African studies, Colonialism, Post-colonial studies

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Pierre-Philippe Fraiture | Unfinished Histories

Pierre-Philippe Fraiture

 

The past, and past documents and documents about the past are complex and layered objects of study.

Belgian colonialism was short-lived but left significant traces that are still felt in the twenty-first century. Unfinished Histories explores how the imperial past has lived on in Belgium, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. A Q&A with editor Pierre-Philippe Fraiture.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
60 years after the independence of the Belgian Congo (1960) and that of Rwanda and Burundi (1962), this book explores the many traces left by this past on our lives now in the twenty-first century. The history of Belgian colonialism – short (1885-1962) but significant – continues to shape how we are now, how Africans and Europeans see one another, how Congolese, Rwandans, Burundians and Belgians think of their respective national histories, write novels, make films, stage theatre plays, inhabit their cities, interpret their forebears’ words, use their museums, revisit their archives, attempt to decolonise their past, and envision their future.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
I have had a long-standing interest in the Belgian colonial past, but also in anything colonial or postcolonial whether linked to Belgium, France (around which most of my teaching and a substantial portion of my publications revolves), Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Portugal. But there is also a family connection: my dad was born in the Belgian Congo and so he would often tell us how it was to live in the segregated cities of the former colony. Later I visited the DRC and wrote two books on the novelist and thinker VY Mudimbe who, ironically, lived several years in Lubumbashi (Katanga) where my dad went to secondary school.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
There are so many good books on the subject. I would recommend the following ones, though:

Les Corps glorieux des mots et des êtres: esquisse d’un jardin africain à la bénédictine (1994) by Valentin Yves Mudimbe; Kinshasa: Tales from the Invisible City (2004) by Filip De Boeck and Marie-Françoise Plissart; Het uur van de rebellen (2006) by Lieve Joris [translated as The Rebel’s Hour]; Généalogie d’une banalité (2015) by Sinzo Aanza. Anyone interested in contemporary Congolese art would do well to read Colonial Legacies: Contemporary Lens-Based Art and the Democratic Republic of Congo (2021) by Gabriella Nugent, also published by Leuven University Press, but also Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire (1996) by Johannes Fabian.

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
Editing a long book is always labour-intensive and full of surprises and unexpected turns. However, I was lucky enough to work with responsive contributors and the editiorial team at Leuven University Press is absolutely fantastic.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?
That the past, and past documents and documents about the past – be they films, written texts, novels, academic essays, songs or buildings – are complex and layered objects of study.

Your book is published open access thanks to the support of the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access. How did the open access publication process go? What makes open access so attractive for you/your book? Have you thus far noticed that your book reaches a wider audience?
It went very smoothly. I applied to the KU Leuven Fund for Fair Open Access and was successful in securing one third of the OA costs thanks to their generous support. The rest has been covered by the European Research Council.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about? Would you consider publishing the book open access?
I am in the process of scoping out a single-authored book focusing on the notions of extraction and extractivism in a Congolese context from 1885 until now. This book will use extraction (of labour, minerals and art) as a thread to put into dialogue colonial and postcolonial authors and artists. I would like it to be OA but it will depend on what funding is available.