A Quest for Relevance: Decolonization and the memory politics of UNESCO’s General History of Africa
Open lecture with Casper Andersen, Associate professor in The History of Ideas at Aarhus University on the checkered history of the UNESCO General History of Africa project
In 1963 UNESCO launched the General History of Africa project (the GHA) which ran for over three decades. The stated aim of the project was to produce “a scientific history of African unity and culture from the inside” – a history written by Africans for Africans on the continent and in diasporas. Those involved in the GHA as contributors, editors and UNESCO officials were motivated by what Ngúgí wa Thiong’o (1938-) has labelled a “quest for relevance” which was felt strongly among African cultural elites during in the decades after 1945. This quest for relevance involved contributing to the decolonization of the mind based on the idea that the ending of formal colonial rule would be incomplete and meaningless without a cultural decolonization in education, science, and the arts including not least history. In this presentation Casper Andersen will revisit the checkered history of the GHA and situate the project in its historical context of Pan-African nationalism. Moreover, he will discuss some of the ways in which this significant chapter in Africa’s modern intellectual history resonates with on-going discussions about the need to decolonize universities and academic knowledge production more widely.
Casper Andersen is associate professor in the history of ideas at Aarhus University where he teaches global intellectual history and the history of science and technology, He has published extensively on the history science and technology in Africa during the colonial period and his current work focuses on the history of UNESCO in Africa during decolonization in relation to science policy, nature conservation, and academic history writing.