Columbia's Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research Acquires Gay J. McDougall Papers

McDougall (left) with Nelson Mandela and others McDougall (left) with Nelson Mandela and others.

Ms. McDougall served as the Director of the Southern Africa Project for 14 years and was the only American to be appointed to the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). The IEC was the South African governmental body established through the multi-party negotiations to set policy and administer the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, resulting in the election of President Nelson Mandela and the transition from apartheid.

The McDougall papers contain unique documentation of the activities and decisions of the IEC from the perspective of a member of the Commission and reveal a day-by-day detailed picture of the challenges confronted by the Commission in mounting South Africa’s first democratic elections.

“For nearly two decades, I was privileged to have a front-row seat to one of the greatest human dramas of the twentieth century: the defeat of apartheid,” said Ms. McDougall.  “I was also fortunate to be able to play a substantive role in that struggle.  I hope that the donation of my papers to Columbia will increase the chance that future scholars will benefit from the lessons of that victory.”

The papers document a pivotal period between 1980-1994 when Ms. McDougall and lawyers in South Africa and Namibia collaborated on the defense of and gained the release of thousands of political prisoners and detainees imprisoned during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and Namibia.  Among the papers is a collection of nearly 100 files on the trials of the political activists supported by the Southern Africa Project including non-confidential communications between Ms. McDougall and the lawyers representing those activists. 

Additionally, the papers document Ms. McDougall’s role in the United States-based anti-apartheid movement and the international networking that took place among activists, including efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy.  Other key events and topics reflected in the collections include the establishment of the Commission on Independence for Namibia, and the development of judicial and constitutional norms, institutions, and legislation during the post-apartheid transitional period.

The Gay J. McDougall South Africa and Namibia Papers include correspondence, memoranda, photographs, videos, ephemera such as election ballots, original local news coverage, and Ms. McDougall’s diaries from trips to South Africa, Namibia and the Frontline States.  Unique collections of publications by South African organizations including books, reports and briefing papers are also part of this remarkable collection.

"Scholars and students researching the history of South Africa and Namibia during the final decade of apartheid and the transition years 1990-1994 will find that these papers are a treasure trove of information,” stated Professor Gail Gerhart, editor of the book series From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1990. “Columbia is privileged to receive this collection assembled by Gay McDougall, a major figure in the international anti-apartheid movement."

The archives will be managed by Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library and will enrich the Libraries’s Human Rights and African Studies collections.

The African Studies Collections at Columbia contain over 126,000 book titles, 1,700 current serials and over 450 videos in history, political science, law, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, geoscience, literature, ethnomusiciology, and the visual arts.  The African Studies website features information about the collections and guides to research including the African Studies Internet Resources virtual library:

The Center for Human Rights Documentation &  Research supports the community of teachers, students, researchers, and law and social justice advocates working in the multidisciplinary sphere of human rights.  The Center, established in 2005, is part of Columbia University Libraries/Information Services.  The CHRDR  pursues three programmatic directions:  building archival and general research collections, promoting their use in human rights education  and research, and developing events and collaborations related to human rights documentation and research.   The CHRDR website is the central access point for its activities, archives, and research resources:

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 11 million volumes, over 150,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 500 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: