The Birth of a Nation: preserving records on the Kenya-Uganda railway line

The Nairobi Railway Museum’s collection contains records on the Kenya-Uganda railway constructed between 1896 and 1901. The collection sheds light on East Africa’s social and geographical landscape before colonialism and urbanisation. However, the collection is kept in unsuitable conditions and researchers cannot access these important documents.

The building of the Kenya-Uganda railway began in 1896 and concluded in 1901. The line is considered to be the driving force behind the birth of modern day Kenya and Uganda. Looking at a map of Kenya, it is clear that all modern cities, towns, and trading centres grew up around the railway line. The archives in the Nairobi Railway Museum are evidence of a time of change in the region, with communities coerced into working on the construction of the line, and a great immigration of Indian labourers to East Africa.

The collection is housed in unsuitable conditions. The lack of proper ventilation, dust, humidity and damp continually compromises the state of the records which are kept in the open, with no suitable storage boxes, cabinets and containers. The collection is not catalogued or inventoried and research in the archive is very difficult.

The project included a conservation assessment, a cleaning of the archival rooms, cataloguing, restoration and digitisation. The project found almost twice the amount of material expected, and trained the staff at the Nairobi Railway Museum, to ensure continuity in archive maintenance and in digitisation efforts. The Museum was supportive of the project, and a future digitisation project is planned.

Project Details

Location: Kenya, Eastern Africa, Africa Organiser(s): Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) Project partner(s): Independent Researcher Funder(s): Arcadia Funding received: £10,910 Commencement Date: 11/2018 Project Status: Completed
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