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Chair of Early Modern History – Prof. Dr. Susanne Lachenicht

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Beyond Europe: Narratives of the Future in Modern African History

Africans and the African Diaspora developed narratives of the future of Africa, which often diverged from, but also entangled with, alternative notions from outside the continent. Historical writing on European ideas for the future of Africa is rich and often innovative, shaping historical theory and practice. Particularly the concepts of ‘civilisation’, ‘progress’ and ‘development’ (as they were applied by Europeans to African societies) have been interrogated in detail. These teleological concepts reveal a particular understanding of the relationship between time, place and change applied by some to the African continent.

Taking into account the theoretical and methodological advances made in the literature on Western narratives of the future, this project will examine the narratives developed by Africans and African diasporas, “at home” and “abroad”, narratives that emerged beyond but by no means separated from Europe. As active agents in the construction of Africa’s future, Africans and the African Diaspora engaged with Western notions, struggled against imbalanced power structures and appropriated and modified key terms and concepts.

The project will also analyse African, African-American and African diaspora concepts of time and show how they are related to ideas about space. In comparison to European linear and progressive narratives of a burgeoning civilisation or planned development, the project will demonstrate how African and African diaspora conceived of the future trajectory of the continent. The research puts an emphasis on social diversity and the “embeddedness” of narratives in power relations. Furthermore, we will consider links between religious and secular concepts, the manifold transfers and mutual appropriations of ideas between Europeans, Americans, and Africans, asking how “indigenous” or “authentic” concepts are, if we take into consideration the on-going process of transculturation. Lastly, we will inquire into the impact of past ideas on the times to come.

With Africans and the African Diaspora firmly at the heart of the research, as the agents who built and are building the future of Africa, our project is concerned with writing the history of these groups’ concepts and how they impacted on global debates about the future.

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