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Sierra Leone's history and heritage

Freetown in Sierra Leone was formed initially as a settlement for former slaves in the late eighteenth century, and the Public Archives there hold a wealth of rare and endangered sources which document the rich and varied history of this former British colony.

Among the most important collections of documents held in the Sierra Leone Public Archives are Registers of Liberated Africans which record rare information on tens of thousands of men, women and children who were released from slave ships bound for the slave plantations of the Americas and relocated to Sierra Leone. Descendants of these Liberated Africans are still resident in Sierra Leone today.

In recent years, Professor Suzanne Schwarz of the University of Worcester has been working in collaboration with Professor Paul Lovejoy on an international project to preserve these invaluable archival sources in Freetown. This project, funded by the British Library Endangered Archives Programme, has involved training Sierra Leonean archivists to undertake the digital preservation of documents which span the period from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century. These documents are decaying rapidly in poor storage conditions in Freetown. Schwarz’s research, for which she was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, examines how Sierra Leone was central to international efforts to suppress the Atlantic slave trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her research, based on archives held in Sierra Leone, America and Britain, involves tracing the identities and experiences of thousands of enslaved Africans forcibly resettled in the colony in the nineteenth century.

A major international conference organised by Professors Lovejoy and Schwarz in 2012 marked the tenth anniversary of the ending of the civil war in Sierra Leone. The conference, entitled ‘Sierra Leone Past and Present’ drew together international delegates, Sierra Leonean historians, students, museum curators and archivists to discuss the country’s history and heritage. The national newspaper, Premier News, featured an editorial, commending Professors Schwarz and Lovejoy “for their work in seeking to understand the Country’s past, so as to help the Country address the challenges of the present and future.”