The journal (Journal of Language and Popular Culture in Africa) could obviously be ported to Open Journal Systems, if someone wanted to do that, whereas the archive materials might be appropriate for Omeka.
  3. How can we make it more “official”– perhaps by assigning DOI numbers (what would a suitable registration agency be?) and so forth to make it findable as a library resource?
  4. Can we leverage the new “open anthropology cooperative” to find people who are interested and committed?
  5. Other suggestions for Johannes and Vincent as to how to make this project survive and grow?

Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

3 thoughts on “The New Persistence of Memory: The Language and Popular Culture in Africa Archive

  1. I am interested in the Volunteer part to do the editing part of the project given my skills. I could be reached at tchenya at gmail dot com.

Comments are closed.