Carolyn Hamilton, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Archives, Ancestors and the Contingency of Time

Who, in a postcolony, approaches the inherited materials of the past, with what purposes and what means? While some academic historians might trawl the archives in order to pursue debate over the causes of the violent upheavals of the so-called mfecane, the time of troubles that immediately preceded colonialism in south-east Africa, ritual specialists work with the spirits of both the mfecane's perpetrators and victims, in ongoing processes of the negotiation of traumatic pasts, and teenagers use the internet to explore their ancestral heritage. Subaltern archival silences resound while acts of archival redemption are performed as artworks. The spectres in the archive, just as surely as in the ancestor practices, stir up disorder and demand propitiation. The paper looks at the multiple ways in which the archive of documents, often positioned as a colonial and apartheid-era suspect, is drawn into dialogue with ancestral practices, each shaping the other in the making of South Africa's modernity. It goes to explicate the critique of the concept of archive that flows from the operations of archive in this setting.

All seminars in the series.