Introduction to the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive and Its Placement in the African History  DigITal Document Portal (July 2020)

 Introduction to the Archive                                                            |                                               Published and Unpublished Works >>>>   

Table of Content

1.1   Introduction to the Dr. Ann O'Hear Archive

1.2   Brief Description of the Contents of the Archive, Note on

        Tape Recording of Interviews and Acknowledgement

1.3.  The Dr. Ann O'Hear Archive: Autobiographical Memoir

1.1 Introduction to the Dr. Ann O'Hear Archive

The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive has been many years in the making. It follows the story of my long engagement with the subject of slavery and related practices in the city and region of Ilorin, Nigeria, from the early 1980s to the year 2020; at present, files are in the process of being transferred to the DigITal African History Archives. Please see the website for details. The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive on Ilorin is rich in the local culture and features a long history of the exploitation of slaves, their descendants, and others in positions of dependency.

The DigITal African History Archives is an initiative founded, developed, and hosted by Professor Femi Kolapo, as a means of preserving unique and endangered documents on Nigerian history. It is a heroic effort to ensure that the historical record of Nigeria remains available for the foreseeable future. As a digital archive, it provides a safe haven for these irreplaceable materials, avoiding the ravages of deterioration or loss.

The DigITal African History Archives is an enormously important initiative for the future of Nigerian historical studies, and Professor Kolapo deserves the grateful thanks of all present and future scholars and students of Nigeria, myself most certainly included. I am honoured to have been invited by Professor Kolapo to add my own collection to his African History Archives.

Section 1 of The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive includes, in addition to this Introduction, a Brief Description of the Contents of the Archive and an Autobiographical Memoir which provides some background to my scholarly journey.


1.2   Brief Description of the Contents of the Archive, Note on Tape Recording of Interviews, and Acknowledgements (July 2020)

The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive is a digital archive put together by myself, with encouragement and assistance from a number of others. The files in this archive are in the process of being transferred to the African History DigITal Document Portal (please see the website). It focuses on the city and region of Ilorin, Nigeria. The area is mostly Yoruba speaking, but it came under Fulani rule within the Sokoto Caliphate in the early nineteenth century. The O’Hear Archive features a long history of exploitation of slaves and others in conditions of dependency.

Section 1 of the O’Hear Archive is introductory. It introduces The O’Hear Archive and its placement in the DigITal African History Archives. It presents this Brief Description of the Contents of the Archive and a brief Autobiographical Memoir.

Section 2 focuses on my published and unpublished writings on slavery. My 1997 monograph, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors, gathers together much of my slavery research up to that point, but other areas which I have studied and written on since that date include the important topic of elite slaves and the varied sources of information on slavery and other forms of dependency, sources such as oriki (Yoruba praise songs/poems).

Sections 3-6 deal with various series of interviews, research reports, and notes that contributed to my writings. In the 1970s, Professor Paul E. Lovejoy generously provided me with interview notes produced by his research assistant as a result of a major project he organised in northern Nigeria in 1975, and with copies of interview tapes. These enabled my research assistants to produce full translations of a number of the interviews. These and copies of the shorter notes made by Professor Lovejoy’s interviewer make up section 3. Section 4 deals with interviews I conducted and information I gathered in Ilorin in the first half of the 1980s and during a research trip to Ilorin in 1988. This research trip in turn laid the foundations for further projects of information gathering which I was able to organise in the years up to 1996. These included, notably, an invaluable, large-scale research project carried out on my behalf by Dr. E.B. Bolaji (now, sadly, deceased) and his assistants (section 5); and a corpus of information on the dependent districts around Ilorin in the twentieth century, meticulously gathered for me by Mr. Yakubu Adeyemi Jimoh (lead researcher) and Rev. Dr. James F. Adetunji (section 6).

Section 7 deals with correspondence and other unpublished materials related to slavery in the Ilorin area, its aftermath, and related topics. Apart from correspondence, the materials include notes on court records and copies of community memoranda.

Section 8 features archival and related material on slavery in the Ilorin area, its aftermath, and related topics, from a variety of sources.

Section 9 focuses on published works containing material on, or relevant to, Ilorin slavery and its aftermath. It provides selected text and summarised material on Ilorin from hard-to-find works, plus bibliographies related to the topic.

Section 10 contains two specific sets of unpublished authored works: the complete text of several papers on Ilorin and its surrounding area by Dr. Susan J. Watts; and notes on a number of undergraduate research dissertations on Ilorin.

Section 11 consists of an appendix providing a general bibliography of my published and unpublished works, not confined to slavery and related topics.

A Note on Tape Recording of Interviews

In most cases, the formal interviews that I conducted or that were conducted by my associates on my behalf were not tape-recorded. My associates and I took these decisions for several reasons. First, there were practical difficulties. Second, many informants were unfamiliar with technological gadgets, and therefore nervous of them. Third was the fact that slavery and associated topics have been a matter of great sensitivity in Ilorin. For this sensitivity, see, for example, O’Hear, “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”, International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 39, no. 2 (2006), page 269 onwards. Careful note taking  and observation during interviews plus follow-up discussions were methods used to ensure that transcripts were as clear and accurate as possible.


I would like to express my gratitude to a number of people who have encouraged me or assisted me in various ways. Professor Paul E. Lovejoy encouraged me to look at slavery, and provided me with material from Ilorin which was obtained as a result of the major interview project which he organised in northern Nigeria in 1975. Professors Toyin Falola and David Richardson provided early encouragement and advice. Professor John Oldfield gave me long-term support. Archivists Simon Wilson and Sarah Pymer provided curatorial assistance. I am greatly indebted to all of my research associates in Nigeria, including the late Dr. E. B. Bolaji, Mr. Yakubu Adeyemi Jimoh, and Rev. Dr. James F. Adetunji; my research assistants and translators Suleiman Ajao and Busayo Simeon; plus others who remain anonymous. I owe a special debt of thanks to Professor Michael Turner for his patience, good humour, and skill in guiding me through the mysteries of cataloguing. I thank my husband, Hugh J. O’Hear, for supporting me over many years and for his finely honed proofreading skills. Above all, I am indebted to Professor Femi Kolapo, University of Guelph, Ontario, for welcoming my collection into his African History DigITal Document Portal

1.3 The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive: Autobiographical Memoir

I specialised in African history as an undergraduate (1962‒1965) at the University of Birmingham, UK, where the Centre of West African Studies was established in 1963 by pioneering historian of West Africa J. D. Fage. Following this, I spent two years as a graduate volunteer teacher in what was then the Mid West of Nigeria (1965‒1967), teaching the new West African history syllabus to school certificate level, as well as other subjects. For some time, up to the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war and the invasion of the Mid West, I was acting principal of my school.

I received an MA in African Studies from the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, UK, in 1969. In 1976, I returned to Nigeria, working as a lecturer in what was then the Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin, becoming a Principal Lecturer and acting as Head of the History Department from 1980 to 1982. At the same time, I was engaged in studying the economic history of the city of Ilorin and its environs. I spent the year 1983 on study leave, writing up my research, receiving my Ph.D. in History/African Studies in 1984 from the University of Birmingham, where I was one of the last students to be supervised by Professor Fage before his retirement. Building on the research I conducted for my doctorate, I have produced a series of seminar papers, articles, and book chapters on craft industries in the city of Ilorin (production and trade in woven cloth, jasper beads, and pottery), on the city’s intermediary functions, on its agricultural districts, and on the historiography of Ilorin and other parts of Yorubaland. I published a new edition of David Wynford Carnegie’s Letters from Nigeria, 1899‒1900, in 1992.

I left the Kwara State College of Technology in 1985, and spent the following 25 years in the USA, where I became Coordinator of Intercultural Studies at Niagara University and also worked in publishing. As Acquisitions Editor for Humanity Books (an imprint of Prometheus Books), Amherst, NY, I was responsible for the publication of works in the imprint’s Classics in Black Studies series. For about 10 years, I was a co-editor of the journal African Economic History.

I was encouraged to study slavery by Paul E. Lovejoy (now Distinguished Research Professor and Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History, York University, Toronto, Canada). Although I did some work on slavery in the early 1980s and it received some coverage in my doctoral thesis, it was only in the mid-1980s that it became my main field of concentration. In 1988, a U.S. Social Science Research Council grant enabled me to conduct research on slavery in Nigeria and in various archives and repositories (I was later aided by a grant from the American Historical Association). Since that time, I have specialised in research on slavery and other forms of dependency in and around the city of Ilorin. I published a monograph, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors, in 1997. I have also published numerous articles and chapters on slavery and related subjects and given many seminar papers on these topics. I now live in England, and I have been engaged for some years in settling my various research collections in appropriate repositories and working on further projects.