Professor Derek R. Peterson – RHS Virtual Lecture 23 July 2020

President Amin opens Jjajja Marina. 24 July 1975.

H.E. opens Jjajja Marina. 24 July 1975.

The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin: Making History in a Tight Corner


Professor Derek R. Peterson
Thursday 23 July 2020

17.30 BST – Live online via Zoom
Booking Required


In May 2019 three colleagues and I launched a special exhibition—titled ‘The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin‘—at the Uganda Museum in Kampala. It consisted of 150 images made by government photographers in the 1970s. In this lecture I’ll explore how political history has been delimited in the Uganda Museum, and how these limitations shaped the exhibition we curated. From the time of its creation, the disparate and multifarious collections of the Uganda Museum were exhibited as ethnographic specimens, stripped of historical context. Spatially and organisationally “The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin” turned its back on the ethnographic architecture of the Uganda Museum. The transformation of these vivid, evocative, aesthetically appealing photographs into historical evidence of atrocity was intensely discomfiting. We were obliged to organise the exhibition around categories that did not correspond with the logic of the photographic archive, with the architecture of the Uganda Museum, or with the experiences of the people who lived through the 1970s. The exhibition made history, but not entirely in ways that we chose.



Derek Peterson is author of Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival (2012), which won the ‘best book’ award of the African Studies Association, and editor of several works, including (with C. Rassool and K. Gavua) The Politics of Heritage in Africa (2015). In 2017 Peterson was awarded a ‘genius’ fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For the past  decade he’s been engaged in an ongoing effort to rehabilitate, organize, and digitise government archives in Uganda.


Watch the Lecture

A full recording of the lecture, slide presentation and live Q&A.