Living History: Encountering the Memory and the History of the Heirs of Slavery
This book explores how the slave past is reconstructed in the present. The recent emergence of the memory of slavery allows those social actors who are or who claim to be descendants of slaves to legitimize their demand for recognition and for reparations for past wrongs. Some reparation claims encompass financial compensation, but very often they express the need for memorialization through public commemoration, museums, and monuments. In some contexts, presentification of the slave past has helped governments and the descendants of former masters and slave merchants to formulate public apologies. For some, expressing repentance is not only a means to erase guilt but also a way to gain political prestige. The authors analyze different aspects of the recent phenomenon of memorializing slavery, especially the practices employed to stage the slave past in both public and private spaces. The essays present memory and oblivion as part of the same process; they discuss reconstructions of the past in the present at different public and private levels through historiography, photography, exhibitions, monuments, memorials, collective and individual discourses, cyberspace, religion and performance. By offering a comparative perspective on the United States and West Africa, as well as on Western Europe, South America, and the Caribbean, the chapters offer new possibilities to explore the resurgence of the memory of slavery as a transnational movement in our contemporary world.