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AFRASO – The Indian Ocean as Memory Space

The Indian Ocean as Memory Space (Astrid Erll, Sissy Helff, John Njenga Karugia)

Sub-project of AFRASO (Africa’s Asian Options)

This project studies the cultural production of “Indian Ocean Memories”. It asks how the Indian Ocean works as a space of memory in Asian and African memory cultures – especially, but not exclusively, in South Africa and South Asia. In the framework of AFRASO, the project’s goals are to understand, first, the significance of historical imagination for transregional conceptions of space and, second, the importance of local memory cultures for the representation and interpretation of current African-Asian interactions.

The project’s key question is how the long history of exchange between South Africa and South Asia is remembered today and which functions such memories fulfil in the light of current interactions. The projects starts from the assumption that the centuries-old relations between both regions (trade, slavery, indentured labour, soldiers etc.) are not simply forgotten in the face of today’s interactions (such as labour migration, tourism, transnational media cultures), but that they constitute a “space of experience” (R. Koselleck) against which the present situation is understood and expectations for the future are articulated.

‘Memory’, in this project, describes on the one hand elements of explicit, official memory culture (e.g. the remembrance of Gandhi in South Africa); on the other hand, the project wants to reconstruct what John C. Hawley (2008, 4), drawing on James C. Scott, has called “hidden transcripts”: implicit, non-official, private and subaltern forms of memory, which, however, can be articulated in literature, photography, film and other media.

This project is located in the field of interdisciplinary memory studies. Its takes a media culture-approach to questions of remembering in a social context. The project’s members study a large corpus of media (esp. literature, film, and photography). They ask about the narrative and visual strategies at play in the production of the Indian Ocean as a space of memory; about commonalities and differences between South African and South Asian images and narratives of memory; about the interplay of different (old and new) media in the generation, continuation and transformation of private and official memories of the Indian Ocean; and, finally, about how in both regions Indian Ocean memories may contribute to an understanding of present and future African-Asian interactions.