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Why Groundworks? A personal insight

The idea for Groundworks came after twenty years of near-continuous involvement in the African and European heritage sector. My first visit to Africa was in 1996 when I joined an archaeological excavation by UCL's Kevin C. MacDonald near Douentza in the Ghourma Region of Mali. I subsequently headed north for a project on the Songhay Empire in Gao. Since then I have worked on various other projects in West, Central and South Africa, mostly on a research basis or in the commercial sector by way of heritage impact assessments. One issue that has regularly come up during conversations with strangers, friends and family is the general lack of knowledge of Africa’s precolonial past and that the data we produce is not readily accessible to the wider public. The vast holdings of African collections in European museums do not seem to have made a fundamental impact on the widely held perception that equates African history with the arrival of the Europeans. By the same token, an element of regular surprise is the activity itself, the act of doing archaeology and heritage preservation. Careers in Africa are usually associated with jobs in development, humanitarian relief, business, wildlife or journalism. Digging holes to reconstruct and inform about its past seems futile if not a pure luxury. For me however this shows that African history and heritage preservation still have a long way to go.

Regarding Europe, its diversity is taken for granted. School curricula continue to silence questions on the origins and innovations from minority and diaspora groups. The tendency is to push the heritage of those groups into alternative and marginal spaces of the European cultural and social narrative even though their deep-rooted and more recent histories have contributed to the shaping of mainstream cultures and a socially and culturally diverse Europe. My kids who are now in school will probably not learn anything on African history – except that 'Lucy' came from Ethiopia - neither on Jewish, Muslim or Roma history in Europe. All these factors combined have given me the impetus to launch Groundworks. Through Groundworks I attempt to work towards expanding the practice, understanding and transmission of cultural heritage by collaborating with individuals and groups who also move outside the official and accredited circles of protection agencies and research. I am not sure whether I will be able to achieve this goal but I would like to have at least tried.

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