This project was stimulated by and draws on the academic paper An Archive of Identity: the Central African Archives and the Southern Rhodesian History, by Drs Lawrence Dritsas and Joan Haig of the Centre of African Studies
at the University of Edinburgh. The project proposes that the mentioned archive, called Oppenheimer Series and the questions it raises, be taken as a starting point for artists’ and experts’ explorations of the archive and its importance for post-colonial understandings and contemporary art practice. The Oppenheimer Series is also relevant today because some of the information contained in it is on the verge of loss in the sense that it is not available anywhere else: these sources are the only recorded witness we have. Its presentation of stories of courage and deprivation in the uncharted territory north of the Limpopo also provided the fuel for a romantic imagining of what it was to be both white Rhodesian and British – a dual identity. This process can be compared to how 19th
century Scotland looked to its imagined, heroic past to inform its particular form of ‘unionist nationalism’ that was both distinct and within the UK. The idea of hybridity and duality again pervades much contemporary discourse. Between 1943 and 1956, government archivists in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) collaborated with the publisher Chatto & Windus to produce a series of nine books. The collection was known as the Oppenheimer Series
and aimed to constitute a faithful archive of national identity.The volumes offered in print, for the first time, the primary sources – diaries, correspondence, notes and maps – that chronicled the first English-speaking Europeans to visit south-central Africa. The volumes included journals and oral histories from 19th
century Scottish explorers and missionaries Robert Moffat
) and David Livingstone
(The Zambesi Expedition).