1 thought on “Cortona 2012

  1. james

    Dear Colleagues,

    attached here are notes which may be useful to those on this space.
    It may be rough, but it is something. And good to jog the memories of those who attended as well as spark the interest of those looking forward to attending one these very important AEGIS meetings in the future.

    Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies Summer School in Cortona (Italy), 18-24 June 2012.

    Staff: Achim von Oppen (Universität Bayreuth), Alessandro Triulzi (Università di Napoli “L’Orientale”), Antonio Pezzano (Università di Napoli “L’Orientale”), Maria Cristina Ercolessi (Università di Napoli “L’Orientale”), Jon Abbink (ASC Leiden), Manuel Joao Ramos (ISCTE-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal), Paul Nugent (University of Edinburgh).

    Introductions: According to the Mayor, Cortona is 2007 years old and has a long tradition of hosting scholarly meetings. He continued: “There has been a mutual appreciation of the work that we will be presenting. We are facing a world were borders are being crossed in every way. Problems are coming. We are global and small at the same time. The world’s problems are coming and we need to deal with them. There are issues that relate not just to Cortona but also to the world in general”. This connection between Africa and ‘problems’ was an apt starting point for the students of the summer school to consider. Later Achime van Oppen would state: “For development we need a much wider time frame to locate development, a comprehensive view of history not a narrow construction of problems. Especially in African Studies we adopt the disciplines”. This too was an apt point at which to consider Africa and the Disciplines.

    Warming up session: The quality of the Cortona experience is about getting together, discussing, breaking down barriers between student and professor, as well as between strangers. On the first day the students and staff engaged in a warming up session. We were encouraged to introduce ourselves and to discuss our reasons for doing African Studies. For some this was about romantic relationships, for others it was about seeking alternative political forms, and still for others it was a career move. According to one of these senior staff, “You are total strangers, just as I am total stranger to you. And this is the research situation that most of you have found in the field as well…As men and women, coming from one part of the world with our cultures, with our traditions and how this impinges on research. And to do research on others always means to do a lot of research on oneself. To do research is one way to know a bit more about ourselves, not just a lot more about others…And research is a process of give and take and not just take, or steal: from an archive, from a situation. We have been trained to steal things from the mouth of a reluctant informant, or a reluctant archivist. Or from a reluctant interviewee. But research is not really stealing. That is scoop. And we are not interested in scoop here. We are interested in exchange”.


    Data: “We are all overwhelmed by data. The thing in PhD is to reduce it to sustainable series of questions that you want to enforce on this data. The link with bigger issues is not to link to bigger issues, but a grain of sand and make it exemplary of a bigger issue. This is one problem. How to cope with too much evidence? Is this similar to coping with too little evidence?

    We then moved to discuss concepts, ideas and questions we develop for our research. What happens to them when we encounter the empirical reality? Are these concepts, these ideas, anything that people can make sense of?

    We then moved to creating an agenda to some of the topics, which students would like to address later in the summer school. This ranged from questions about the colonial archive – such as the creation of sources and legitimate knowledge: ‘The archives are part of the field…In so many studies we have to combine written evidence with oral evidence, which are quite different. So a combination of different data and data sources is important. Oral sources are a different kind of source. How do you use it, how do you collect it? It can provide certain kinds of evidence. By interviewing people you are creating the source. What do you need to know when you are interviewing a source? What rules do you abide by so that the source is not only used by yourself in a selfish kind of way but can be kept so that other people can see it and possibly use it? This processes in African Studies is still unsolved. The old generation looked more at the archive than oral sources, beyond oral traditions. There is also the creation of ones own sources. Today we can look at video documentaries, the Internet, and we have to be careful because the range of sources today is not just archival and oral. How do we cope with blogs? What do we twitter on? Do we forget it? Do we keep it?” The act of creating is the act of recording and shaping sources’.

    This conversation linked into the opportunities of computer-based software for managing data, the use of recording devices, and so on. We closed the session speaking about writing: ‘Don’t start writing after you finish research. Writing starts when you do the research. Don’t make the mistake of not keeping a journal. What did you dream? This can help you. This is due to a series of other matters that need to be reconsidered. Also where do you start in writing? If you have already written something, even chunk by chunk. If you are feeling something, write it. Put together things while they are fresh in your head. Don’t wait until 6 months later when you need to finish a chapter. Writing as process’.

    Feedback: During the end of the summer school we were invited, along side staff, to give feedback.

    According to a student: ‘We should focus on methodological issues and not just research results. We need to include broader issues, like publishing or methodology in general. These are considered to be relevant to the group of students. Also, dividing things up into smaller workshops and being thematic could be useful. It was very good that people from different positions in their PhD are communicating. We learn from each other and from the seniors. We shouldn’t be confined to advanced for beginners. It is good that we don’t have boundaries around specific topics. We are not confined in that sense. We can talk across disciplines because what we are talking about is African Studies. Too often we are bound by a particular discipline. Maybe it is a good idea to have focus groups that get together with the professors and discuss what has come out of the day’.

    ‘The point that we make about the advantage of having a mixture of students is this. Some may be better than the others. It seems to be that the staff role might not be as a discussant but more a diagnostic role. It is about taking papers and going through them. How a successful paper is successfully constructed. Take the papers and going through them. Saying that this needs to be restricted. How a good paper is supposed to be constructed. Break into small groups and discuss the papers. There is so much pressure to publish while writing the PhDs. The taking on of writing workshop into summer schools should be a priority. Also attaching of publishing workshops with discussions about the politics of publishing. So, something that would be accepted is taking on of writing workshops. One possibility would be for the AEGIS summer school to have a public relations writing workshop with people from academic journals present. Then you are not talking about particular papers but the more general sense that they need to get publishing. Invite somebody who represents a journal or two to talk about the public relations’.

    ‘We have to give guidelines to students and guidelines to staff. We need to be more specific about what we want out of this school. This is not so easy. People want different things. The papers need more guidelines. I sort of read all the papers, particularly the historical ones. We cannot really expect each staff member to read 24 papers. I don’t think we can expect you to do the same. I wonder how many papers you actually read. No-one read even half. I think the idea of tutorials and guidelines go toward a more structuring of the school. If we were to have another school that would be good suggestions. Some papers were excellent some were not so good. I wondered if a presentation just helps the person to know this. I am strongly in favour for tutorials. If we accept the mix then it makes more sense for levels or disciplines. Some more senior researchers have to tell the researcher what is wrong in a paper and what is good in a paper. Otherwise it is not a summer school. If you do tutorials it needs to be 5 days or 6 days. We should also give the students more freedom. At times during the breadth of the school you are tired. So we must find some sort of solution. The solution is to allow people to do what they want and what they can take from the school. Lets try to focus on this. Sometimes you cannot continue to follow after so many hours.

    Also there was an attempt to liaise AEGIS summer schools with African Summer-schools. Would it make sense to you to try to have once in Europe and once in Africa? But Africa is vast. Where in Africa? Is it possible to improve the skills of African students in Europe and Europe students in Africa?
    What about linking with CODESRIA. If you attend one of their workshops you instantly become a member. You will receive news. AEGIS has been in negotiation with CODESRIA. Views are common. In the last 12 months we had conversations/negotiations about doing things together. Doctoral training. But the problem is that everything is in flux such as this African administration of pan-African university. Nothing has been set in stone. We are waiting for something to happen in order to make the principle of close collaboration there. There will be something to happen in the next 24 months. When we get all those bits in place we will do those joint schools in Africa.

    And the language questions: We understand that our students have two languages. Like French and English and so on. But this is not easy to prevent when it comes. One thing is tacit knowledge that you see here and there. Another thing is to argue, discuss and write in a different language. At one point there were French students here that refused to speak English. Half the audience was not focusing. To be 100% bi-lingual is not possible, especially for Africans who come already to a different foreign language. Being asked to know a second European language is to ask a lot. Sorry for French I don’t see really how we could do that. Knowledge of French though should be enough to read the paper. French is an important language to know in general if one wishes to continue in African Studies, as well as Portuguese.

    That is it for now. It would be nice to here responses and comments on this space.

    Sharp sharp.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s