Institute of Archaeology


Pauline Harding

Ritual, identity and ideology: constructing the past in sub-Saharan Africa

Portrait of Pauline Harding

Email: p.harding@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Heritage Studies



Ritual, identity and ideology: constructing the past in sub-Saharan Africa

The focus of my PhD is on constructions of the past by the Baganda and Acholi peoples of Uganda, and the Yoruba and Igbo of Nigeria. These groups' histories are being repurposed for ideological gain: the Baganda use the past to bargain for political power and land; the Acholi rework traditional rituals as a peacebuilding tool, and strive for ethnic political autonomy; while the Yoruba and Igbo actively use their rich heritage as a form of territorial and political legitimation. I will document how the manipulation of heritage is used to support ideological agendas, by analysing activity at heritage sites, original interview material, related literature and current academic discourse. I will then assess the importance of heritage manipulation as a constituent in fuelling intercultural tensions, and how the understanding of this process can help combat and diffuse such tensions. My conclusions will be of value to local communities; they will also benefit other researchers, by highlighting examples of constructed pasts and associated biases to be considered when interpreting archaeological material. To look at the socio-political impact of constructions of the past, I will consider the following questions: What pre-colonial ethnic pasts have been invoked in Uganda and Nigeria over the past 50 years? What political agendas, if any, do these serve? How is ritual used to support and promote these constructions? How do the benefits of such constructions balance with potential dangers? How and why do constructions of ethnic pasts in Uganda and Nigeria differ? In Africa, historically substantiated identity-related conflicts have resulted in gross loss of life in past decades. By addressing reasons for the construction of the past in different communities, this research has the potential to give historically divided peoples a stronger sense of identity and mutual understanding that will help them build a more peaceful future




    • BA Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, 2010
    • MA Managing Archaeological Sites, UCL, 2011

    Additional responsibilities

    Coordinator of UCL Institute of Archaeology African Peoples and Pasts seminars, 2018–present


    Harding, P. 2019. Strings in Uganda. In: The Strad magazine 130(1551). London: Newsquest Specialist Media Ltd

    Conference papers

    Harding, P. 2018. 'Mythologising archaeological landscapes’. Presentation at international conference Mythological Panoramas: Tracing distortions and fictions of landscape across time and space. Senate House, London, 4 October.


    Harding, P. and Reid, A. 2018. ‘Projected population growth and future heritage issues in Uganda’. Presentation at PanAfrican Archaeological Conference. Rabat, Morocco, 13 September.