CfP: (Dis)Claiming Pasts: Ownership, Responsability and Contestation

TAPAS/Thinking About the Past is pleased to announce our next conference: (Dis)Claiming Pasts on 14-15 December, 2017 in Ghent.

​Tensions surrounding the ownership or control over (certain aspects of) the past are an increasingly common phenomenon. Various social and cultural groups demand ownership or control over, or the return of, artefacts or human remains to which they claim cultural, religious, historical or biological affinity (e.g. the case of the Kennewick Man or the recently repatriated skulls of the Nama and Herero). Similarly, former colonies (re)claim archives produced by their former colonizers. Activists claim land or heritage sites that, they argue, historically belongs to them. But claiming pasts can involve more than claiming material remains. Corporations use historical figures or even entire historical periods for ‘retro- branding’ and politicians often refer to the legacy of famous predecessors to legitimize their views or positions. Conversely, there are many examples of individuals or groups who disclaim particular pasts because they are painful or shameful, or because they might come with unwanted (legal and other) responsibilities. 

The aim of this conference is to explore the different strategies, techniques and arguments used by individuals, groups or entire nations to (dis)claim particular pasts, and the different aims and motivations that underpin them. We are especially interested in papers that discuss the local or global dynamics of (dis)claiming pasts in the following contexts:

  • Discussions about cultural and intellectual property: (inter)national heritage politics, repatriations, traditional knowledge, etc.
  • Nationalist and ethnic vs. universalist claims about the past (e.g. world heritage) and the specific techniques used in these discussions (e.g. claims about cultural affinity vs. biological continuity based on DNA analysis).
  • Appropriations of the past in (identity) politics.
  • The use of historical arguments in discussions on land rights and land reform.
  • Discussions about (transgenerational) responsibility concerning historical injustices, victimhood and suffering.
  • Religious claims about the relations between past and present.
  • Commodification of the past in marketing, advertisement, tourism, etc.
  • Discussions about who has epistemic authority and can claim the proper expertise to speak about/for the past (e.g. academics vs. contemporary witnesses, activists, lawyers and judges, etc.).

We welcome a variety of approaches, including theoretical ones, however, we ask all contributors to use one or more concrete cases as a starting point.

For more information, please check out our conference webpage:

Practical information:

Those interested in participating in the conference are asked to submit an abstract (maximum 700 words) before the 15 September 2017. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by the end of September 2017.

Please send abstracts and questions to:

Katie Digan

Ghent University – Department of History
Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35
9000 Ghent - Belgium

Scientific committee:

Prof. Bruno de Wever (Ghent University)
Prof. Bert de Munck (University of Antwerp)
Prof. Idesbald Goddeeris (KU Leuven)
Prof. Stefan Berger (Ruhr University Bochum)
Prof. Jo Tollebeek (KU Leuven)
Prof. Chris Lorenz (Ruhr University Bochum)
Prof. Peter Romijn (NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
Prof. Stephan Parmentier (KU Leuven)
Prof. Nico Wouters (CegeSoma)
Prof. Valérie Rosoux (Université Catholique de Louvain)
Prof. Nanci Adler (NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
Prof. Susan Legêne (VU Free University)