Call for Papers: Bodies, Landscapes, Memory in & Beyond the Continent


What: University of Chicago Committee on African Studies Conference
When: April 12th, 2019
Where: Wilder House, University of Chicago
Topic: Bodies, Landscapes, Memory in and Beyond the Continent
Keynote Speaker: Zoë Crossland (Columbia University, Department of Anthropology)

“Before memory there is the view. To remember is literally to see the physical traces left on the body of a place by the events of the past. But there is no body of a place that is not on some level linked to a human body.” (Mbembe 2017: 124)

How does the past become inscribed in visceral and material worlds, and how is it made tangible in the present? Given the rise of numerous African social movements protesting longstanding single-party regimes, the proliferation of neo-colonial development practices, and the contestation of land distribution and heritage policies, what are the stakes of remembering and forgetting in the contemporary moment? Building on work that sees historical violence, trauma, and sociopolitical identity as inextricably and materially imbricated, this interdisciplinary conference seeks to bring together scholars of Africa and Africanist theory around Bodies, Landscapes, and Memory.

More than a private matter, memory is work; it is a critique of power and a public affair, a political and moral phenomenon through which claims to being and belonging are articulated and contested. Over twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in a new era of social democratic reform that was accompanied by an upsurge of “memory struggles” across the continent; with them came dynamic burst of research on the social and political stakes of memory, its ritual forms, its entextualized and public manifestations (e.g. Bloch 1998; Cole 2001; Coombes 2003; Hamilton 1998; Shaw 2001; Stoller 1995; Werbner et al 1998). Although Africanist studies of memory have receded in the recent past, changing global discourses of race, sexuality, heritage, and historical trauma, as well as the emergence of new technologies of remembrance—from scientific advances in landmapping and preservation tactics to the use of social media as a communal archival technology—have prompted a renewed interest in memory with important reverberations on the continent (e.g. Mbembe 2017; Khanna 2003; Lowe 2015; McKittrick 2006; Sharpe 2016; Simpson 2014; Von Schnitzler 2016) We take these recent developments as an opportunity to pursue novel approaches to African historical consciousness in and beyond the continent. The conference hopes to solicit papers that follow contemporary calls to critically interrogate relationships between material culture, geography, and the body over time; political violence, embodied knowledge, and subjectivity; as well as historical consciousness, morality, ethics, and spaces of care. In bringing together bodies, landscapes, and memory, the conference seeks to foreground the situated nature of bodily experience and collective memory, drawing attention to interactions between physical settings and actors across time and space.

Conference panels will tentatively be organized with a focus on each of the three thematics. Topics in addition to those listed above include but are not limited to:


  • Legacies of racial & sexual violence
  • Queer bodies, movements, histories
  • Therapeutic technologies—between the “traditional” and biomedical
  • Aging, generations, the life course


  • Memorialization & memory-making through archaeological and ‘tangible’ cultural heritage
  • Geographies/cartographies of knowledge
  • Environmental change & political ecology
  • Infrastructures/built-environments/engineered worlds


  • Collective memory and historical consciousness
  • Trauma, affect, care
  • Techniques and technologies of remembering
  • Death, dying, mortuary practice

Abstracts of no more than 300 words can be submitted to Zoe Berman ( by January 15th, 2018.