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Temporality of permanence –material and socio-spatial practices in African urbanism

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TEMPEA (Temporality of permanence –material and socio-spatial practices in African urbanism)

Reporting period: 2015-09-14 to 2017-05-13

The built environment has always played an important part in defining and shaping aspects of identity, social practices and the structure of urban societies. Understanding the underlying logic of the changing and stable elements of the spatial structure of towns in a long-term perspective is ever more relevant in the context of our rapidly urbanising present-day world. This holds true especially for Africa, where urban development represents an important, and for long under-theorised, reference collection for comparative analyses of the interplay between constructed space and social change. The research being undertaken for this project, first at the Centre of African Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland, and then at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University focuses on targeting several aspects which may advance our understanding of how space is constructed to manifest permanence (such as buildings of durable material and street networks of urban settlements) by the upkeep and contribution of a number of generations of urban dwellers, and how space may contain and cater for social temporality. For such enquiry, an interdisciplinary approach has been adopted, specifically involving archaeology, architectural history, sociology and ethnography. Research on the project so far has addressed firstly whether and how we could link certain aspects of social behaviour with material representations (such as relative privacy and gradated access to spaces within buildings; placement and use of mortuary monuments for display of identity in cosmopolitan urban environments; and social trust and the building of walls). Secondly, the project has begun comparing case studies of West African towns that were established in the pre-colonial era (namely Timbuktu and Djenne in Mali), analysing the relative potential of their street networks and structural organisation for urban trade (both towns were known as major centres of trade routes from across the Sahara and inland West Africa), and the current respective layout and interconnectedness of urban quarters that gradually grew together in the pre-colonial era. Rather than addressing the specific nature of activities that took place in the urban spaces, the results of this phase of research bring information about the potential of particular settings for social action.

The outgoing phase (month 1-20) of the project consisted of two work packages/objectives. 1) Interdisciplinary research on the themes of East African/Swahili urban studies (mid- September 2015 to mid-March 2016). The main objectives was to identify and link research approaches to African urbanism on the Swahili coast in current research in African anthropology, geography, history, sociology and urban studies, which would be relevant for archaeological research and vice versa. The goal was to actively promote and pursue the broadening of research directions and perspectives in the study of the Swahili built environment and spatial structure as types of material culture through interdisciplinary enquiry. 2) Comparative review of social themes in urbanism of West and South Africa (mid-March 2016 – mid-May 2017). The goal was to select suitable comparative case studies from pre-colonial West/South African urbanism, and undertake spatial analyses focused on the structure of towns.

1. Interdisciplinary research on the themes of East African/ Swahili urban studies (month 1-6)
Outreach and networking to other departments at the University of Basel throughout this phase. The researcher participated in a range of seminars at the Department of History, Department of Anthropology, Basel African Library, and preliminary meetings of the Urban Studies group. All the milestones were met and the amount of expected outcomes exceeded:

• 7 seminars attended, with 2 presentations given (Department of History, Centre for African Studies, University of Basel)
• 2 conferences: Africa Days (Pilsen, Czech Republic), “Territoriality” workshop (Basel)
• 2 popular articles (see Dissemination activities section below)
– Interview for University of Basel News
– Report on Africa Days conference for Swiss Society of African Studies
• 1 research article submitted, 2 other articles in preparation by end of this phase

Networking and training
Regular meetings and networking were established with Dr Julia Tischler (African History) and Dr Kenny Cupers (Architectural History), associate professors, and Professor Brigit Obrist (African Ethnography) at the University of Basel. New contacts were made at conferences, workshops and seminars with Prof Maurice Amutabi (African History, Kisii University), Dr Prita Meier (Art History, University of Illinois). Further collaboration was agreed upon with The Zamani project, University of Cape Town.

2. Comparative review of social themes in urbanism of West and South Africa (month 7-20)

All the milestones were met and the amount of expected outcomes exceeded:

• 13 seminars attended, with 5 presentations given (Institute of Archaeology, University College London; MA seminar, University of Geneva; Department of Archaeology, and Department of Anthropology Basel; Department of Archaeology, University of Ceske Budejovice)
• 6 conferences: Structure of infrastructure (Liverpool, UK); Society of Africanist Archaeologists (Toulouse); World Archaeological Congress (Kyoto, Japan); Central Europe TAG (Bratislava, Slovakia); Socio-environmental dynamics workshop (Kiel, Germany); “Secondary cities” workshop (Basel)
• 2 peer-reviewed articles published
• 2 research articles submitted, 1 in preparation
• 1 public lecture
• organisation of a panel at the Swiss Researching Africa Days, Bern, November 2016

Networking and training: New research links established with researchers in the UK, USA, Canada and Switzerland.

Career development: Two full-semester courses taught at University of Basel on African topics; Completed course on PhD supervision.

Publications: Three papers published, three paper submitted and in peer-review, one publication in preparation.

Public outreach: One public lecture (Czech Republic), one popular article (Switzerland)
The project has pushed the limits of research in multiple ways. For archaeological sites on the East African coast, data on several aspects of the preserved stone-built environment have been reviewed and new interpretations generated. The past roles of these features in the social environment have been reassessed from novel comparative perspectives, producing new knowledge about Swahili era sites. Secondly, the data for two West African historical towns mapped in the past have now been subjected to analyses and interpreted as complex spatial networks which served long-distance trade and local resident communities.

The findings of the project are highly interdisciplinary and have a broader research and educational relevance for students, professionals in a range of disciplines, policy stakeholders and the general public. As such the results of the projects have been regularly presented at university seminars (8 different departments at 5 universities in Switzerland, the UK and the Czech Republic), and at public lectures and through widely accessible university newsletters oriented towards the public.