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Activating The Past—event and edited volume

By Paul Ryer, History, new book Add comments

Now that I am wrapping up teaching–over 1,000 students this year!–what better way to get back to scholarly work than to attend the launch of a volume showcasing Cuba and providing the opportunity to meet, or catch up with, contributors and editors.

The book, Activating The Past: Historical Memory in the Black Atlantic World, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010, is edited by Andrew Apter and Robin Derby.  Perhaps because it is not yet available in paper, it may not be familiar to some readers, but it should be, since many of the essays prominently place Cuban history and ethnography within an inter-Atlantic conversation.  Thus, for instance, the first chapter, by Stephan Palmié: “Ekpe/Abakuá in Middle Passage: Time, Space and Units of Analysis in African American Historical Anthropology.”  There are also Cuba-centered chapters by art historian  Judith Bettelheim, “Espiritismo Altars in Puerto Rico and Cuba: The Indian and the Congo,” and Carrie Viarnes, “Muñecas and Memoryscapes: Negotiating Identity and History in Cuban Espiritismo.”  Surely, however, the broader value of the volume is in (re)emplacing Cuba within wider currents, histories, and movements.

As an event, the launch (at UCLA’s African Studies Center) provided an opportunity to speak with Professors Apter and Derby, as well as Judith Bettelheim and several other contributors.  I was particularly struck by Professor Bettelheim’s description of the way in which her chapter built from one particularly startling archived photograph (see Activating The Past, p. 299), circa 1860, in which two performers are wearing feathered headdresses.  Clearly, art historians are very, very skilled at image analysis, and perhaps we ethnographers would be well advised to study those methods or collaborate with art historians in some contexts.  In any case, get your library to order this book, and take a look at it.

 

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