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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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African Knowledges and the History Publication since the 1970s

Heightened turmoil in the realm of global knowledge production has recently stimulated questions leading to research on inequalities and relationalities within the university; between universities in the “Global South” and “Global North”; as well as between experts and non-experts in a given society. The Junior Research Group “African Knowledges and the History Publication since the 1970s” suggests that the discipline of (African) History, with its multiple sustained contestations over what qualifies as a “proper” primary source; the linearity of time; and the politics of the archive, to name some examples, presents a particularly rich foundation for exploring this landscape.

How power enters the production of history is an underexplored but critical topic in the field. In his book Silencing the Past Michel-Rolph Trouillot locates fours crucial points when this occurs: 1) “the making of sources”; 2) “the making of archives”; 3) “the making of narratives”; and, 4) “the making of history in the final instance”. Furthermore, the book deals “with the many ways in which the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means for such productions” (xxiii). Using a media-centred approach, we want to explore interrelations between producers of history in public, popular and academic spheres on the continent. How do their works interact (or not)? What particular lessons can be drawn about the medialities of specific forms of expression, whether material or immaterial? How can we address power and history via a discussion of media?

We want to contribute to debates on Africa-centred knowledge(s); touchpoints between memory (incl. forgetting and recalling of events) and history; co-production between community members and the academy; North-South collaborations; digital humanities for Africa; “postcolonial” African archives; peace & preservation; restoring balance in the realm of knowledge production.

At the same time, we propose that in order to capture local practices of historical knowledge transmission, it is necessary to move beyond the printed word to analyse other forms of media, whether audio or visual. Amongst other things, it is in this rich multiplicity of intellectual expression that Africa-based African Studies serves as a potential model for how to “reconfigure African Studies” (globally).

We deploy a range of approaches:

Cassandra Mark-Thiesen scrutinises the practices of African and Africa-based knowledge production in African Studies, in particular as recorded in the journal of historical societies and history departments (in West-, East and southern Africa), the bulk of which emerged in the 1970s. Digital humanities tools will be used to examine these works as a collective body of knowledge; exploring apparent trends across this corpus of Africa-based historical writings, which includes thousands of articles. The project investigates “visible” and “invisible” power in the production (and afterlives) of these journals. A close reading approach will be used to discover notions of temporalities, publics, self-fashioning, professionalisation and postcolonial politics.

Luisa Schneider’s project contributes to the growing scholarship on the silencing of West African slave ancestry, as it further the pertinent study of the transatlantic slave trade, by exploring how related story-telling is mediated in the public.  How can multiple mediums such as forts, festivals and representations in digital media add to our understanding of the secrecies of these emotive histories? Can these narratives be given room in national and continental narratives? Furthermore, the question is posed if such a transmission of knowledge facilitates reconciliation (i.e. between those with slave and non-slave heritage) of a societal or economic nature?

The project by Richard Anyah assesses historical narrations and subjectivities as made visible in historical public television archives from Liberia. He asks what emotions and memories are sparked when material reflecting pre-war narrations of the past and historical subjectivities are reanimated in a postwar context via public and curated viewings.

The continent of Africa, already disadvantaged in the global constellation of power in the circulation of knowledge, also draws concern over its endangered and lost archival materials. Therefore, we will be collaborating with the Liberia Broadcasting System to preserve their video archive, covering the entire era of the 1980s, as part of the project.

Finally, the project seeks to develop new forms of collaboration by working closely with the Historical Society of Liberia.


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