Contesting the Past, Negotiating Identity: Archival Interventions in Namibian Auto/Biographical Accounts and Artistic Practices (working title)

This PhD-project responds to a socio-political climate in which the debates on German-Namibian colonial history and its repercussions on the countries’ presents have received heightened attention. It examines how colonial legacies are renegotiated in the cultural realm by discussing underexplored literary and artistic works. In both Germany and Namibia, authors and artists contend with questions of colonial responsibility, post-colonial identities as well as the potential of literary and artistic practices to further processes of decolonization. Focusing on lives and perspectives of women, the text analysed in this project share an engagement with public, personal and alternative archives.

In light of contemporary calls to decolonize public spaces, cultural institutions and modes of knowledge production, this project explores why archives are complex and complicated sources to access (colonial) histories and yet their traction continues to draw cultural practitioners to the repositories. In my case studies, I examine two contemporary auto/biographical accounts, a selection of artworks as well as documents from diverse archives to assess how writers and artists engage and intervene with archival material as a way to renegotiate colonial legacies. With their literary and artistic projects, authors and artists contest dominant historical narratives and cultures of remembrance that do not attend to their perspectives on and experiences of the past. By bringing a wide variety of cultural representations and individual perspectives into a single study, my project strives towards a more nuanced understanding of entangled histories by attending to the ways in which artists and writers situate themselves in the post-colonial present and in commemorative societies in Germany, Namibia and beyond.

SupervisorLorena Rizzo 

Co-SupervisorJulia Tischler und  Wolfgang Hochbruck

Short bio

Julia Rensing is a PhD candidate at the History Department and the Centre for African Studies of the University of Basel and a scholarship holder of the Humer Foundation for Academic Excellence. Previously, she earned an MA degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Freiburg, where she pursued her interest in post-colonial studies and wrote her MA thesis on “The (Im)Possibility of Reconciliation: Perspectives on Namibian National Unity in Taming My Elephant and The Price of Freedom.” She is a member of the initiative Freiburg-postkolonial and in this function promotes public debates on colonialism in Freiburg and beyond. Her research focuses on German-Namibian colonial history, its repercussions in the present as well as projects and potentials of decolonization through literature and art.

Portrait Julias Rensing

Julia Rensing 

Graduate School of Social Sciences
Petersgraben 52
4051 Basel