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Debate | LeidenGlobal Annual Event

The Power of Apology: In Conversation with Jacob Dlamini

Monday 3 July 2023
Museum Volkenkunde
Steenstraat 1
2312 BS Leiden

For this LeidenGlobal Annual Signature Event, South African journalist, historian and author Jacob Dlamini will be in conversation with Wayne Modest (Director of Content, NMVW) and Carine Zaayman (Researcher, RCMC). The conversation will reflect on our current moment in time, marked by intensified focus on global inequality and discrimination.


16:30 -17:00
Reception with coffee/tea/soft drinks
17:00 -18:00
In conversation with Jacob Dlamini, with Q & A with the audience
18:00 -19:00
Bites & Drinks


Contextually, we note the apology issued in December 2022 by Mark Rutte for the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery. By drawing on examples from the South African past, we will explore if and how we might reckon with historical violence and oppression in the present. Against the background of Dlamini’s extensive archival research, we ask what happens if we think the museum as archive, while acknowledging archives as partial and uncertain records of the past. We will consider how these qualities hinder and assist us in the task of accounting for, with due complexity, those worlds entangled in colonialism and its afterlives.

Our conversation is situated in the context of a more sustained reflection on ‘history’ within the Research Centre for Material Culture (RCMC). The ethnographic museum has long been described as concerning itself with the ‘people without history’, or as representing those lifeworlds of the many peoples it was presumed to ‘collect’ as being ‘outside of history’. Today, these museums are at the centre of deep, protracted reckonings with history and with how the past continues to shape societies and impact relations in the present. Indeed, museum objects are witnesses of and testimonies to the past, excised and ‘preserved’ in the present. As remains, they are the present past. For ethnographic and world cultures museums, these object-remains are the afterlives of the colonial past in the present. It is in acknowledging how history lives on and continues to shape our present that we attempt to understand better the genealogies of the world we inhabit as we write (new) histories of the present.

About the speaker

Jacob Dlamini is a visiting fellow at the Research Centre for Material Culture (RCMC) at the National Museum of World Cultures. He is a South African journalist, historian and author and also associate professor of history at Princeton University. Dlamini has an interest in precolonial, colonial and postcolonial African History. He wrote several books on Social and Environmental history in South Africa.

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