During the first week of March 2021, 189 scholars from all over the world gathered online to discuss issues related to the precolonial past of Africa, more specifically regarding the use of present data for historical research (“Extracting the Past from the Present”). The conference was interdisciplinary, with papers from historians, archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, geologists, and many more scientific domains. The turnout of the call had been huge. In the end, 71 papers made it to the online conference. The papers were presented in written format, a detailed powerpoint, or in a pre-recorded video. All were available from March 1st to March 5th originally, but two extra days were admitted upon request of the participants. If the presentations could be watched or read any time during that week, we also had a live discussion for each panel, scheduled between 3pm and 6pm (UTC+1) from Monday to Friday, 15 discussions in total. The timing of the live sessions allowed for the participation of colleagues from Canada and Australia, to name the two extremes. It must be observed that also many African scholars presented and joined the live discussions. No doubt, the online format facilitated the participation of all “oversees” colleagues.
We very much enjoyed the conference ourselves, and also many colleagues shared their enthusiasm with us. We were able to savor high-quality research and to engage in scientific debates. And even if we missed the informal side of a real-life conference, it was great to see colleagues again and to have new encounters during the live discussions. For those who have been living a lockdown for a long time now, the conference was indeed a welcome scientific break from the daily grind.