SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar awarded £800k grant by AHRC for project on historic ethnographic archives in Nigeria and Sierra Leone

16 January 2018
Paul basu

Paul Basu, Professor of Anthropology at SOAS University of London has been awarded a grant of £805,032 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for a project exploring historic ethnographic archives and collections relating to Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as well as their significance for Nigerian and Sierra Leonean communities in West Africa, the UK and beyond today.

The project, Museum affordances: activating West African ethnographic archives and collections through experimental museology, also known as [Re:]Entanglements, explores an ethnographic archive, including objects, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens, published work and field notes, assembled by the colonial anthropologist, N. W. Thomas, in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915.

As well as better understanding the historical context in which these materials were gathered, the project seeks to re-think their significance in the present looking at their meaning for different communities today, what actions they make possible and how we can creatively explore their latent possibilities.

Project activities include collections-based research across various institutions; fieldwork and 'ethnographic restudy' along the routes of Thomas's original itineraries in West Africa; collaboration with contemporary artists and multimedia producers; international knowledge exchange events bridging museum scholarship and practice; and the staging of innovative 'exhibition experiments' designed to engage with diverse publics.

The project is led by Professor Basu and involves a growing number of partnerships in the UK, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and beyond. These include the many institutions across which this ethnographic archive has been dispersed, including the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the British Library Sound Archive, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the UK National Archives.

The project began in January 2018 and will culminate in a large exhibition at the Brunei Gallery in 2020. Further details at