The evening of the 26th of February, the inaugural talk for the opening of the first chair of African Archaeology in London is taking place at the University College of London. The speaker is professor Kevin Mc Donald and the title is “Re-Mapping West Africa’s Ancient Empires”. We quote from the webpage of UCL:
2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Maurice Delafosse’s monumental Haut-Sénégal-Niger, a work which provided the first comprehensive history of the Niger, Senegal and Volta river basins from the first millennium AD onwards. Delafosse not only defined the principal polities by which we sub-divide western Sahelian history, he supplied a set of territorial expectations for each of these polities. These old attributions have hobbled fresh research for decades; leaving us with borders and points drawn on maps in every textbook whose basis is largely accumulated myth. In this lecture, Kevin MacDonald will unravel long held certainties concerning the location of capitals and heartlands of the two great empires of Ghana and Mali. The data used will be largely archaeological, drawn in good measure from his own excavations and surveys, interwoven with elements of oral tradition and text.
Such an important venue has multifold significance: for African Archaeology in general, since a new chair serving the discipline is inaugurated; for West African historical archaeology more particularly, since new light will be shed on a very interesting topic by a scholar with acute insights into the reconstruction of past realities; for sub-Saharan Africa more widely also, since the example of such works can inspire similar ‘revisionist’ undertakings for Central and Eastern Sudan too, reviving perhaps the efforts of the Sudan Studies Center in the late 1960s and 1970s; and of course for the future of African Studies, since the new-comers in the academic game can see with more optimism the chances of working in the field they have chosen to serve.
This is a reality that we experience very acutely at the University of Bergen, where the long-standing tradition in Sudan Studies, not only in archaeology (with names like Randi Haaland and Else Kleppe) but also in history (with the works by Sean O’Fahey and Anders Bjørkelo), philology (just think of the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum edited by Tormod Eide, Richard Holton Pierce and the late Tomas Hägg), and of course anthropology (with figures as important as Fredrik Barth, Gunnar Haaland, Leif Manger, and Gunnar Sørbø) are at risk of not finding a continuation if the students that have come out of this school of Sudan Studies (Henriette in archaeology, Elena Vezzadini in history, Liv Tønnesen in political science, and of course many Sudanese past and present, like Anwar Abdul Magid, Tigani El Mahi Ali, Abdelghaffar M. Ahmed, Azhari Mustafa Sadiq, Mahmoud Suleiman, Habab Idriss) do not find in the University of Bergen an academic strategy willing to include the past and present of Sudan Studies at UiB in the future teaching curricula and research agendas.
Similar risks face other institutions, like the Institute in Berlin with the DDR tradition waning due to various factors. There is lots of space in our opinion for re-investing in our field and creating a future for the present students. The example of McDonald and the UCL should be a guide.
So, allow us to see it as a fine coincidence that earlier on the same day, Alexandros is defending his doctoral thesis at Humboldt University. The title of the work is: “The Greek Manuscripts on Parchment discovered at site SRO22.A in the Fourth Cataract region, North Sudan“. The invitation stands for all who wish to attend at 12:00 in Mohrestr. 40-41, room 408, Berlin. And for those more versed into the focus of Alexandros’ research, there follows the invitation in greco-nubian too!