Just the Facts

Institutution
Wesleyan University

Year
2006

Project
Survey of historic buildings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, concentrating mainly on pre-1919 German structures, which represent a unique colonial style

Genevieve Edens

I currently work with Sustainable Harvest, a coffee broker and farmer training office in Kigoma, Tanzania. From the research and writing associated with my Fellowship project, I learned that my passion lies not with the technical aspect of architectural history and historic preservation, but with architecture as public history. The opportunity to spend 12 months in Tanzania is one that I am sure will influence my career. I fell in love with the place, but beyond that I feel a connection and commitment to the community in which I lived that goes much deeper than a shorter stay would have allowed.

My current job, working with coffee farmers near Lake Tanganyika, might seem unrelated to the study of German buildings in colonial towns. But while I put together an inventory, I was also able to work with schools and relate my historical research to projects with youth, encouraging them to explore their neighborhoods. I became interested in the relationship between the exchange of information and critical thinking skills, capacity building and empowerment. The switch from architectural history to coffee farming does not seem a strange one to me.

The project I proposed for the Mortimer Hays-Brandeis Traveling Fellowship is not one that would find many funders. I spent the year studying the history of structures built during the German colonial period, putting together a preliminary inventory of three towns — Dar es Salaam, Tabora and Kigoma. The structures are vernacular buildings, not spectacular examples of style, and the period in which they were built is not a popular one to study. Historic preservation is still in the beginning stages in Tanzania, and preservation advocates are losing the battle against developers in Dar es Salaam. The Fellowship, with its unique focus, allowed me to pursue this project and make an important contribution to historic preservation in Tanzania.

I would definitely apply again for the Fellowship. In fact, I wish I could! It allowed for a flexible, challenging and rewarding project, and the opportunity to follow my intellectual curiosity. I did, however, have to adjust the focus of the project once it got underway because of what I found (and could not find) in the archive.

The advice I would give to students considering application to the program is to make sure that the project is one on which you will be content to spend a year. Think about the solitary nature of the work you might be doing. The most difficult aspect of my year was the first six months, which I spent mainly in the archive. This was isolating work in a new and strange environment.

I am in the process of putting the inventory that was the result of the Fellowship online at www.tzlandscapes.com. As of the writing of this report, the site is still in the development stages, but should be completed soon.