CFP: The use of historical arguments in the making and remaking of African boundaries (Comparativ)

Geert Castryck's picture
Call for Publications
September 30, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Borderlands, African History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies

Thematic issue on: The use of historical arguments in the making and remaking of African boundaries

In: Comparativ [ISSN 0940-3566], a journal on global history and comparative studies of society

Editors: Constanze Blum & Geert Castryck (Leipzig University)

Numerous histories of boundary drawing and border disputes in Africa have already been written, thus producing historical narratives about African boundaries. However, already at the time of establishing boundaries historical arguments have been mobilized in the border-making process and are central to border disputes. In this thematic issue, we want to analyse this use of historical arguments in the making and remaking of African boundaries and invite 200 words abstracts from interested contributors by September 30th, to be sent to

Concept note:

The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 is still (or again) present in contemporary African political discourse, claiming that African (colonial) boundary-drawing has been arbitrary, imprecise, and/or technically inadequate. This argument has already been voiced by various (political) actors throughout the colonial period and is a key element of the foundational narrative of the African Union Border Programme in the 21st century. The longstanding critique on colonial boundaries implies an underlying assumption that a disinterested, accurate, or “right” way of territorializing be conceivable in the first place.

This issue of Comparativ aims to provide a fresh perspective on studying African boundaries by focusing on the use of historical references in border disputes and debates from the late nineteenth until the early twenty-first centuries. The authors of this volume explore how historical arguments referring to or reinterpreting precolonial polities and spheres of influence, colonial treaties and agreements, and technical limitations, imperfections as well as “arbitrariness” in the implementation of these agreements have been used as a basis for claim-making. We would like to propose specific time periods in which these historical narratives become especially salient (this preliminary list is, of course, not “set in stone”):

1) 1885–1910, when territorialization was a “key factor” in the colonization of Africa;

2) in the 1920s, when boundary questions were “revisited” by colonial administrations establishing colonial states after the First World War;

3) in the 1960s, when the majority of African states became independent and decided on how to deal with the legacy of colonial boundaries – a legacy that underpinned the very existence of these states;

4) in the 1980–90s, when the containment of territorial disputes in the bipolar order of the Cold War came to an end, and boundary conflicts reappeared high on the OAU’s agenda;

5) in the 2000s, when efforts of “solving” the boundary conundrum “once and for all” manifested in a renewed continental effort to delimitate and demarcate boundaries as clearly as possible, with the argument that this was a key precondition to eventually come to border-crossing cooperation.

Historical narratives on African boundaries – always adjusted to the respective historical and spatial context – span across pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times, interlinking these temporalities in multiple ways. We would like to invite authors working on one of these periods or applying a longue durée approach across these periods, to contribute to this volume.

Contact Info: 

Geert Castryck
Research Centre Global Dynamics (SFB 1199: Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition)
Leipzig University