The Importance of History, Part 1 by Nigel Browne-Davies

History is a unique academic discipline that covers every subject area known to man.  Whether personal, national, political, or cultural, history is the common thread that links together all the elements of modern society.

It is the intriguing narratives, personalities, and events in history that ignited my lifelong interest and passion for the subject.  However, as a Black Briton of Sierra Leonean descent, I must confess that the history of Sierra Leone was not the starting place for my interest in the subject. I enjoyed reading about the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc, Mungo Park and his adventures in the Gambia, and the history of Athens and Sparta. It never occurred to me that a small West African country would have a history as rich as the diamond fields that cover a portion of its land.

But when I did begin to discover my Sierra Leonean roots, I not only discovered ancestral connections that fascinate me to this day, but also the neglected history of some of the greatest West African pioneers of the past and the present.

From the pre-colonial era, when some of the earliest tribes in what would become modern day Sierra Leone demonstrated their skill in ironwork, to the era of trade and cultural interactions with Europe and the Americas, to the period where Sierra Leone became known as the “Athens of West Africa”, as a country, Sierra Leone has a rich history that its citizens should continue to acknowledge and remain proud of.

However, despite this rich history, few efforts have been directed at preserving historical sites or acknowledging the great achievements of the past. For some Sierra Leoneans, an acknowledgement of the great achievements of their ancestors in the past may appear to be an excuse for underachievement and mediocrity in the present. Moreover, given the recent history of war and political turmoil in Sierra Leone, many Sierra Leoneans may feel as though the future is a better investment than the preservation of the past.

However, from my perspective, this one sided viewpoint is detrimental to ensuring that the political leadership and population of Sierra Leone avoid the mistakes of the past. As the American historian David McCullough stated, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” For Sierra Leoneans to move on from the tragic circumstances that have blighted the recent modern history of Sierra Leone, it is important for the people of Sierra Leone to examine the factors that resulted in the tragedy of the Civil War, and to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the present.

But beyond the obvious benefit of learning from past experiences, the preservation of historical sites and documents in Sierra Leone will reap dividends in academic research and tourism.  Although efforts are currently underway for the preservation of archival documents and other sites, it is time for Sierra Leoneans to take a leading role in this development. Now more than ever, efforts must be made to ensure that historical sites in Sierra Leone are preserved for posterity. These efforts will not only benefit Sierra Leone by boosting tourism, but these actions will also increase awareness of this unique country, thus benefitting the wider world.


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