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Liberian Government Archives I, 1828-1911

Biographical Note

Over the course of his prolific scholarly career, anthropologist Svend Einar Holsoe has greatly advanced our knowledge and understanding of the history and culture of the peoples of Liberia. During his youth, Holsoe’s family lived in Liberia for nine years. His interest in a close study of this country and its peoples began during his senior year in high school. Asked to write an essay on his hometown for his senior English course, Holsoe chose Monrovia, only to discover the dearth of material on the nation and its people. It was at this moment, he says, that he dedicated himself to finding and collecting printed materials on Liberia.

Unparalleled in his dedication to the preservation of documents and artifacts on Liberia, in 1997 Holsoe donated his collection of materials to Indiana University’s Archives of Traditional Music, Liberian Collections Project, Mathers Museum, and Art Museum. A product of his years of research and relentless materials collection, The Svend E. Holsoe Collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive deposits of resources on the West African nation. The Collection includes: copies of Liberian Government Archive Documents between 1824-1983 ; extensive genealogical records, including analyses and family trees developed from these records; political, institutional, social and cultural surveys from the 1980s Liberia Rural Radio Project; field notes and oral history tapes of Vai and Bandi research; Vai script materials, including research notes, examples and articles; and slides and photos spanning decades and covering many geographical areas and activities. Due to looting and the destruction of Liberia’s National Archives during the civil war that began in 1989, the Liberian Government Archives, part of the Holsoe Collection, contains the only extant copies of important historical and cultural documents.

During his career, Holsoe published numerous important scholarly contributions on Liberia. As early as 1966, Holsoe's article, “The Condo Confederation in Western Liberia,” was published in the Liberian Historical Review . Over the next thirty years, Holsoe wrote twenty-seven articles related to Liberia for numerous publications. Holsoe and D. Elwood Dunn collaborated on the first edition of The Historical Dictionary of Liberia (1984). He followed up this major project as a co-author of A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture (1988). More recently, he co-edited African American Exploration in West Africa (2003).

A co-founder of the Liberian Studies Association, Holsoe created and edited the Liberian Studies Journal from 1968 to 1978, as well as a Liberian Studies Monograph Series. In 1999, Indiana University awarded Holsoe the Chancellors’ Medallion in honor of his unique contributions to scholarship. In presenting the honor, Chancellor Kenneth Gros Louis said of Holsoe: “We know, thanks to his collecting and preserving, thanks to his selfless donation to a public university which will make his work available to all in what we hope will be perpetuity, that Svend Holsoe has done more than his part to ensure that much of what constitutes the country and the cultures of Liberia will remain, and that we, as stewards of his materials, will harvest richly from his efforts.” Indeed, Holsoe's scholarly legacy and invaluable collection will long remain an indispensable source of information and inspiration to future scholars of Liberia.