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Historical traces incite powerful forms of action and imagination in the present, enabling and hindering possible futures. In this panel, we explore how traces gain relevance as epistemic sources in exercises of political, cultural and historical transformation.
Historical traces incite powerful forms of action and imagination in the present, enabling and hindering possible futures. These often physical remnants, which persist in the landscape, the environment, the depths of material collections or the body have become vehicles through which to fathom complex histories in order to open up new horizons of possibility. Traces, as Napolitano (2015) has observed, can be seen as knots of history with an ambiguous auratic presence, located between memory and forgetting, repression and amplification, metonymy and dissociation. They conjure that which we can and that which we cannot know. In this panel, we explore how traces gain relevance as epistemic sources in exercises of political, cultural and historical transformation. We reflect on how engagements with spatial, material and bodily traces provide meaning to these emergent forms whilst revealing knowledge production practices in the making. How do traces become meaningful in order to articulate new visions of the past, present and future? How are they foregrounded as clues or evidence? How are they silenced? How might traces be individually and collectively experienced and performed as part of novel ethical commitments? Moreover, could traces offer us, as potential methodological tools in anthropology, a way to forge new alliances and unlock new horizons of interdisciplinarity? We invite speakers with a range of ethnographic material, including anthropologies of history, space, and religion as well as museum and material culture, to consider how distinct epistemologies of the trace engage with debates about radical change and different possible futures.