Call for Abstract: "Records of Africa" - Boston University Graduate Student Conference in African Studies

Emily Williamson's picture
Call for Papers
January 15, 2018
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Anthropology, Area Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies

RECORDS OF AFRICA: 26th Annual Boston University Student Conference in African Studies

  • Conference Date: Friday, March 30th - Saturday, March 31st, 2018
  • Location: Boston University, Pardee School of Global Studies and African Studies Center
  • Abstract Submission Deadline: Monday, January 15th, 2018
  • Contact:


In 1959, the folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax claimed that “Africa is not only the richest, but the best-recorded continent, musically speaking.” But it is not only in the musical or sonic sense that we can speak about the richness, complexity, and problems of the “records of Africa.” In relation to the continent, thinking about “records” calls to mind such various phenomena as the medical records generated by national health systems and NGOs, colonial legal records of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or archaeological and architectural records. Of course, Lomax was correct to point to the long and robust history of sound records on/of the continent - from ethnographic field recordings to popular music industries, to networks of global circulation. Records also index other media—and multimedia—of artistic and documentary inscription, storage, practice, and experience.

Thinking about “the historical record” or “literary record” of Africa invites (re)consideration of perennial questions about aurality, literacy, language, and performance. Conceptually, recording indexes not only inscription and fixity, but also mediation, transmission, and economy; a record is written, compiled, read, broadcast, listened to, and constructed. Records may be thought of as precipitating out of over-determined circumstances or as the product of intentional making. Both of these approaches raise productive questions about the actors and agencies that underwrite the records of Africa. By one turn, “record” references the pervasive and quotidian, the universal and homogenizing, as in “the legal record,” but by another it points to the exceptional and the rare, as in “world record” or “record profits.” Finally, “record” draws attention to reputation, interpretation, and ostensible summaries of previous actions, accomplishments, and misdeeds. In this sense, it is critical to account for African Studies itself as a record of Africa, one that attempts to subsume all of these others, but which simultaneously produces its own record of successes, controversies, occlusions, and shortcomings.


The program committee invites graduate students to submit abstracts for papers, presentations, or performances attending to these or other aspects of the theme “records of Africa.” We welcome submissions from any disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or undisciplined perspective, and particularly encourage the participation of scholars of underrepresented backgrounds and identities. We further welcome proposals that engage with experimental or exploratory modes of (re)presentation and practice.

Possibilities for approaching the conference’s theme include, but are not limited to:

  • The role of audio, audiovisual, and other modes of recording in the production of ethnographic knowledge in and about Africa
  • History, criticism, theory, and analysis of African records and record industries/economies
  • Studies drawing on or considering the archive of “colonial records,” both in their contents and in their construction
  • Appraisals of and approaches to the archaeological record of African sites; Projects engaging with or theorizing the records produced by and in institutions such as governments, NGOs, universities, hospitals, corporations, etc.
  • Recording as it relates to questions of inscription, mediation, o/aurality, reproduction, circulation, commoditization, and consumption
  • The history, theory, and use of technologies of recording (in any media) in African arts, politics, or scholarship
  • Studies of the legal, historical, or economic records of nation-states or other group formations
  • African records and record-holders: highest, lowest, oldest, newest, longest, shortest, greatest, least, and other exceptional cases
  • African Studies as the production of a record in, by, or about Africa
  • Records as reputation: records of performance, records of infamy, records of reliability, records of distinction

Submission Requirements

Please submit an abstract (no more than 300 words in .pdf or .doc format containing no references) and a two-page CV to by Monday, January 15th, 2018. Please note that the abstract should outline a presentation of twenty minutes to be followed by a ten minutes of questions and discussion. Modest travel grants are available to help defray the cost of conference attendance for accepted participants who are citizens of an African country. If you are interested in a grant, please write an 100-200 word statement that reflects upon your background and research interests. We will evaluate this separately from your abstract and CV.

Contact Info: 

Emily Williamson, PhD student in Anthropology at Boston University

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