Africans and the African Diaspora developed narratives of the future of Africa, which often diverged from, but also entangled with, alternative notions from outside the continent. Historical writing on European ideas for the future of Africa is rich and often innovative, shaping historical theory and practice. Particularly the concepts of ‘civilisation’, ‘progress’ and ‘development’ (as they were applied by Europeans to African societies) have been interrogated in detail. These teleological concepts reveal a particular understanding of the relationship between time, place and change applied by some to the African continent.

Edwin White, Thoughts of Liberian Emancipation, 1861

Edwin White, Thoughts of Liberian Emancipation

This rare portrait of a solitary mid-century African-American man reading by the fireside, depicts a cold and shadowed room while the man studies the newspaper and considers a possible brighter future in the colony of Liberia

The project will also analyse African, African-American and African diaspora concepts of time and show how they are related to ideas about space. In comparison to European linear and progressive narratives of a burgeoning civilisation or planned development, the project will demonstrate how African and African diaspora conceived of the future trajectory of the continent. The research puts an emphasis on social diversity and the “embeddedness” of narratives in power relations. Furthermore, we will consider links between religious and secular concepts, the manifold transfers and mutual appropriations of ideas between Europeans, Americans, and Africans, asking how “indigenous” or “authentic” concepts are, if we take into consideration the on-going process of transculturation. Lastly, we will inquire into the impact of past ideas on the times to come.

With Africans and the African Diaspora firmly at the heart of the research, as the agents who built and are building the future of Africa, our project is concerned with writing the history of these groups’ concepts and how they impacted on global debates about the future.

These are the aspects our research is focused on thematically: „The Pan-African School: Black Imperialism and Education in Sierra Leone and Liberia, 1865-1926“ (Dr. Christine Whyte, Postdoc until 2015), "Africa and the Communist Countries during the Cold War: Educational exchange and cultural transfers" (Dr. Constantin Katsakirois, Postdoc since 2015) „In the pursuit of Greater Somalia: The Pan-Somali Movement and irredentist visions of the Somali future (1935-69)“ (Dr. Annalisa Urbano, Postdoc), „Soziale Bewegungen und Ideen von „Entwicklung“ in Afrika im 20. Jahrhundert“ (Prof. Dr. Achim v.Oppen) and „Verbindungen zwischen Harlem Renaissance (USA), Panafrikanismus und afrikanischem Nationalismus am Beispiel John Lockes“ (Prof. Dr. Susanne Lachenicht).