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Accepted paper:

Developing Heritage - Developing Countries: UNESCO and the making of national heritage institutions in African countries from 1950 on


Marie Huber (Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin)

Paper long abstract:

In the context of decolonisation and the new international order forming in the 1960s African political leaders had to reformulate the national identities they claimed to represent and African intellectuals acted as representatives of sovereign, independent nation-states and actualised the discourse of a particular African identity and intellectuality. Various projects emerged to rewrite African history as Africa's own history, and the re-appropriation and emancipation of national heritage-making formed a relevant issue in the process of decolonisation—having a national heritage meant having a national identity and belonging to the community of sovereign nation-states. UNESCO served most prominently as a framework to promote the importance of history and heritage as a strategy for empowerment and fostering the nascent national identities of the new member states in the era of decolonisation, in other words: providing development-aid for nation-building. Aside from the historiographical project of The General History of Africa, there is more to be told about the construction of national histories, and as a part of it, identifying cultural and natural heritage to augment national identity. Based on records from the UNESCO archive and the Ethiopian Antiquities Administration I will explain UNESCO's cultural and natural heritage politics in African countries during the 60s and 70s, and show the involvement of international experts, of creating heritage-institutions and heritage-bureaucracy in African states, modeled on Western concepts of "heritage" and "conservation" as universal principles. UNESCO's role in promoting the identity discourses that underwrote the construction of national narratives in African countries, in this paper, will be analysed in light of its role as an institution that built-up and facilitated knowledge production, and the institutional and conceptual legacies of this knowledge production.

panel D19
Disciplinary trends in Africa: history (double panel)