In many modern societies identity and social boundaries are often constructed through binary oppositions between “past” and “present” or “us” and “them.” In our “present,” the past is frequently conceptualized through a flux of shifting ideas, images, and categories that are associated with material culture from different periods and regions. Fields such as archaeology, art history, and classics, for instance, use material culture to make sense of the past and present it in a more tangible and imaginable form to the present. Since the start of the twenty-first century, historians have been paying close attention, on the one hand, to the genealogy and underpinnings of these interpretative approaches and, on the other, to the ways in which societies have actualized the material traces of the past for political and socio-economic reasons.

This symposium sets out to explore the ways in which African societies approached their own past, with a focus on the relationship between identity and material culture. Topics of interest include: how did societies forge new connections with ruins and monuments that were present in the territories they inhabited? In which ways was material culture used to support competing interpretations of the past? Is it possible to identify traces of iconoclasm in the historical and archaeological record of Africa? How were human activities shaped by different concepts of time?