Palimpsest Memoryscapes

Palimpsest Memoryscapes

Materializing and Mediating the Past in Sierra Leone

Rotata, Buya Romende Chiefdon, Port Loko district

Combining ethnographic, archaeological, archival and collections-based research, this long-term research endeavour is concerned with exploring not only the politics of the past in the present in Sierra Leone, but also the very nature of the past and its presence in this West African state. Broadly conceived as a work of 'spatial history', a central concern of the project is the exploration of the relationship between sites of memory and the construction of postcolonial national consciousness in this West African context.

The assumption here is not that Western historiographical frameworks such as Nora's conceptualisation of les lieux de mémoire can be extended unproblematically into non-Western contexts, but rather to use such frameworks as platforms to interrogate the various 'regimes of memory' that coincide at sites in the Sierra Leonean cultural landscape. In some contexts, these may be dichotomised into 'colonising' and 'indigenous' forms of historical consciousness, in others creolised into emergent hybrid historicities, but the dominant metaphor is that of a palimpsest memoryscape in which multiple forms of historical consciousness coexist in dynamic tension with one another, producing unexpected juxtapositions and unanticipated interactions that become strategic resources in regional, national and international political projects.

'Slave Fort', Bunce Island, Sierra Leone

Related outputs

  • Basu, P. 2011. ‘A Museum for Sierra Leone? Amateur Enthusiasms and Colonial Museum Policy in British West Africa’ in S. Longair & J. McAleer (eds), Curating Empire: Museums and the British Imperial Experience, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Basu, P. 2011. ‘Object Diasporas, Resourcing Communities: Sierra Leonean Collections in the Global Museumscape’, Museum Anthropology 34(1): 28-42.
  • Basu, P. 2008. ‘Confronting the Past? Negotiating a Heritage of Conflict in Sierra Leone’, Journal of Material Culture 13(2): 153-167.
  • Basu, P. 2007. ‘Palimpsest Memoryscapes: Materializing and Mediating War and Peace in Sierra Leone’ in F. De Jong & M. Rowlands (eds), Reclaiming Heritage: Alternative Imaginations in West Africa, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
  • Exhibition: ‘Culture and Conflict in Sierra Leone’, Giles Gallery, Richmond, Kentucky.


The Palimpsest Memoryscapes project is funded by the:

  • British Academy (Small Grant)
  • James Green Centre for World Art
  • Nuffield Foundation (Social Sciences Grant)

Project Leader:

Project Partners:

  • Monuments and Relics Commission, Sierra Leone
  • Sierra Leone National Museum
  • British Museum Africa Programme


Further information:

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