Extract from an Angolan Map (1870)

The chief purpose of the Symposium was, firstly, to produce a better understanding of the dynamics of the transport routes and communications that have had a fundamental impact on African history for centuries. Secondly, prominence was to be given to the case of Angola and its hinterland, which in many respects resembles a microcosm of African history in its entirety. Time and again, long and often precarious lines of transport and communication have played a crucial role in this space.

The Symposium took place from 24th to 26th September 2003 at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin, with the support of the Volkswagen Foundation. It was convened and organized by Drs. Beatrix Heintze and Achim von Oppen. The active participants, twenty scholars and area specialists, some of international reputation and others in the process of building up their academic career, came from three continents and covered different academic disciplines. Most of them were social and economic historians, anthropologists, or political and communication scientists. Their presentations (as well as three additional papers circulated in absentia) and the subsequent discussions with a number of invited guests addressed a broad range of relevant issues and produced a rich variety of insights on the topic. Benefiting from the considerable historical depth of sources and research on Angola and its hinterland, the contributions not only examined long-term processes that began centuries ago, but also took up the challenges of today, marked by Angola’s new departure after the end of the civil war. A wide spectrum of different forms and routes of transport and communication were explored, ranging from local case studies to trans-African and trans-Atlantic connections.

The studies on the latter looked at the movement of people and the transport of trade goods, as well as at the circulation of various kinds of knowledge and information.
While the presentations and discussions took place in nine sessions, their results will be summarized along five specific areas of debate.

Firstly, it was pointed out that the region has an enduring history of transport and communication modernization. Under the specific conditions of colonial rule and early world-market integration through slaves and tropical products, however, this modernization process was marked by a number of profound contradictions. The case of Angola is a clear illustration of these contradictions and ambivalences, even in certain periods prior to the 20th century.

Secondly, it was shown that throughout its history, both transport and communication in West Central Africa have had a strong impact on the histories and livelihoods of the areas involved, in the economic and social as well as in the political and cultural sense.

Thirdly, a number of contributions examined how transport lines and communications shaped the spatial structure of the region profoundly, integrating or fragmenting it, from the very local to the large-scale level.
A fourth area of inquiry was the everyday concepts of space among people who move(d) through West Central Africa. Particular attention was paid here to popular perceptions of a familiar landscape of routes and connections and how they coped with the boundaries and territories that were advanced, often violently, by the colonial and post-colonial state.

Finally, it emerged that the history of transport and communication in (Central) Africa is an important facet of world history, and that regional studies on the topic should not present their results merely as echoes or variants of this wider history, but indeed as its constituents. A similar emphasis on multiplicity is also required for the method of study: a history of mobility in Africa and beyond requires a multitude of approaches that complement rather than oppose each other.


Angola on the move
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Latest revision: 08.03.2004