The theme for this year’s LASA congress–democracy and memory–is a highly important one which presses scholars to consider critical questions regarding the impact of collective memory and institutional development. From the LASA website, these questions are:
- Does this past, shaped by collective memories that are themselves constructed of narratives, shared experiences, and interpretations of everyday life, as well as of violence, repression, and resistance, affect how new institutions are discussed, devised, and developed?
- Does the collective experience of violence and oppression contribute significantly to collective commitment to “new rules of the game” that are expected to result in widespread political participation, peaceful conflict resolution, and the generation of consensus about broad lines of public policy?
- What are the enduring tensions and conflicts that result from collective memories of political pasts?
- How have conflicting views of the past shaped public recognition of historical events through art, museums, public spaces, and school curricula?
- How do collective memories survive and how are they transmitted across generations?
- What is the obligation of current and future generations to honor past struggles and to engage in conflicts and discussions about differing interpretations of the past?
These thought-provoking issues were already identified and researched by Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University) years ago: Her book Public Memory of Slavery examines the public memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery encompassing what is modern-day Brazil and the Republic of Benin––two countries connected through more than three centuries of Atlantic slave trade. Brazil imported more than 5 million enslaved Africans (the largest number in all the Americas) and was the latest to abolish slavery in 1888.
Araujo’s study illuminates the different kinds of democracies as well. For example, the book points out that “during the 1940s, the idea of racial mixture became closely related to the term ‘racial democracy,’ which during the period of 1968 to 1978 was gradually transformed into an ideology of the Brazilian state.”
Earning rave reviews in the top journals, Public Memory of Slavery has been lauded for being “truly interdisciplinary in scope” and “a crucial starting point for all future studies of slavery and memory.”
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