My name is Ann Stahl and I chair the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Since 1986 I’ve coordinated the Banda Research Project (BRP) which centers on how villagers in the Banda area of west central Ghana have engaged shifting global entanglements. These include involvement in the Saharan trade from about 1200 CE; the effects of an intensifying Atlantic trade from the early 18th century; the imposition of British colonial rule at the end of the 19th century; and the unfolding situation associated with the recent construction by the Chinese firm SinoHydro of a hydroelectric dam on the Black Volta River. The latter is bringing people from across Ghana and the world to a place that was until recently in Ghana lingo considered a ‘dead-end place’—one where transport ended, but which, of course, has had a long and dynamic history.

Our work since 1986 has been conducted in conjunction with the Banda Traditional Council and through the auspices of the Banda Paramount Chief, a position currently held by Nana Okokyeredom Kwadwo Sito. We’ve long endeavored to engage the broader Banda community in our project activities, for example through the construction of the Banda Cultural Centre built in the mid-1990s and expanded in 2000-01 with a combination of BRP funding* and community support. Our project has been multidimensional, involving ethnographic, documentary, oral historical and archaeological research, and over the decades we’ve shared project results through community meetings, Cultural Centre open houses, and the production of locally circulated paper resources including a family history brochure and project posters for use in the Cultural Centre and local schools.

Members of the Banda Traditional Council, 2009

Members of the Banda Traditional Council, 2009

 

Changing circumstances motivate us to embrace new opportunities for public engagement. The relatively recent electrification of the area (over the past 15 years) and the growing access of villagers to cellular phones and computers provide possibilities for digital outreach that will no doubt expand in upcoming decades. We have an opportunity to facilitate community connection with knowledge and cultural heritage resources that to this point have been inaccessible to them. Among these are visual resources housed in collections of academics who worked in the area in the mid-20th century; colonial documents pertaining to the late 19th- and early 20th-century history of the area; oral histories recorded by mid-20th-century academics; and records of our archaeological research. So too are we concerned to ensure curation of and digital access to project materials for practicing archaeologists in West Africa and elsewhere.

While there is need to negotiate with Banda Traditional Authorities and the Ghana National Museum whether some materials should be subject to restricted access or excluded altogether from a digital archive, the aim of our Digital Archaeology Institute project is to develop a digital repository of materials relevant to Banda and to make those accessible through a single website portal that introduces diverse audiences to area’s histories. One outcome of the repository will be to virtually repatriate cultural resources that have long circulated outside local reach to Banda peoples.

Given the influx of people to the region in the last decade, traditional authorities in the area see a digital public history site as a tool for communicating something of the region’s rich and dynamic histories to those new to the area and to the visitors and tourists attracted by the hydroelectric dam and newly formed lake. BRP participants further see this as an opportunity to enhance access to primary project data that can be used to produce new knowledge through linking and comparison with projects elsewhere in West Africa and beyond.

While we are embarking on this as a long-term endeavor, the scoped project for the Digital Archaeology Institute centers on developing a digital repository of ‘people and places’ images drawn from the archives of academics who conducted research in the area in the 20th century. We will also pilot a digital repository of ‘small finds’ from our archaeological research with the dual aims of data archiving and sharing. These archives, subject to negotiation with Banda and Ghanaian authorities, will be linked to a public-facing web portal that shares scoped and scalable (in relation to audience) information and resources relevant to the region’s complex and dynamic histories and is accessible through multiple electronic platforms and devices.

Working materials will be contributed by the BRP community of former graduate student associates, René Bravmann, an art historian at the University of Washington and we hope other academics and institutions as we expand the project scope in upcoming years.

Sleeves are rolled up and we’re ready to embark on this new phase of engaging Banda’s dynamic histories. I look forward to updating our virtual Digital Archaeology Institute audience as the process develops.

Ann Stahl
stahlann@uvic.ca

*Funds to construct the Banda Cultural Centre which has also served as our project research facility derived from two US National Science Foundation grants (SBR-9410726 & -9911690) which I gratefully acknowledge.