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Cultural Amnesia, Cultural Nostalgia and False Memory: Africa’s Identity Crisis Revisited

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Abstract The point of departure of this article is Ernest Renan’s observation that the secret of nation-building is to get one’s history wrong. We critically analyze – in the broader and historical context of the encounters between Africans and Europeans – the role of collective memory in its four functions of preservation, selection, elimination and invention. We focus on the first function to examine in depth how positive preservation of memory can become a form of nostalgia and how negative selection by memory can lead to elimination and amnesia. We argue that both nostalgia and amnesia can be forms of “getting one’s history wrong” in order to get one’s national identity right. We also attempt to show how historical invention can be consolidated into a false memory – placing something in the past which was never there before.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, SUNY


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