Appreciating African Connections: Farida Silla

The Feature Series

The African Studies Program is excited to introduce a new feature series initiated by Carly Lucas. This feature series seeks to highlight key connections in Africa who have helped our faculty and researchers with their fieldwork. By compiling these great resources, we hope to create a list of people that future researchers can reach out to for assistance in their endeavors.

This project is a small effort to decolonize our approach to research, rooted in western and capitalist modes of production that give almost all credit to the individual, the author. However, many of us recognize that without many Africans on the continent, our questions, ideas, and efforts would fall short. Through our Appreciating African Connections feature series, we can use the institutional power and resources UW has to advertise those who make a business out of helping faculty and graduate students from western institutions as we build our projects and reputations– often offering them less credit than that which is due.

For this feature, we ask you to recognize the people on the continent whom you relied on to conduct your research. Please fill out this Qualtrics survey to provide the name, contact information, and bio of these folks. Please provide this information only with their permission.

You can read more about the series here.

Appreciating Farida Silla

For our first Appreciating African Connections feature, Carly Lucas nominated Farida Silla, a research assistant in Tanzania, who graduated from the Art History Department at the University of Dar es Salaam. Farida is preparing for a Master’s in history and has been assisting scholars and dissertators in their archival work in both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar for almost three years. When asked about Farida, Carly shares:

Without Farida, I do not know where my dissertation work would be at this point. Outside of a pandemic, those of us who are foreign researchers on the continent depend on our local networks of support more than we often say. During the pandemic, the support my Tanzanian friends and colleagues have offered me has been lifesaving (or more accurately, career-saving). Farida’s support is brilliant, responsive, intuitive, and motivating. She helps me feel confident that I will have enough sources to write my dissertation by the end of my grant, despite the obstacles of PhD research, compounded by the pandemic, introduce. She has helped me find sources that I have struggled to access on trips over the past three years, and the more she learns about my project–key terms, important events, and intellectuals–the more she surprises me with publications, conference proceedings, and University reports that I did not know were available at the East Africana library (including an array of material that is not cataloged). Since my project is about the history of UDSM, Farida dedicates most of her time working with me to find and scan sources on-campus, which allows me to work around Dar es Salaam at other archives and with historical figures. She is exceedingly generous with her time and flexible when I need her support beyond work at “the Hill.” Additionally, Farida is an expert guide around the University and Dar es Salaam and the city more broadly–she has excitedly introduced me to new corners on-campus that I did not know about, despite studying abroad there in 2013 and helps me see different parts of the city. Farida is also just a joy to be around–a breath of fresh air–so every chance I get to spend with her is a gift. I’m grateful for her continual support, friendship, and I hope to work with her for years to come.

Farida, I could never thank you enough.

An interview with Farida Silla

Farida, tell us about your experience with your own history/art history studies and research.

I have lived in Tanzania for my whole life, and most recently Dar es Saalam, since graduating with my BA in Arts History (2020). One day, I hope to be a Minister of Tourism and Cultural  Heritage. During my undergraduate work, Dr. Salvatory Nyanto helped me learn about the history of slavery, and took me to Bagamoyo and Saadan, offering me the opportunity to conduct historical research. After that work, I felt called to join the Historical Association of Tanzania (HAT) so I could connect more with historians in Tanzania. I also took courses on Research Methodology and Introduction to Research.

I like to learn about various research topics that I am introduced to through my own research, as well as supporting researchers, such as Carly. Some topics of interest that I have explored as a research assistant are archaeology, history, cultural heritage. While studying at UDSM, I worked with Frank Edward and Dr. Onyiego, who trained me to conduct research in the East Africana archives of the Old Library on-campus. There, I facilitated research on economic crises in Tanzania, using newspapers and books. Dr. Onyiego also guided his students to perform genealogy studies. During my work in Zanzibari archives, my research interests grew, as I explored research questions around the history of Arab people under the Oman with a lecturer from the University of Suza.

What work have you done as a research assistant?

I worked at the Zanzibar Institute Archives and Record Management (ZIAR) from July to October, 2019. I digitized archival documents, scanning and organizing sources for the researchers I worked for while there. I also provided assistance to the researchers’ conservation search room unit, where I restored documents–sewing and binding old and tattered documents. After assessing the documents, I cataloged them and organized them in the storage room. Further, this introduced me to the Record Management Unit, where I appraised documents. I also gained experience in the Registry (or Strong Room) where I analyzed whether or not documents were relevant, such as letters given to the archive. I am grateful for my work at ZIAR and for their attention to my performance, which resulted in my earning a Certificate of Appreciation. My work is available at the Zanzibar archives and I have a keen awareness of the documents available there and how to access them.

In October and November 2020, I had the opportunity to work with the General Election of Tanzania and the Institution of Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania (REDET), as a short-term observer. During that time, I also worked as a temporary superintendent of Coast Region, Bagamoyo district in ChaSimba Village collecting overseeing research report collections.

Finally, since October 2021, I have worked with Carly Lucas, who has helped me to explore research in the UDSM libraries more, as well as how to take initiative for researchers, finding sources for them that are not cataloged or that they had not requested, but based on my own understanding of key terms in their projects and assessment of documents they might not know they needed.

What do you like best about your work as a research assistant?

I really enjoy learning from the different research plans and questions the researchers I have worked with have asked. I am currently focused on improving taking a more proactive effort to help researchers achieve their goals. I am also grateful for the professional networking these opportunities have offered me, as I am hoping to further my academic studies in History.

Tell us more about how you can support UW researchers in Tanzania.

I am excited for the opportunity to work side by side to support UW researchers, especially getting to know them should they travel to Tanzania. I am open to feedback and responsive to communication to ensure they find what they need, during their limited time in country. I look forward to learning more about Tanzania through my work as a research assistant.

Farida is currently a full-time research assistant and welcomes the opportunity to work with other researchers–both in-country or with those working remotely. She is able to find and scan archival sources, support interviews, as well as translate Swahili material to English. The best way to contact Farida Silla is by email at

Produced & translated by Carly Lucas