Sites of Contestation
134 pages

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This book is a collection of essays written by emerging scholars at the University of Basel on the basis of their subjective encounters with a specific archival collection housed in the Basler Afrika Bibliographien in Basel. 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. As unique examples of close reading and listening, the essays propose creative ways of attending to the politics of race, gender, famine, ethnography, biography and fiction in colonial knowledge production.



Publié par
Date de parution 28 mai 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9783906927329
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 19 Mo

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Sites of Contestation
Julia Rensing, Lorena Rizzo, Wanda Rutishauser (eds.)
Sites of Contestation
Encounters with the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Collection in the Archives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basler Afrika Bibliographien 2021
Copyright by the authors, 2021 Copyright Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2021
Basler Afrika Bibliographien Namibia Resource Centre & Southern Africa Library Klosterberg 23 4001 Basel Switzerland
All rigths reserved.
Cover image: BAB D01_1274, Ruth Dammann, Omaruru, 1953/54; coloured and edited by Julia Rensing
Designed by Marcel Mayer, Basel, Switzerland
ISBN 978-3-906927-31-2
Sites of Contestation – Introduction Julia Rensing & Wanda Rutishauser
1 On Wide Open Plains – Traces of Resilience in Namibian Oral Storytelling –Naemi Hüberli
2 Worlds Apart? Biographies and Interventions in the Dammann Collection –Julia Rensing
3 Alice in Dammann Land: A Curious Adventure Through the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Archive at the Basler Afrika Bibliographien (Namibia, 1953-54) –Natashia Collier
4 Adelheid Mbuandjou: Fragments of Life Narratives in the Dammann Collection –Wanda Rutishauser
5 The Image-Text Event: Framing Famine in Namibia in 1953 –Natalia Krzysztofek & Vishruti Shastri
List of Illustrations
Archival Sources
Sites of Contestation – Introduction
Julia Rensing & Wanda Rutishauser
The cover image of this book serves as a visual entry into core themes and issues that this essay collectionContestation: Encounters with the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Col-Sites of lection in the Archives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographienis devoted to. In the framework of a University seminar entitledPhotography & History in Southern Africa, a group of MA and PhD students from the University of Basel engaged intensively with an archival collection housed in the Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB) in Switzerland. The image at hand in-troduces us to this archival repository. Taken in the period between August 1953 and June 1954 in the Erongo region in Namibia, it shows a scene that resembles a stage set-ting: we see the backs of women and children gathering on the ground around three men and a boy who are standing in front of them, as if they were facing an audience. The gaze of this audience is either directed to the people standing or to a figure couched in the right lower corner of the image. This person is Ernst Dammann – one of the creators of this archival collection – whom we observe while at work. He is interviewing and recording people’s voices, as the Magnetophon tape recorder behind him indicates. In 1953–1954, Ernst Dammann, a German Africanist scholar and theologian, and his wife Ruth Dammann (née Scholtisek) went on a nine-month long research trip through what is today Namibia to research African languages and oral literature.
During their travels through the country, the couple photographed Namibian families, couples and individuals, and recorded their voices. The cover image introduces us to the photographer Ruth Dammann, who was her husband’s technical and research assistant and in control of the visual representation and documentation of the research trip. Me-ticulously, Ruth Dammann photographed people, places and landscapes in the territory which, at the time of the Dammanns’ journey, was called South West Africa. During the nine months they spent in Southern Africa, the couple took over 8100 images, taped around 750 audio recordings and produced manuscripts, diaries and further notes. In 2000, Ernst Dammann handed over a majority of the research material over to the BAB in Basel. Already its sheer vastness makes this collection special. As far as we know, it is to date one of the most extensive archives of regional languages, song repertoires and oral literatures of Namibia containing the voices, images and biographical fragments of more than 200 individuals.
These aspects point to the potential of the Dammann collection: the numerous photographs and sound recordings offer testimony to the cultural heritage of Na-mibia, as well as to a great number of Namibians who, in their encounter with the German researchers, allowed glimpses into their lives, shared stories and had their images taken. For those interested in the history of Namibia, the material is a re-markable source, rich of diverse and complex stories and biographical fragments. However, opening a colonial archive also comes along with certain intricacies and challenges. The Dammanns’ privileged position in the colony, their affinity with the German section of Namibia’s settler society, and their racist and National Socialist mindset require careful attention and consideration.
The couple’s research was conducted at a time when the African population of Namibia was systematically discriminated against and robbed of their political rights. Namibia was a South African colony, and Pretoria administered the South West Afri-can territory like a fifth province. The policy of racial segregation and apartheid also applied to Namibia, and large sections of the notorious apartheid legislation were introduced there as well. As a German Africanist scholar and theologian, who main-tained close contacts with the missions in Southern Africa, Ernst Dammann inserted himself into the socio-political milieu of a privileged colonial settler society. As re-searchers, authors and editorial members engaging with the Dammann material, we grappled with these political implications and reflected critically on the couple’s re-search practices and colonial attitudes. Core concerns that reoccur in several of the essays collected in this book revolve around the ethical and moral implications of working with – and opening – a colonial archive.
Our conversations on issues such as colonial knowledge production, research practices, theories of photography, the colonial archive and visual representation began in the classroom at the Centre for African Studies in Basel in the spring se-mester in 2020. As a seminar group, we continued our debates in the Basler Afrika Bibliographien where we were introduced to the Dammann collection by staff mem-bers of the archive. Exploring the material, opening the numerous photographic album boxes, and listening to voices from the past would soon intensify our analyses and engagement with many of the issues raised above. We began immersing oursel-ves in the material while simultaneously continuing our theoretical, historical and ethical debates. Yet, the Coronavirus-pandemic would bring an abrupt halt to our work. Suddenly, we were unable to continue our research in the archive and we were confined – like millions of other students around the globe – to our home offices and to online meetings. The pandemic posed enormous challenges to the main ob-jective of the course, which was archival research at the BAB and an in-depth in-vestigation of the Dammann collection on-site.
Due to the commitment of our course lecturer Lorena Rizzo and with the great help of the archival staff Heidi Brunner, Susanne Hubler, Dag Henrichsen and Lisa Roulet, after a week of digitizing and scanning, we would gain virtual access to a vast number of photographs, manuscripts, diary entries and notes authored by the Dammanns. Further, the archival team sent us numerous sound recordings accom-panied with additional information on all material requested. With the material back in our hands – at least digitally – we pursued our research individually or in smaller groups in our home-offices, while continuing our exchanges and conversations in diverse online formats and constellations. Yet, during our individual and remote work many of us experienced what it means not to see the actual organization of the documents, recordings and photographs in the archive, not being able to touch the images, pages and notebooks or to really explore the material’s position in the collection. Hence, once the regulations allowed for it, we began returning to the ar-chive individually, to investigate the boxes of photographs, albums, slides or manu-scripts and diaries. During theVisual History Labin September 2020, a course offered by Giorgio Miescher, Kadiatou Diallo and Lorena Rizzo, we were given yet another opportunity to intensify our engagement with the Dammann collection. In collabo-ration with the Museums Association of Namibia (MAN) and the Basler Afrika Bi-bliographien, we spent a week working towards a public event and eventually produced an online platform that makes the Dammann collection more accessible to Namibian audiences ( After intense conversations with colleagues at the BAB and MAN, we also began to contact families of some of the individuals photographed and recorded in the collection, and the results of these efforts shaped our writing process in important ways.
Sites of Contestation: Encounters with the Ernst and Ruth Dammann Collection in the Ar-chives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographienis the result of this months-long work with the archival material. It collates five essays written by emerging scholars from the University of Basel, who participated in the seminar. In the course of our work, we chose the essay format, seeing that it allowed for a more individualistic, affective and experimental mode of discussing and engaging with this complex historical ma-terial. All of the five essays are subjective encounters with a problematic colonial archival collection. As indicated earlier, what combines these works is either the di-rect or implicit engagement with the ethical dimensions of opening the colonial ar-chive in general, or the challenges around the Dammann collection in particular. However, all essays approach these issues in distinct ways and from specific angles. Simultaneously, the authors’ subject matters and objects of investigations differ strongly: While Naemi Hüberli and Natashia Collier focus on the Dammanns’ sound recordings and explore themes such as resilience, story-telling and fairy tales, Natalia
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