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“Extracting the Past from the Present”: International and Interdisciplinary Conference on African Precolonial History

Extracting the past from the present, 2010, picture by Birgit Ricquier


From Monday March 1st to Friday March 5th, 2021, the Université libre de Bruxelles and the Royal Museum for Central Africa will welcome international scholars from disciplines as diverse as linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, genetics, palaeobotany and others, to discuss methods and the latest results regarding the precolonial past of Africa. Contributions must address the precolonial history of Africa, but may be both theoretical or presenting research results, mono- and multidisciplinary. We especially encourage contributions reflecting on the central theme of the conference: “Extracting the Past from the Present”. Many of us analyze data that have been collected recently – words and phrases, observations of contemporary pottery techniques, genes, etc. – in order to formulate hypotheses on the past. Hardliners argue that only direct evidence – such as ancients objects – may inform us on the past and that such inferences are mere speculation. Yet, many of the insights we value today are based on contemporary evidence. Given its controversial nature, we also welcome critical approaches. More details on the conference’s incentives and central theme can be found here.

We foresee five days of conference as to avoid parallel sessions and instead foster the exchange between scholars working at opposite sides of the continent, on different epochs and diverging research interests, but all facing the same multidisciplinary challenge.

Call for papers

Please send an abstract of no more than one page, including all authors and references, to no later than June 30th, 2020. All accepted papers should result in a 20-minute oral presentation at the conference.

You may submit abstracts individually. However, if you would like a panel on a particular topic, related to or other than the central theme of the conference, you may invite colleagues for a session of 4 to 6 presentations. In this case, we ask the organizer of the panel to send us the individual abstracts together with a brief introduction to the panel (again no more than one page) in one e-mail, not separately. Abstracts of the same panel will be reviewed together.

We encourage participation from scholars based in Africa. and we invite these colleagues to mention in their reply if they wish financial support for travelling.

Important dates:

  • Abstracts due: June 30th, 2020.
  • Notification of acceptance: September 30th, 2020.


Proceedings of the conference will be published in a special volume of the international bilingual open-access journal Afriques: Débats, méthodes et terrains d’histoire.


The program will be announced early 2021.

Social program

We plan several social activities, amongst which an excursion to the renewed Royal Museum for Central Africa and a conference dinner. More details will be announced in Fall 2020.


 The registration fee includes conference materials, lunch and coffee breaks:

125 € for postdocs and academic staff

75 € for students

No fees are charged for colleagues based at African institutions.

Practical information

Conference dates: March 1-5, 2021

Conference venue: Université libre de Bruxelles, Solbosch Campus, Institute of Sociology, Avenue Jeanne 44, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

Directions are indicated on the ULB website: .

Your stay in Brussels

In Fall 2020, you will find suggestions for accommodation, travel and tourism here.




Organizing committee:

Birgit Ricquier, ULB

Daou Véronique Joiris, ULB

David Kopa wa Kopa, ULB – UNIKIS

Shingo Takamura, ULB

Els Cornelissen, RMCA

Alexandre Livingstone Smith, RMCA

Laurent Nieblas Ramirez, RBINS


Scientific committee:

Chiara Batini, University of Leicester

Koen Bostoen, Ghent University

Kathryn de Luna, Georgetown University

Pierre de Maret, ULB

Jeffrey Fleisher, Rice University

Olivier Gosselain, ULB

Alexa Höhn, Goethe University

Susan Keech McIntosh, Rice University

Alice Mezop Temgoua, University of Yaoundé 1

Karim Sadr, University of the Witwatersrand


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