DFG approves project on “memories of slavery and the slave trade in Ghana and Brazil”

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding for a research project on collective and individual memories of slavery in different regions and among different generations and groupings in Ghana and Brazil. The project, under the direction of Prof. Dr. Maria Pohn-Lauggas and Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rosenthal from the Georg-August University in Göttingen, and with the collaboration of Prof. Dr. Hermílio Santos (University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) and Prof. Dr. Steve Tonah (University of Ghana, Legon), will start in 2022 and run for three years.

While the period of the transcontinental slave trade may seem very remote to many Europeans, this cannot be said of people in Brazil and in Ghana. Here, in both public and family memories and commemorative practices, this past, with all its many facets, is near, and there are many people who know that their ancestors were enslaved, or that they enslaved others. In Ghana, the interviews will be conducted at selected sites on the coast from where the slave ships departed, and in regions in the north of the country where people were captured and sold in slave markets. In Brazil, the research will be carried out in the coastal region of Salvador de Bahia, where most of the present-day inhabitants are descendants of former slaves, and in the region around Pelotas in Rio Grande do Sul, where most people are of European descent.

In both countries there are different memories of the history of the slave trade, and it is a subject that gives rise to controversy in public discourses, at places of remembrance, in family dialogues, between members of different groupings and in different parts of the country. On the basis of a comparison of selected regions in Ghana and Brazil we will examine the nature of these differences. The data collected from the family and biographical interviews with several generations of a family, group discussions, and thematically focused ethnographic interviews with guides and visitors at places of remembrance will be analyzed in order to reconstruct the interconnections between different memory practices and contrast and compare them, using methods from the sociology of knowledge and figurational sociology.

We will seek answers to the following research questions:
What knowledge of the past has been handed down in the communities and families? What kind of slavery and slave trade (transatlantic, intra-African, intra-Brazilian) are thematized by whom, how and in what contexts? A further topic of interest will be to research into how different forms of slavery are remembered at public places of remembrance and commemorative events in these regions, including the conceptions of slavery that are communicated at these places and events, and where the visible gaps are.

Members of the research team in Germany:
Dr. Eva Bahl, Dr. Artur Bogner, Lucas Cé Sangalli, MA, Dr. Nicole Witte
Members of the research team in Ghana:
Rainer Alongwe, BA, Ismael Osei Boampong, MPhil, Dr. Felix Longi
Members of the research team in Brazil:
Giorgia Galvan Moreira, BA, Raphaela Pereira Dellazeri, BA