Introducing the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP)

by | Jul 3, 2024 | General, Guest Posts, Library and Archive, Race, Ethnicity and Equality, Writing Race Two | 0 comments


In this post Dr Vincent Hiribarren introduces the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP), which seeks to preserve and digitise archives in regions that lack the necessary resources to do so.

He discusses the opportunities this program provides for historians and students of history, as well as for local populations looking to preserve their heritage. He also addresses some of the potential challenges.

Vincent invites historians to consider the benefits and challenges of this project, but to primarily take part as way to support their own teaching and research.



What is the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP)?

Established in 2019, the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP) provides funding to researchers, archivists, organisations, or custodians of cultural heritage who apply to create an inventory for digitisation (planning grant) or to digitise and publicise visual, audio, or textual collections (project grant). Funded by the charitable foundation Arcadia, MEAP is similar to the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). While EAP focuses on collections from before 1900, MEAP targets documents created in the 20th and 21st centuries.

MEAP primarily operates in regions lacking adequate resources to preserve archives. It specifically focuses on archives of small organisations, groups, or minorities (whether religious, community, sexual, economic, political, etc.) that cannot afford to digitise their own records. The programme aims to move beyond nationalist narratives found in some official documents by incorporating the archives of groups advocating for equality and justice. It is quite obvious that these archives may contain significant biases but they also bring a new perspective on the past. Having access to these voices is therefore essential.


Rescuing Zik’s Library: Preserving the Nnamdi Azikiwe Papers. Photograph from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Papers (Nigeria). Courtesy of the Azikiwe Family.


Teaching and Research Potential

Whoever teaches a dissertation module or is looking for teaching material online will be interested in the collections already available. For example, I teach a Year 3 module on the history of Nigeria and I have used material kept by the first president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe to understand the history of the country in the 1950s and 1960s. Some audiovisual material digitised by the team of Ayo Adeduntan, at the University of Ibadan also shows great promise and I will certainly use it next year (see these two blog posts here and here about MEAP in the classroom as well).

I have strong reasons to believe that the potential for this type of initiative is enormous.

As you can see here, MEAP works all over the world and specialists of different geographic areas will be delighted to find material on human rights in Argentina, visual histories of North-East India as well as printed periodicals in Dari-Farsi, Pashto, and Turki languages from all over Afghanistan. Scholars of social movements, environment, religion, will also be able to find new teaching and research material.

Decolonising the curriculum is not always easy. MEAP gives an opportunity for us to rethink about our teaching and research in a rather affordable way since we only need to pay for an Internet connection to access the material free online. Let’s see what AI can uncover from the vast amounts of data now accessible online. I have strong reasons to believe that the potential for this type of initiative is enormous.


What about the owners of the material?

Teams wishing to digitise these archives must comply with the laws of their respective countries and verify the copyright status of the documents. MEAP offers funding for planning projects, allowing up to one year to verify the copyright of all documents. Digitisation cannot proceed without this preliminary work since all digitised files are intended to be freely available online. Additionally, MEAP requires teams to select a license for their documents, either a Creative Commons license (permitting non-commercial reuse of the archives) or a document following the guidelines of Rights Statements (which help copyright holders provide access to their documents while respecting various national laws).

Moreover, MEAP ensures that the individuals and communities where these documents originated give their consent for online publication. Each project leader must organise public events to explain their digitisation project and its implications, aiming to prevent anyone from discovering these projects post facto, and to ensure that digitisation extends beyond purely academic purposes. Beyond questions of copyright and consent, it is true that a lot of individuals do not have access to an Internet fast enough to display these documents and we hope that organising these events might help them access the material in a public place.


Timor Leste: Lucinda da Costa, and other Icatutun vaihoho singers in Leuro, Lospalos sub-district. Photographer: Ildefonso da Silva, courtesy Many Hands International. MEAP funds enabled digitization of Vaihoho sung-stories of the Fataluku people of Timor-Leste, considered to be the group’s most valued repertoire. A significant number of these stories were documented by hand by a late cultural leader of the Fataluku people, Justino Valentim.


Some ethical and technical issues

There is also a series of ethical and technical conundrums. With my colleagues Fabienne Chamelot and Marie Rodet, I have already written about these issues in an African context. In Africa, ethical and technical problems appear more acutely than in some other parts of the world. However, this does not mean our questions can’t be asked elsewhere. For example, the documents digitised by MEAP remain in their country of origin while the digital files are hosted on servers located in the US and, when possible, in their country or origin. A question of data sovereignty can be asked for this kind of project not to reproduce inequalities in a digital format.

Whoever teaches a dissertation module or is looking for teaching material online will be interested in the collections already available.

The perspective of a historian working in the UK might not be universally applicable, as metadata can be created without considering how communities in other parts of the world perceive their own histories. For that specific reason, MEAP asks each team to prepare metadata in the country of origin and to translate it in various languages. The question of language is therefore crucial. Even if applications are written in English, the digitised files can be researched in different languages.

Brazilian Court Records Under Authoritarian Regimes: Digitisation of Justice Court Files under Authoritarian Regimes in Amazonia Digitisation of the material. Credit to Centro de Documentação Historica do Baixo Amazonas – UFOPA / L. Fossard (photographer). Website for more:


How can a team apply?

A considerable amount of material is already online for potential applicants. Many academics might be unsure about the technical dimensions of a digitisation project and the team at UCLA will help applicants go through different hurdles. Applicants can apply for a planning grant to survey an existing collection. If they have a good idea of the material they want to digitise, they can choose to apply for a ‘project grant’ which focuses on a specific collection (the term is vague but it can mean a whole fonds or digital-born archives).

Finally, if they seek to digitise materials from three or more institutions, families, or archival repositories, they can apply to regional grants. The next round of applications will open in autumn 2024.



About the Author


Dr Vincent Hiribarren is Reader in Modern History at King’s College, London. His teaching and research focuses on African history from the 18th century, with emphasis on colonial and postcolonial Nigeria.

Prior to joining King’s College, London in 2013, Vincent was a Leverhulme Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds, where he also completed his PhD on the history of Borno, Nigeria. Vincent sits on the board of the Modern Endangered Archives Program (MEAP) based at UCLA, and has received grants from the British Library Endangered Archives Programme to fund digitisation projects in Madagascar and the Republic of Benin.

He is the author of A History of Borno: Trans-Saharan Empire to Failing Nigerian State (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2017) and Un manguier au Nigeria: Histoires du Borno (Plon, 2019)



HEADER IMAGE: Rescuing Zik’s Library: Preserving the Nnamdi Azikiwe Papers. Photograph from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Papers (Nigeria). Courtesy of the Azikiwe Family.

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