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Publication: Sites of Contestation. Encounters with the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Collection in the Archives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographien

book cover

This edited volume is the product of a long-term student engagement with the Dammann collection housed at the Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB). The essays propose creative ways of attending to the politics of race, gender, famine, ethnography, biography and fiction in colonial knowledge production.

The Ernst and Ruth Dammann collection consists of around 8100 images, 750 audio recordings and numerous manuscripts, diaries and notes. The German couple conducted research on Namibian oral literatures and languages as they were spoken and performed across the country in the early 1950s. Based on in-depth engagement with the textual, visual and audio records assembled in this intricate collection, the authors of this book critically interrogated the implications of opening a colonial archive, exploring alternative ways of reading and understanding the historical material.

The work for the book began in the spring semester 2020 at the University of Basel, when students and doctoral candidates attended a seminar on Photography and History in Southern Africa taught by Lorena Rizzo, senior lecturer at the University of Basel. The course investigated what historical photographs bring to the study of Southern African pasts, while it addressed the political, ethical and epistemological challenges posed by colonial photography to postcolonial research and scholarship. Course participants were asked to develop individual research projects and select the archival source material they wished to analyse. When the Corona pandemic brought in-class teaching to an abrupt end, archivists at BAB made sure students could access the written record, photographs and sound files from the Dammann collection digitally and hence continue their work. During the summer break and the fall semester 2020, students and doctoral candidates worked on their essays, which went through a thorough editorial and external review process. Two of them additionally agreed to join the artist Marcel Meyer to work on the layout of the book and finalise the manuscript, which was submitted to the BAB publishing house in spring 2021. Sites of Contestation is now available in print and will be launched in the fall semester of 2021.

Julia Rensing, Lorena Rizzo, and Wanda Rutishauser, eds., Sites of Contestation: Encounters with the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Collection in the Archives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2021.