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Role of archives in research discussed

May 30, 2018

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A man takes a look at historical documents in Sindh Archives.—White Star
A man takes a look at historical documents in Sindh Archives.—White Star

KARACHI: Scholars and researchers discussed the role of archives in academic research at the Sindh Archives surrounded by historical documents that went back centuries.

Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, archaeologist and former secretary, antiquities department, government of Sindh, spoke about how we were able to flesh out characters and historical events with the help of archives.

“Here in Pakistan we have lots of records available in different shapes and specifications. An important aspect of records is that it comes from the very formal organisation which is the public administration. It is an organised activity that generates records and which are kept under certain programming.”

‘Only when we value our own history, we can share it with the world’

However, under this programming there are inherent difficulties, he explained. “From the very beginning of formal record keeping here, which goes earlier than the Sultanate Period, there were assignments to the categories of records which specifically put certain records under the emblem of permanent records; there were another set of records kept and held by officials which were called semi-permanent records. And this categorisation comes down to those which were called the records of temporary priorities which were as a result lost over centuries.”

This is a dilemma for the researcher, he said. “When a researcher wants to reconstruct the social history of any area, he is at a loss and there is lack of material for him to research. Such records require a very sympathetic handling and how to make them safe for the future scholars.”

Mishal Khan, a PhD candidate whose research work focuses on historical sociology, colonial law and slavery in South Asia, spoke about the need to open up and explore the history of Sindh against the backdrop of Pakistan, which was also part of the subcontinent. Unfortunately Pakistan is subtracted from the main discourse of historical documentation with a more India-centric dominated discourse worldwide, she said.

“Only when we value our own history are we going to be able to share it with the world. And in order to do that we have to remember who we are. To fully appreciate who we are we need to appreciate where we came from; the struggles, the complexities, the large events and everyday occurrences. The task of collecting dusty documents, old records, colonial bureaucratic records, things that people may think need to be thrown out into the trash is important and they are valuable to researchers and archivists.”

Her own research which is about the Hari movement in Sindh from of the late 19th century required her to pour over 2,000 pages of inward correspondence and hours of hard work at the Sindh Archives, she found what she was looking for. The desire to understand our deeper past drives Khan’s research particularly related to the colonial past. “The colonial documents housed at the Sindh Archives are a valuable resource.”

Khan also stressed the need to address the lack of access to the records for researchers, and said that researchers, local and international, should be allowed to benefit from these records.

Dr Hafeez Jamali, assistant professor in social development and policy programme at Habib University, has also served as director of Balochistan Archives and credited the Sindh Archives for extending support, their expertise and assistance in cataloguing, documenting and digitising the collections at Balochistan Archives.

Against the backdrop of the history of Balochistan, he highlighted the need to use archives to help understand and document the official memory. “Government archives are repositories of official memory and some of the earliest evidence we can find in the form of cuneiform tablets.”

Dr Jamali said that official archives have many functions, one of which is to tell stories. He displayed a letter of submission by one of the tribal chiefs of Makran, Jiand Khan Baloch addressed to General Dyer in 1917 which had been discarded and he helped uncover.

“Archives also provide a sense of identity and a social history and Sindh Archives been invaluable for historians.”

Other speakers at the event were Saud Ahmed Mirza, director of Sindh Police Museum and journalist Aslam Khwaja.

The Sindh Archives also exhibited historical documents dating as far back to 1857. One document was of the minutes of a special general meeting of the Karachi Municipality dated October 31, 1896. There were cuttings from the newspaper Deccan Times; in one clipping Nehru’s thoughts on Pakistan could be easily gauged, as were expressed his views on India’s language problems.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2018