Technology and Material Culture in African History:
Challenges and Potentials for Research and Teaching
International conference, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
January 4 – 8, 2023
The conference seeks to consolidate and foster the further development of history of technology and material culture in Africa. By gathering scholars from Tanzania and across Africa, as well as colleagues from other continents, the conference will demonstrate the discipline’s high degree of relevance—to the research and teaching of history and adjacent fields, as well as to contemporary political agendas. The organizers wish to use this event to discuss how historians of technology and material culture may contribute to the writing of a “usable past” for further generations.
The organizers invited historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, sociologists, and urban scholars to discuss the potentials of interdisciplinary and international collaboration around present intellectual, social, technological, and environmental challenges in Africa and globally. In the recent past, African countries have increased citizens’ access to up-to-date mobility and communication technologies—electric household items, mobile phones, and engine-driven vehicles. As the variety of terms indicates—daladala, matatu, tro tros, bodaboda, bajaji, and so on—artifacts are not just simply imported, but constantly modified to fit local circumstances and needs. By and large, however, a historical understanding of these processes of domestication and reinvention is still lacking. That present-day historians of technology do not limit themselves to the study of modern, Western machines and systems, but include broader aspects of (pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial) “material culture,” also means the discipline plays a central role both in research projects and teaching programs.
There have been growing initiatives to integrate Africa into the global history of technology and material culture, but such efforts rarely focus on teaching. Considering the ongoing curricular review at African universities, it is a pressing concern to discuss the potentials of including the history of technology and material culture in Bachelor and Masters programs. The organizers are convinced that the discipline of history needs to include an African perspective and showcase Africa’s contribution to global history of technology and material culture. Therefore, the conference focuses on policies, practices, and use to rethink the historiographic role played by material artifacts and systems. We believe there is a certain urgency in researching, writing, and teaching the history of technology and material culture from a truly African perspective. The organizers hope that the workshop will provide important additions to the nationalist and materialist views which have dominated African history research, writing, and teaching since independence.
By giving participants an opportunity to discuss existing research projects and teaching programs, the comference aims at laying the foundation for an international network of historians of technology and material culture in Africa.
This unique event is organized by the History Department of the University of Dar es Salaam in collaboration with the ERC-funded research project “A Global History of Technology, 1850-2000” at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), Eindhoven University of Technology and the Foundation for the History of Technology in the Netherlands.
- Emily Brownell,SHOT Representative, University of Edinburgh
- Frank Edward, History Dept., University of Dar es Salaam
- Mikael Hård, ERC Global HoT Project, Darmstadt University of Technology
- Jan Korsten, Society for the History of Technology and Foundation for the History of Technology
- Emanuel Mchome, History Dept., University of Dar es Salaam