At the next Vossius Seminar Larissa Schulte Nordholt (University of Leiden) and Giovanni Colavizza (University of Amsterdam) will present their research. Larissa Schulte Nordholt: “Confronting the Hamitic Hypothesis in UNESCO’s General History of Africa” and Giovanni Colavizza: “Understanding the History of the Humanities from a Bibliometric Perspective”.
15.00-16.00: Larissa Schulte Nordholt (University of Leiden)
16.15-17.15: Giovanni Colavizza (University of Amsterdam)
Confronting the Hamitic Hypothesis in UNESCO’s General History of Africa
This lecture analyses how and why the so-called Hamitic hypothesis lingered as a powerful narrative within African historiography throughout the twentieth century. This happened even though it was proven factually incorrect by the 1960s. The paper takes UNESCO’s General History of Africa (1964-1999) as a case-study to show that debates about the hypothesis were centred around questions of race and emancipation. The phrase ‘Hamitic hypothesis’, generally speaking, came to refer to the explanatory narrative that civilizational progress in Africa had stemmed from outside the continent, brought there by migrating whites from the north. It was therefore antithetical to the emancipatory goal of proving Africa had a history espoused by the UNESCO History specifically and African historiography in the mid-twentieth century generally. Within the GHA it was Cheikh Anta Diop who utilised the racialist logic inherited from 19th century European science to argue that the Hamitic Egyptians had been black. This reversal could make the hypothesis useful for the purpose of historiographical emancipation, by emphasizing blackness rather than denying it. This made the hypothesis ambiguous and therefore difficult to get rid of.
Understanding the History of the Humanities from a Bibliometric Perspective
Historiography is undergoing incessant expansion in the number of publications and active scholars, as is the case with the humanities and sciences in general. Little is known about what effects this has on the research activity and ways of publishing of historians, often stemming from long-established practices. Yet it seems recurrent that during and after periods of sustained growth, several historians lament the increasingly specialized and narrow focus of their domain. This article considers three journals that specialize in the history of Venice but that represent different scholarly traditions. These are analyzed over the most recent decades of modern historiography (1950–2013). Special attention is given to the use of evidence, as mapped by citations to primary sources. It is shown that at least three trends overlap: the sustained expansion in the number of publications and active scholars; the persisting editorial traditions of individual journals; and the conjunctures of the field, either via geographical and intellectual exchanges or by methodological turns. Ultimately, expansion, conjunctures, and traditions all need to be considered to picture the dynamics of a scholarly community over the long term.