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Ellen partners with Harvard Library to hold and steward her personal papers

Harvard Library, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center) this week announced a partnership to steward and provide access to President Sirleaf’s personal and professional archives.

Under an innovative partnership agreement, former world leader and Harvard alum (MPA ’71) President Sirleaf will place personal archives that document her life before, during, and after her twelve-year tenure as President of Liberia with Harvard Library. Harvard Library will process the archives to make them publicly discoverable and accessible online and in the Harvard University Archives reading room for a period of at least 25 years, with a plan to return the collection to the EJS Center in Liberia.

President Sirleaf, who served two terms as president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, was the first woman elected president of an African country. As president, she worked to secure peace in Liberia, made significant progress in the country’s economic and social development and in reforming areas of governance and the rule of law, and improved infrastructure and basic services. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work to bring women into the Liberian peacekeeping process. President Sirleaf’s legacy also includes strengthening women’s position in society, which she continues to promote tirelessly through the EJS Center.

The archives coming to Harvard document President Sirleaf’s life and career in finance and politics from the 1960s through the 2010s, including her tenure as president and her time as a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. They include materials related to her political and social activism and to the Liberian peace process and peace talks; speeches and public addresses; records of her presidential campaigns and her work with international development organizations; and personal letters and emails.

President Sirleaf chose Harvard Library to steward her papers because of her long relationship with Harvard and the Library’s ability to make the materials accessible to international scholars, including scholars of the African diaspora.

“I have a long relationship with Harvard, and having my papers at a premier higher-education institution will make them much more available around the world,” she said. “I’m pleased that the digitization will enable researchers from anywhere in the world, including Liberia and Africa, to access my papers and help them carry out their work – whether they are seeking leadership positions, studying history, or looking to write a book on me or another African leader.

“The papers especially need to be preserved and available for women – in Liberia, in Africa, and elsewhere – to follow the history of my life,” President Sirleaf added. “We hope they will provide inspiration for future generations.”

Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian Martha Whitehead expressed excitement on behalf of the library organization, both for the partnership with President Sirleaf and the EJS Center and for this new model of collecting records.

“We are thrilled that President Sirleaf has chosen to partner with us in bringing her legacy to the world,” Whitehead said. “In addition, this agreement is an important advance in how Harvard Library is enabling discovery of, access to, and preservation of world knowledge. We are intent on seeing communities in all parts of the world empowered to share their local research resources broadly while retaining their ownership, a significant shift from collecting practices of past centuries.”

Harvard archivists will work with archivists at the EJS Center to prepare the collection for shipment to Harvard later this year. An Ellen Johnson Sirleaf papers archivist will be appointed at Harvard to head the processing of President Sirleaf’s personal archives over the next two years. By 2025, Harvard Library will open the archives for research and make digital versions of significant portions of the archives publicly available online.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development

The EJS Center was founded in 2018 to be a catalyst for change across Africa by helping unleash its most abundant untapped power – its women. It officially launched on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020. Through a unique blend of programming, advocacy, research, and exhibitions, the Center advances women’s public leadership and social development on the continent. As the first democratically elected woman president in Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is passionate about supporting the next generation of women in public leadership.

Harvard Library

At Harvard Library, we are champions of curiosity. We aim to be global leaders in expanding world knowledge and intellectual exploration. We engage with our communities in the creation and sharing of new knowledge, connecting them with the vast collections that we curate and steward through collaborations around the world. At its core, our mission for nearly four centuries has been to advance the learning, research, and pursuit of truth that are at the heart of Harvard. Our efforts are motivated and powered by working collaboratively, embracing diverse perspectives, championing access, aiming for the extraordinary, and always leading with curiosity.

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