Research Project

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 sustained contestations over who qualifies as the ideal narrator of the past; what qualifies as a “proper” primary source; the conceptualisation 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 a critical but underexplored 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? What implications do these insights have for the future of the discipline?

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

Amongst other things, 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. 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 apply a range of approaches to the subject.

Academic Consultants

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Dr. Melanie Boehi

She is born in Zurich and based in Johannesburg. Her past research projects have been concerned with the history of flower selling and botanical gardens in South Africa and beyond, and her current research project focuses on intersections of journalism, biography and archive in global history. She moves between the fields of the environmental humanities, museum and heritage studies, postcolonial studies and global history. She is particularly interested in questions of methodology and form in historical work, and works with conventional historial research methods as well as artistic research methods.

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Dr. Ruramisai Charumbi

She is is the author of Imagining a Nation: History and Memory in Making Zimbabwe, and a second research book in-progress. A historian of African and Global History trained at Yale University, she has more than a decade of experience as a History department faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere. At the Walter Benjamin Kolleg, Dr. Charumbira continues her passion for the Humanities. She initiated and leads (on a voluntary basis) the Humanities Lab THoR, an ongoing network of scholars passionate about bringing their Humanities and Social Science research to a wider nonexpert public. While the Lab’s name invokes Thor, the Germanic/Old Norse hammer-wielding god of Thunder, the Walter Benjamin Kolleg’s THoR invites current and interested scholars to join the research network by Taking the Humanities on The Road (THoR).

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Dr. Patrick Burrowes

He was born in Liberia and he is called "the people's professor" because of his willingness to share his deep knowledge of Liberian history freely with others. Before returning to Liberia in 2017, he was a tenured professor of communications and humanities at Penn State University. Recently, in August 2021, he uncovered a handwritten document missing since 1835, that sheds light on the 1821 purchase of land that became Monrovia, the capital city for the only United States colony in Africa. Dr. Burrowes says that this is the most significant discovery of his career.