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A Cupboard of Surprises: Working in the Archives of the Church of Uganda

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2014

Caroline Howell*
St Cross College, Oxford, howell/


I spent a month in Uganda on a ‘fact-finding mission,’ attempting to ascertain the general potential of the archives there for my D. Phil research. I planned to work in the manuscripts section of Makerere University library and in the Uganda National Archives at Entebbe. In addition, since my interest was in church-state relations in the pre-independence period, I was particularly keen to discover what church or mission material might be accessible to me. I knew of no researcher who had used local church records in recent years, and certainly not for the decolonization era.

Although I tried to secure institutional affiliation and research clearance prior to my departure (through MISR, the Makerere Institute of Social Research), I still had to climb a mountain of paperwork on arrival. At Makerere University itself, the library archives held some material of interest to me, such as an extensive newspaper collection, local church publications, some of the papers of the major political parties from the 1950s and 1960s, and a number of relevant research dissertations. Nevertheless, due to the prohibition of photocopying and a shutdown of at least two hours for lunch each day, working through it called on reserves of patience and negotiating skills that I did not realize I had!

At the Uganda National Archives, Entebbe, although a number of detailed handlists existed for early twentieth-century papers, later material was far less readily accessible. Files from the 1940s, for instance, did not appear to be cataloged at all.

Research Article
Copyright © African Studies Association 2001

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1 I am most grateful for a travel grant from the Beit Fund, University of Oxford.

2 Hansen, H. B., in Mission Church and State in a Colonial Setting: Uganda 1890-1925 (London, 1984)Google Scholar, cited extensively from the Bishops' Files at Namirembe, but he carried out the bulk of his research in the 1960s and worked on the early colonial period.

3 The research secretary is Mr Patrick Madaya: MISR, Makerere University, PO Box 16022, Kampala; Tel 256-41-554582, 532830/7/8/9; Fax 256-41-532821;;; MISR is situated on the main Makerere campus.

4 The archives are housed in the former secretariat of the Chief Secretary, Entebbe. They are now among Department of Agriculture offices, near the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel.

5 The archives are kept at the Provincial Offices of the Anglican Church on Namirembe Hill, Kampala. The officer for Public Relations and Communication is Mr Stephen Bukenya, from whom permission to use the archives should be sought: The Province of the Church of Uganda, PO Box 14123, Kampala.

6 Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau, PO Box 4127, Kampala; Tel 256-41-271776;

7 There have been suggestions that the archives might eventually be moved to the Uganda Christian University at Mukono.

8 Namirembe Archives, O2 Bp 114/10 (Church Missionary Society: Africa Secretary and General, 1959-61), Brown to Taylor, 28 December 1960.

9 Arnold, D. and Bickers, R. A., “Introduction” in Bickers, R. A. and Seton, R., eds., Missionary Encounters: Sources and Issues (Richmond, 1996), 110.Google Scholar

10 See my “Church and State in Crisis: the Deposition of the Kabaka of Uganda, 1953-55” in B. Stanley, ed., Missions, Nationalism, and the End of Empire, forthcoming.

11 Darwin, J., “Decolonization and the End of Empire” in Winks, R. W., ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire, V, Historiography (Oxford, 1999), 556.Google Scholar