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Developing New Approaches to the Preservation and Sharing of Africa’s Printed Heritage: the Eritrean Case

Final Report Summary - PRINTED HERITAGE (Developing New Approaches to the Preservation and Sharing of Africa’s Printed Heritage: the Eritrean Case)

This project represents an innovative way to address the problem of the preservation and dissemination of Africa's printed heritage.
Until recently the preservation of African primary sources (i.e. parchments, manuscripts, archival record) was able to attract the lion share of the attention. This attention is commendable and deserve praise and emulation, but archival documents are just one of the many sources that can help in unfolding the African past. Other kinds of documentation can help scholars in researching African history: oral sources, archaeological and linguistic data etc. Other sources are not enjoying the same level of popularity and seems to be underused despite their rich potentialities. This is the case, for example, of a particular kind of written documents almost neglected by most africanists: printed material produced in Africa since the arrival of the first printing presses. We are facing the risk of a generalized indifference toward the preservation and access of the African printed heritage, this notwithstanding the fact that it has gradually appeared that local printed materials are rich sources of information and can greatly contribute to the understanding of many aspects of the modern history of Africa. Books, newspapers, magazines, official documentation, religious literature locally printed have the potential to provide a key source of information for scholars investigating social, political and literary history. Unfortunately indifference toward the preservation and access of his kind of sources has prevailed till now, therefore each African country is currently faced with the challenges of securing this important part of the national cultural heritage. Many of these sources have lasting value and significance, and therefore constitute a heritage that should be protected and preserved but this heritage is at risk of being lost to posterity and its preservation is an urgent issue.
The action that has just been completed aimed ad carefully identifying the printed production of Eritrea in the period 1867-1941. The research has provided the basis for the compilation of a bibliography of the Eritrean printed heritage while at the same time all the title recovered have been digitized.
It was foreseen the execution of three main phases:
1) Bibliographic research, identification and cataloguing of the literature printed in Eritrea.
2) Digitization of the documents recovered during the research.
3) Dissemination through a web site.

When the project started a preliminary bibliographic research had estimated at 250-300 the number of titles to be included and it was expected that the number of pages to be digitized would be around 60-70.000.
After two years of intense work in Eritrea and Europe the number of title identified has reached 750 and the page currently digitized has exceeded 105.000 and for the first time we have been able to provide a very accurate picture of the Eritrean book production during the period 1867-1941. Eritrea is now one of the few African country that can claim to have tracked down almost the totality of its own book production up to 1941.
The results obtained for phase one and two have grossly exceeded our expectations but in order to achieve this result we had to compromise on phase three (creation of a web site) that remains the only part of the project that has experienced a delay in its implementation. We hope that in the coming months we will be able to enter a strategic partnership with a third institution that will advise and help us in the creation and maintenance of the web site. Preliminary talks have already started with a couple of potential partners.