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Larissa Schulte Nordholt MPhil

PhD candidate


What Is an African Historian? Negotiating Scholarly Personae in UNESCO’S General History of Africa

Leiden University
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Herman Paul
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2017

Although the phrase ‘provincializing Europe’ was coined by Dipesh Chakrabarty in 2000, the general idea that scholarly studies on non-western pasts need to move away from western explanations has existed for several decades. This project examines how African scholars shortly after decolonization tried to put this ‘provincialization’ of Europe into practice by looking at UNESCO’s General History of Africa (1964-1999). The GHA envisioned to create an African historiography. I aim to investigate the strategies that were used to achieve this intellectual aim and to assess whether they helped to produce the desired outcome. The working hypothesis is that while the GHA produced highly valuable results, many of its higher-level intellectual ambitions were never realized, because it proved difficult to escape from the hegemony of western historical explanation, but also because the projects’ pan-African approach created practical and ideological difficulties.
A key observation is that the GHA entailed the synthesis of new ideals and practices of what it meant to be a scholar. For this reason the project’s methodological starting point is that it is through the prism of the ‘scholarly-self’ that the creation of a new African historiography can be best understood. The primary focus will therefore be on the authors and editors of the GHA. In analyzing this negotiation of the scholarly-self the project will not only examine how pan-Africanism became a guiding ideal, and the practical and ideological difficulties arising from this approach, but also the retrospective perception of the project as perceived by both contributors and critics.