Report Introduction


The modernization of transport and its contradictions

Transport routes and the transformation of rural livelihoods

Building spaces of communication

Concepts of space on the move

Movements and communications in academic inquiry

Conclusion: Insights gained through the Symposium

The main purpose of the Symposium "Angola on the Move: Transport routes, communications, and history", as stated in the proposal submitted to the Volkswagen Foundation in 2002, was twofold:

Firstly, to produce a better understanding of the long-term dynamics of transport routes and communications, which have had a fundamental impact on African history for centuries. From pre-colonial migration and exchange through the period of Atlantic long-distance trade to "development" and warfare in the eras of colonialism, the nation state and global integration in the twentieth century, the associated processes have shown a remarkable potential for creating or transforming spaces in the broadest sense of the term, spaces that transcended existing boundaries but also constituted new barriers. This first aim of the Symposium also corresponds to the current research programme at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, which focuses on the "translocal" movements of people, goods and ideas between different non-European societies and cultures, albeit with a pronounced emphasis on the Islamic world.

Secondly, to give prominence to the case of Angola and its hinterland, whose long history in many respects is akin to a microcosm of African history, in which lines of travel, transport and communication have played a significant but often precarious role. A particular advantage of this case is its unusual wealth of written sources, including those by Africans, which date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and derive from early contacts with European traders, administrators and missionaries. One of the reasons for concentrating on this part of Central Africa was to attract more academic attention in Germany and beyond to a region whose political and economic significance has long been obscured by abiding colonial rule, warfare, and language barriers. The re-establishment or reconfiguration of historical links of transport and communication are key aspects in current efforts towards a new departure by Angola and the region as a whole.

These challenges were taken up by the Symposium, which thanks to the Volkswagen Foundation grant was able to take place as planned from 24th to 26th September 2003 at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin. It was convened and organized by Beatrix Heintze (Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt) and Achim von Oppen (Centre for Modern Oriental Studies).

Broadly speaking, it can be said that the yield of the Symposium in terms of new academic insights and debates was both rich and diversified and, at the same time, conducive to some general conclusions. This was primarily due to the contributions of the twenty participants, who came from three continents and various academic disciplines, notably social and economic history, historical anthropology, and the political and communication sciences. They presented a wide range of topics and approaches that reached historically from the 1st century to the present day. Three additional papers were submitted by scholars who were unable to join the Symposium in person but agreed to the circulation and discussion of the papers in their absence. The majority of the presentations were based on recent unpublished research in Angolan, Portuguese and Brazilian archives. Since the 1990s, and more especially since the end of the Angolan civil war, scholars have been able to take up field research again, particularly in the border regions. The discussions both during and after the presentation of individual papers resulted in more general insights of a comparative, conceptual or theoretical nature.

The following summary of the Symposium results follows the five major foci of reflection and debate originally outlined in the Call for Papers, and which were roughly matched by the session arrangement. The respective sessions and contributions are summarized for each set of questions and concentrate on points relevant to the more general issues, leaving aside many others that cropped up in the process.

Across the Zambezi River (Photo: V. Ovaert)
Across the Zambezi River (Photo: V. Ovaert)

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Latest revision: 08.03.2004