The toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colton in Bristol, calls to remove Columbus statues and memorials all over the Atlantic world, the RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, the replacing of street names across Europe and restitution debates about cultural objects being brought to Europe and the Americas via imperial channels: These are all different aspects of a change in how postcolonial societies engage with the past. Further, recent events have also brought to light changing conceptions of oppression in the age of ostensibly "post"colonial neoliberaliberalisation, and made visible similarly transforming conceptualisations of resistance in the face of present -- often covert or anonymous -- racialised systems of power.
And yet, while current protests have polarized political commentators around the world, they have also become the symbol for an inclusive cross-cult dialogue. A concurrent approach to colonial histories and postcolonial empires must start by exploring these events from their various regional angles and by critically evaluating references to different centuries and colonial regimes. Only by taking this nuanced perspective can we understand how empire has survived in postcolonial societies. We should therefore ask what, how and through which means we historize. We should ask, too, from where current injustices gain their impetus, how they operate through both old and new mechanisms of oppression, and how resistance in the new millennium accordingly both draws from and reinvents practices of anti- and de-colonial dissent.
Within the field of global history, the actual events and the multi-layered public discourse in both social and legacy media open up new vistas for dealing with the past. These developments moreover force us to confront the innately political questions at the heart of scholarly post- and decolonial approaches, asking us to fulfil our outreach mission and engage with the public and its past, present and future. For critical scholarship the current moment presents a chance to overcome and demolish popular biased discourses. Questions to discuss with politicians and the enraged public range from what should happen to contested statues and inappropriate street names and how we are to rewrite history books and refurbish cityscapes.
To stimulate the discussion and contextualise many of the matters raised above, we suggest the following four readings with which we plan to engage in the seminar.
Benjamins, Thomas. ‘A Time of Reconquest: History, the Maya Revival, and the Zapatista Rebellion’. The American Historical Review 105, no. 2 (2000): 417–50.
Fikeni, Lwandile Protest, art and the aesthetics of rage: Social solidarity and the shaping a post-rainbow South Africa
Kros, Cynthia. ‘Rhodes Must Fall: Archives and Counter-Archives’. Critical Arts 29, no. sup. 1 (2015): (150–65.
Schlereth, Thomas J. ‘Columbia, Columbus, and Columbianism’. Journal of American History 79, no. 3 (1992): 937–68.
Rebecca Duncan and Birgit Tremml-Werner
If you want to participate in the seminar via zoom, please contact Åse Magnusson.