The Uganda Society was founded in 1923 as the Uganda Literary and Scientific Society and gained its current name in 1933. In its early days, the society was made up of some seventy members, almost entirely confined to Entebbe. During the first five years of its existence, the society presented over forty lectures of scientific, historical, economic, or religious interest. Unfortunately, the organizers dispersed or became busy with other activities and the society had almost collapsed by 1928. One of the original founders, E.J. Wayland, managed to arrange an odd lecture from a distinguished visitor and to conserve the society’s assets, allowing the society to be revived in the future.
In June 1933, the Uganda Society was moved to Kampala and The Uganda Journal was established to help attract wider support for the society. Also, the society published various special studies such as Sir Albert Cook’s "Uganda Memories (1897-1940)." E.J. Wayland gave the first lecture of the revived society at the Kampala Club in September of that year, and the first number of the journal appeared shortly thereafter. During this period, membership in the society rose to over 250 and editions of 400 journals sold out. The society moved to the Sikh Barracks, and subsequently to the National Cultural Center in Kampala in 1960. After a Ford Foundation grant provided for extending the Uganda Museum buildings in 1963, the society settled in the Education Wing of the museum. Since then, the Uganda Museum and the Uganda Society have shared a home.
For the half century from 1933 to 1983, the Uganda Society played a prominent role as an innovative multi-disciplinary organization. It fostered and facilitated scientific, literary, social, economic and cultural pursuits of various sorts. The society organized and sponsored public lectures, debates, and academic discussions. The Uganda Society publication, The Uganda Journal, earned an excellent reputation throughout the world. Within Africa, it inspired publication of other such academic journals in other countries. The society’s library, founded in the 1930’s, offered readers and researchers a collection of volumes, maps, periodicals and photographs many of which were otherwise unavailable elsewhere in Uganda. The society, however, closed in the midst of civil unrest, in 1983.
From 1976 to 1983 the Uganda Society continued to struggle to maintain its operations, but finally lost its battle with declining membership and financial resources. Only the library was maintained and preserved on a severely restricted basis by various volunteers until the rebirth of the society in 1994 when the society, library and journal were revived. The first annual general meeting in over a decade was held in early 1994 and an executive committee headed by Prof. Herbert K. Nsubuga began the process of bringing the society and its offshoots back into the public eye. The society has again been presenting monthly lectures, printing The Uganda Journal and making the library’s collection available to the public.
The Uganda Journal was first published in January 1934 as the organ of the Uganda Literary and Scientific Society. In its first number, it was stated that the journal’s aim was "to collect and publish information which may add to our knowledge of Uganda and to record that which in the course of time might be lost. To be a success it must at one and the same time have an appeal to members of the society and bring to light information which is not otherwise readily available". The original intention was to publish quarterly, with issues including about sixty pages of reading matter with photographs. For most of its years, however, The Uganda Journal has been published twice a year. From the beginning the journal contained several substantial articles as well as short notes which were intended to present "pieces of interesting information which may not be suitable for long articles, but which could make interesting notes." These notes remain a popular feature of the journal today.
The Uganda Journal was published regularly through Volume 9, Number 2 in May of 1942. Stocks of paper held for the journal ran out and it was impossible to get journals printed during the war years. It was during these years that the five bulletins were produced, from December 1943 through the end of 1945. After the war, The Uganda Journal reappeared, with two issues appearing each year through Volume 35, in 1971. Printing , which had been done in Uganda, mostly at the government printer, was transferred to England. Printing in Uganda was resumed in 1962. Volumes 36 through 41 were published between 1972 and 1984 as single number issues. Again publication stopped. The journal was revived again in 1995 with grants from the British Council and the United States Information Service. Volume 42 appeared in December of that year. That was followed by Volume 43 in December 1996. Volume 44 was available for sale in mid-1998. Volume 45 should be out in mid-1999.
The Uganda Journal has been well indexed through the years, making it especially useful to researchers. An index to articles only of volumes 1 to 8 was printed in 1941. An index to volumes 1 to 10 added a subject index. A full index to volumes 1 to 20 appeared as a special supplement to volume 22, and an index to volumes 21 to 40 appeared as a supplement to volume 40. These two supplements are available from the Uganda Society as reprints for only 2,000/= (U.S.$2), along with an excellent article by Sir John Gray describing the first 25 volumes. Reprints of a wide range of articles were also made over the years. Many of these are still available. A list of reprints is available on this site.
The Uganda Society’s library is housed in one room of the Uganda National Museum. Started in the 1930’s by a group of scholars, the collection is comprised of approximately 3,000 volumes, maps, periodicals and photographs, all pertaining to African history, culture, sociology, travel and science. In addition to its collection, the library houses the books of the East African Wildlife Society and a number of books from the museum which were given to the society’s care some years ago. Although the library was a circulating library for many years, due to the limited availability of the books and their value, the collection is currently available for reference use only.
The library collection includes a rare books section which contains several signed first editions, including volumes from the personal collections of Dr. Albert Cooke. It also features a complete collection of The Uganda Journal, which has been published by the society since 1934. (The collection was completed by the generous donation of Guy Yeoman’s collection by his widow in 1999.) Almost one third of the books in the collection are rare books, either in the traditional sense or simply not otherwise available in public collections in Uganda. Books such as Rev. John Roscoe’s treatises on the tribes of Uganda are available on the world market, but in other public collections in Uganda, copies are few and often damaged or missing sections. These are also the most often used books in the collection, along with the invaluable journals.
The library has a comfortable reading room, although the lighting and ventilation are poor. It is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteer librarians who keep it open and available to the public several mornings a week and by appointment. The collection has been cataloged in a computer as well as on cards to provide easy access to its resources. The physical condition of the collection is poor but not irreversible. Many of the volumes have been damaged by moisture, insects and dust. In particular, some of the rare books are in desperate need of professional restoration. Nonetheless, all of the volumes are available to readers for reference.
The Uganda Society received a seed grant from the American Association of Museum Preservation in May 1995 to bring a consultant from the British Library assessed the physical state of the collection and make recommendations for restoration and care. As a result of the visit, the library committee conducted a pilot rebinding project with Makerere University, resulting in 96 rebound or strengthened books (none from the rare book section). The card catalog has been updated and verified. Library security has improved in several ways: more secure locks have been installed, and the physical layout of the library has been changed to require users to request volumes from the librarian. Volunteer librarians continue to use the survey as a reference for future efforts to improve the condition of the books.
In September 1996, the United States Information Service gave a grant to the library in order to hire a half-time librarian six days a week and to computerize the card catalog. The computerization was completed in 1997. This computerized list of books, along with assorted library and society documents, is available to library users on a computer donated by Caltex in early 1998. Current projects include acquiring recent publications on Uganda and East Africa, soliciting donations of books to increase the breadth of the collection, restoring and repairing rare books, upgrading rare book storage and, most of all, improving and glassing the shelved to protect the books.
Following the long period of civil unrest in Uganda beginning from 1971 up to the early 1980’s, many , or even most, important historical documents and archives pertaining to the country and the region were lost or destroyed. Nevertheless, the Uganda Society library collection, while small, is a crucial link between the past and present. Many of the volumes, maps and photographs cannot be found in any other location in Uganda, and some are not even to be found anywhere in the world. Keeping this collection in good condition is essential to ensuring that a part of Uganda’s heritage is not lost forever.
Perhaps just as important as maintaining the collection, however, is promoting its use by the general public as well as international scholars and visitors. The library is kept open at least three days a week by a dedicated group of volunteers. Anyone is welcome to use the facility–Uganda Society members have free access; non-members pay a nominal fee of 1,000/= (U.S.$1) only. These low fees are meant to reinforce the society’s commitment to making the collection a welcome place for all interested parties.
In the few years since the Uganda Society was reborn, its members and executive committee have been busy building a membership base, bringing The Uganda Journal back to life, organizing the library and presenting a heady schedule of lectures on a shoestring budget. Adequate funding remains a problem. The grant for printing the journal has been exhausted in printing the three journals and new monies will have to be raised to continue to publish. The society is actively seeking funds to print the journal each year. The library needs support for repairing and rebinding books, acquiring new books, and upgrading the facility. The Uganda Society continues to stretch a small budget to cover activities to expand membership and member participation.
Anyone with an interest in Uganda is cordially invited to join the society. (For more information about joining, click join!) Our total membership is currently over 100 annual and student members, as well as a number of life members, both within Uganda and in other countries around the world. We welcome memberships from institutions and corporations that want to join in our efforts, as well as new members in all categories. Annual membership fees are only 10,000/= (about $10), student memberships only 3,000/= (about $3), with institutional memberships also at 10,000/=, life memberships at 100,000/= (about $100). Inquiries about joining; purchasing journals, reprints of journal articles or lectures, or copies of journal articles; or supporting any of the society’s functions are welcomed. Any inquiries may be made by post to the Secretary, Uganda Society, P.O. Box 4980, Kampala, Uganda or by email to the secretary at NCID@Infocom.co.ug.
Equally welcome are inquiries about contributions of papers or articles for publication in the journal. These inquiries can be directed to the Hon. Editor via post at the above address or by email to OLakidi@Infocom.co.ug. Also, anyone wishing to donate books or assist with preservation of books can contact the library coordinator for information and assistance with shipping of materials.
By supporting this important part of Uganda’s cultural development, you are supporting a vital link between understanding Uganda’s past and preparing for its future.