Freedom Road

This incredible guest post comes from Janine Mitchell.

Janine Mitchell is starting the second year of her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Stirling. Her practice-led research examines the ways in which archival material is analysed, selected and implemented in the creation of biographical narratives, and how this process negotiates the shifting boundaries of fact and fiction.   

Janine’s research on the Mackay Archive, held in the University of Stirling’s Archives and Special Collections, will inform a biographical novel, Freedom Road, which tells the story of the life and work of Peter Mackay, a journalist, activist, humanitarian and key contributor to the African nationalist movements in Central and Southern Africa.   

A person standing on top of a dirt field

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Peter Mackay on Freedom Road, 1965

On this day, 28thOctober, in 1948, Peter Mackay first set foot in Southern Rhodesia. Like many demobilised British soldiers, Mackay came to Africa after the Second World War in search of adventure and fortune.  But he grew increasingly appalled at the racism and injustices heaped against Africans by the minority European government. Between the 1950s and until Zimbabwean independence in 1980, Mackay worked alongside African nationalist leaders such as Yatuta Chisiza, Leopold Takawira, James Chikerema and Dumiso Dabengwa in the struggle for African freedom and independence from colonial rule.   

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Freedom Road – SWAPO refugees

In 2013, Peter Mackay’s archive was donated to the University of Stirling.  This incredible collection offers a detailed and meticulous account of the liberation movements in Central and Southern Africa through photography, publications, maps, journalism, extensive journals and correspondence with key African and British political figures. But of the man who has been described as one of the most active and effective white radicals in the nationalist struggle, there is very little.       

In order to build a comprehensive record of Peter Mackay’s life and work, I applied to SGSAH’s SURCAS scheme.  Receiving this funding award has allowed me to do two things.  Firstly, I was able to conduct a series of oral history interviews with Mackay’s colleagues and acquaintances.  Many of these interviewees had extensive personal records of their own.  Their recollections and this new material have helped to bridge some of the gaps in Mackay’s remarkable life story.  Secondly, I developed the primary output of the SURCAS project, the digital companion to the Mackay Archive which, as well as being a platform for disseminating my biographical research findings and a showcase for an interactive map of Freedom Road, aims to highlight the extensive resources available in the archive and increase user-engagement with the collection.    

In addition to the SURCAS funding, I attended two fantastic SGSAH funded events this year which have helped in the creation of the project website.  In May, the University of Edinburgh hosted a three-day ‘Spring into Methods: DIY Academic Archiving’ workshop. This course equipped me with an understanding of the ways in which archive and research material can be digitised for public engagement, and the value of reaching out to new audiences. In September, after six months of planning, my colleagues and I delivered a SGSAH CDF funded podcasting masterclass at the University of Stirling, where academic and industry experts introduced us to the world of podcasting and taught us the art of audio recording and editing – key knowledge for conducting and producing successful oral history interviews!  

Today, to mark the anniversary of Mackay’s arrival in Southern Rhodesia, the Peter Mackay digital resource goes live at http://petermackay.online/

A massive thank you to SGSAH for their training and funding opportunities, to the University of Stirling’s archivists for their assistance in accessing the collection throughout the project and to all the interviewees who gave so generously of their time and resources.          

Thanks, Janine! As ever, we are always on the lookout for guest bloggers. If you’d like to get in touch for an informal chat about contributing, get in touch with Jimmy at James.johnson@stir.ac.uk or let us know on Twitter

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