Colonial Sources: Improve access, Share archives and Promote knowledge on the colonial past (Belgium, Burundi, the DRCongo and Rwanda)

The Colonial Sources (CoSo) project aims to develop a digital platform as a gateway to archives and knowledge about the shared Belgian, Burundian, Congolese and Rwandan colonial past. The CoSo portal will, for the first time, bring together existing but still fragmented collections and information on the Belgian colonial period. It will also offer educational tools based on often asked questions about Belgian colonialism. The platform targets both researchers and a broad public.


CoSo capitalises on the momentum created by several factors such as the contemporary societal debates on (de)colonisation and the restitution of colonial collections; the publication of the source guide Guide des sources de l'histoire de la colonisation in 2021; the recommendations of the Belgian Special Parliamentary Commission "Colonial Past" from 2022 and the transfer of the ‘Africa Archives’ from the FPS Foreign Affairs to the State Archives started in 2016.

In essence, the CoSo project has two major short-term objectives:

  1. Develop an integrated search environment centralising access to archival sources, collections and contextual information on the colonial history of Belgium, Burundi, the DR Congo and Rwanda.

Via this portal, the visitor will be able to search for collections and sources relating to the colonial process, both via a search interface and via a map. If available, the user will also be able to immediately consult digitised sources, existing archival access tools (inventories or source guides) or datasets. In order to contextualise these sources, visitors will also be able to search for contextual information, in particular about ‘people and institutions’ and ‘places’. Throughout the entire project, special attention will be given to colonial language. Using semi-automatic detection methods, problematic terms and descriptions of collections will be detected and dealt with.

  1. Provide an educational toolbox that highlights Belgium's colonisation of Burundi, Congo and Rwanda through a series of FAQs.

This toolbox specifically targets young people between 12 and 18 years old and their teachers. The starting point is a series of common questions about the colonial process and its noticeable after-effects to this day. Each question will be answered by providing a synthesis of recent scientific research, digitised sources and interactive digital storytelling. The toolbox will also provide an overview of other existing online pedagogical tools related to Belgian colonialism.

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Matricule card Paul Panda Farnana (1888-1930), the first Congolese in state service for the Ministry of Colonies in 1909 - Archives africaines. Ministère des Colonies. Administration métropolitaine. Personnel d'Afrique. Dossiers généraux. 1877-1960, Registres des matricules (NAB2 - Cuvelier repository)

In this first phase, the CoSo infrastructure project works with the (digitised) collections and research tools developed by the State Archives, the AfricaMuseum and the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences. Yet, CoSo aims to add and use the collections and tools of other institutions in the future.

CoSo’s ambition is to create an international go-to platform for the colonial archives and history of Belgium, Burundi, the DR Congo and Rwanda. The CoSo infrastructure will not only allow institutions to share their colonial archives via a central platform, but will also offer them tools to further enrich these collections. This can be done both via (semi-)automatic enrichment methods such as OCR, HTR and NER but also via (semi-)public crowdsourcing projects.

In the longer term, CoSo aims to foster scientific research, societal reflection and (inter)national cooperation on the shared colonial heritage of Belgium, Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.


The CoSo project is funded by the Belgian Science Policy (Belspo) in the framework of the call INFRA-FED 2022: ‘Impulse action call to fostering the development of emerging research infrastructures within federal research institutions’.

The project is coordinated by:

  • State Archives (prof. dr. Bérengère PIRET)
  • AfricaMuseum (Dieter VAN HASSEL)

The implementation of the project is realised in collaboration with:

  • Archives Nationales du Burundi
  • Institut National des Archives du Congo
  • Rwanda Cultural Heritage Academy
  • Observatoire des Mémoires de Lubumbashi
  • Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences 


The research activities are carried out by:

  • Davy VERBEKE (NAB2)

Scientific committee

The project goals are pursued by the institutional lead of the State Archives and the AfricaMuseum, with the cooperation of the aforementioned partner institutions from Burundi, the DRCongo, Rwanda and Belgium.

The project also consults an advisory scientific committee of stakeholders, historians and technicians:  

  • Fontaine ATCHIKITI - Co-coordinator Collectif Mémoire Coloniale et Lutte contre les Discriminations (CMCLD)
  • Prof. dr. Sandrine COLLARD - Researcher, independent curator, professor at Rutgers University-Newark
  • Prof. dr. Joseph GAHAMA - Historian, professor at University of Rwanda and University of Burundi
  • Dr. Lizzy JONGMA - Senior ICT project leader War Resources Network at NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (the Netherlands)
  • Prof. dr. Charles KABWETE MULINDA - Historian, Associate Professor at University of Rwanda
  • Dr. Chantal KESTELOOT - Historian at State Archives (CegeSoma)
  • Prof. dr. Gillian MATTHYS - Historian, Professor at Ghent University
  • Richard PALMER - Technical Lead at Victoria and Albert Museum (London)