A legend passes

Afghanistan lost one of its earnest chroniclers who spent five decades preserving the country’s history this week

Editorial September 11, 2017
A photograph of late Nancy Hatch Dupree, an American historian, is seen in her office after she passed away, in Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU), in Kabul, Afghanistan September 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Afghanistan lost one of its most earnest chroniclers who spent nearly five decades preserving the country’s history this week. Nancy Dupree, widow of renowned archaeologist and scholar Louis Dupree, died after a protracted illness in a Kabul hospital on Saturday night. Though she came to Afghanistan as early as 1962, her life as a historian only took off in Peshawar when she was forced out of the country following the Soviet invasion in 1979. Before the Soviet takeover, she and her husband travelled extensively and excavated prehistoric sites. Years later, she recalled how tens of hundreds of priceless books were sold by weight and used either as fuel or scrap after the invasion. It was in Peshawar that she realised the importance of preserving unique documents about Afghanistan and preventing them from being destroyed. For the purpose, Dupree created the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) that began collecting government and non-government documents both books and maps relating to Afghanistan’s history and culture.

Her insightful guidebooks are required reading for anyone interested in Afghanistan. When US-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001, Dupree stationed herself in Peshawar in a conscious attempt to preserve the document collection. Within the next four years, Dupree was able to establish a home for the collection of documents that rose from 7,000 items to over 35,000 items in collaboration with the Afghan government. Today her collection, also known as the Afghan Collection, is housed in a separate building of Kabul University.  Her legacy will live on through the Afghanistan Centre, also on the university premises, as well as the Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation. Despite Afghanistan being in the shadow of war for so many decades, Dupree was always upbeat about its future. She believed that its current generation would vanquish the threat of war.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2017.

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