Anthropology, History, and Memory in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Memoriam Michel Izard
The special issue explores the manifold relations between history, memory, and anthropological research. Explicitly or not, history has always been a particular reference for anthropological research. First of all, anthropologists most often deal with the past not only when attempting to reconstruct past events and conditions, but rather to look at social change, innovation, and transformation, enabling then to position their findings in larger theoretical perspectives. Moreover, many anthropologists are primarily interested in the ways in which people perceive societal changes, experience and represent them and relate them to their various world-views at large. In these endeavors, the notion of history itself became the center of debate, which shifted the attention of many scholars away from an absolute or etic frame of reference to primarily an emic understanding of its meaning with regard to local issues and life-worlds. Thus, the interaction between History and Anthropology was not simple in the past and is not so today. Whatever the particular interest or approach to history for anthropologists may be, history is therefore not just a neutral domain. From a social-constructivist perspective, history is a part of a distinct local cultural and symbolic universe and represents the result of social processes of selection, remembrance and oblivion. The ‘memory boom’ in anthropology triggered many studies in Africanist scholarship as well, for example, on the way in which historical memories were used by both protagonists of colonialism and national-liberation movements; or as a means of state propaganda by postcolonial regimes.