Bridging Histories of East Central Africa Conference in Bayreuth (Germany), 7-8 June 2013 organized by The Chair for African History, Department of History – University of Bayreuth & Centre for Area Studies – University of Leipzig
Call for Papers: The conference ‘Bridging Histories of East and Central Africa’ aims at understanding and getting beyond the historical divides that exist in East Central Africa as well as in its historiography. The seeming divisions have always gone hand in hand with intense connections. The separations and meeting points between ecological and geological zones, the demarcations and transitions between spheres of influence, the borders and borderlands between colonial and post-colonial states, the exchanges and confrontations between manifold actors, as well as imaginations of self and other, have constituted the East Central African region for centuries. The spatializations derived from and defining these divisions and connections change and move over time. The entire Great Lakes region or Rift Valley is scattered with such loci of interaction and separation. This interplay of division and connection is reflected in how people perceive themselves, in how they act and aspire, in how they shape and are shaped by this environment, and in how researchers represent the region and its history. Narratives, research traditions and self identifications have for long built on a frame of reference that takes the separations between areas and states for granted, or at least unconsciously reproduces them. Too often the apparent connections are if not ignored altogether reduced to problems and conflicts.
This conference wants to bridge East and Central Africa in two ways. Firstly, we invite empirical contributions on historical actors and processes that reach across the divides that are often thought to
separate East and Central Africa. Secondly, we welcome histories of historiography, addressing, comparing and reconnecting the different research traditions and methodologies associated with these regional constructs.
1. Histories of connection and division in East Central Africa The histories of both sides of Lake Tanganyika in particular and of the Rift Valley in general have been marked by distinctions in state
formation; political and economic orientations; trajectories of societal conflict and change; repeated military confrontations and entailing security, demographic and economic challenges; religious difference and language divides; and divergent classifications in meta-geographical terms between Eastern, Central and even Southern Africa.
However, these distinctions have always been related, in one way or another, to changing, shifting and pervasive connections. Military confrontations and ensuing movements of people and goods are also
indications of connectedness, which in turn builds on pre-existing patterns and practices. The language divide between a francophone and an anglophone Africa is both bridged by an encompassing swahiliphone space and blurred by shifts towards English and the East in countries with a long history of French and Central African orientation. Informal trade, peasant and labour migration between present-day Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda or Zambia continue to use corridors of translocal mobility of the 19th century. The seeming religious difference between a strong Islamic presence in the (multireligious) East and a Catholic dominance to the West, obscures the fact that religious difference often follows urban-rural divides; that East African Islam has spread well
into what is now commonly considered Central Africa; and that there are marked parallels between reform movements in both Islamic and Christian environments.
These connections have a very long and deep history in the region. Self-definitions in contrast to an other side are both an indication of setting-apart and of standing-in-relation. More often than not these identity-forming traditions reflect deep-rooted memories of migration across ecological or political barriers. Or else, what do these divisions mean for people with roots, relatives and friends on the other side?
Such connecting topics can be and have been studied before. What is largely lacking in this very broad research interest in the wider East Central African region, however, is integration between such diverse topics, i.e. simultaneous attention to different kinds of connection. This lacuna can be linked to the existence of distinct research traditions in and on the region.
2. Re-connecting divided histories of East Central Africa. Academic research about East Central Africa has fallen apart along roughly the same lines as the region itself. Although there have been
clear changes over time and differences through space, some dominant divisions in research tradition have emerged in the historiography of the region. Surely, European as well as African scholars have not only focused on divides. Especially for the precolonial period, there are numerous examples of research on connections as well. Nevertheless, certain topics or narratives are more prominent in one tradition than in the other. This means that even when connections are studied, the perspectives from where these connections are traced show certain patterns.
The access to and production of sources and literature likewise have contributed to an enduring separation between East and Central African research traditions, despite laudable but relatively rare attempts to break out of the long-lived boxes. The distinctions between these traditions are shaped to a considerable extent by differences in colonial experience and nationality, language and communication networks, access to sources and literature, academic institutional landscapes, as well as political or personal agendas that have favoured research on certain places or topics and not on others.
In the upcoming conference, we want to overcome the distinctness of perceptions and research agendas across the alleged divide between East and Central Africa, with regard to both history and
historiography. By this bridging exercise we do not merely envisage neat stories of (re)connection, but also of asymmetries, inequalities and obstacles; we do not seek to (re)construct a homogenous space of East, Central or East-Central Africa, be it in historical reality or in historiographical research, but to address different positions and experiences on either side as well; and we do not only want to bring
together research and researchers but also to involve understandings and views of people in the region.
We therefore invite papers unravelling the dynamic of distinction, connection and signification between East and Central Africa, as outlined before, by addressing particular historical themes, cases,
approaches or traditions. Comparisons or analyses of connection across space or time are particularly welcome.
Participants will be selected after the deadline ends. As we cannot ensure refunding of travel expenses and accommodation costs to every participant, we will appreciate any effort of mobilizing other resources.
Prof. Dr. Achim von Oppen (University of Bayreuth)
Dr. Geert Castryck (University of Leipzig)
Katharina Zöller, M.A. (University of Bayreuth)
Dr. Geert Castryck
Institut für Afrikanistik
DE – 04107 Leipzig
+ 49 (0)341 – 97 37032
Centre for Area Studies
DE – 04109 Leipzig