The British Institute of History and Archaeology in East Africa (as the Institute was originally known) was founded in 1959. At the time, East African history, as generally understood and taught in schools, was dominated by the exploits of outsiders: explorers, missionaries, and colonial administrators. Meanwhile archaeological research in the region (notably that of Louis and Mary Leakey) had been mostly concerned with the Early Stone Age; more relevant to human history in general than to that of the inhabitants of contemporary East Africa. The need to encourage a less Eurocentric historiography of the region and to pursue new directions in research was felt urgently by the late 1950s, as the countries of East Africa approached independence.
A Short History of the BIEA
The Institute was established to initiate, facilitate and encourage archaeological and historical research in Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar and, by working together with museums in the region along with the nascent University of East Africa, to promote a better understanding of East Africa’s pre-colonial past.
The Institute’s first headquarters were established in Dar es Salaam in 1960. In 1962 a sub-branch was established at the Uganda Museum in Kampala, the aim of which was to encourage up-country research. In order to combine the two bases, the Institute moved to Chiromo Mansion (the former residence of George Grogan) in Nairobi in 1964-65, with the encouragement of the new government of Kenya and the University of East Africa. In 1970, the Institute changed its name to the ‘British Institute in Eastern Africa’, and in 1983 moved to its present site in Kileleshwa.
In April 2009, BIEA moved into new offices purposefully built within the existing compound. The old office block (formerly a residential home) was converted back into a large guest house providing ample space for visiting researchers. The new office block contains an extensive research library, office space, computing facilities, a large seminar room, equipment store and desk space for visiting researchers and students. From June 2009 the French L’Institut français de Recherche en Afrique (IFRA) have shared part of the new BIEA premises. From January 2012, the Rift Valley Institute (RVI) opened an administrative office and in 2013 the guest house for visiting researchers was moved to flats nearby to allow more office space on site. Today, as well as RVI, IFRA, CRC, PROCOL and RSC.