Becoming Independent; Institutions and Epistemologies of Knowledge Production in the Age of Decolonisation

Date / time: 15 March, 12:00 am

Conference – 5 to 6 June 2023, University of Cambridge 

Call for Papers, deadline – 15 March 2023

It has become a truism that decolonisation is a process, not a singular event. The formal transition to independence, of colonies becoming states, has been deconstructed to the point of disappearance from the historical lens. At the same time, the political project of decolonising knowledge production has gained traction within the last decade. Fully acknowledging that indeed decolonisation needs to be understood as a process, and that decolonisation of knowledge production is an important and very much on-going project, this workshop proposes that nevertheless the end of formal colonial rule impacted the institutions and epistemologies of knowledge production in a variety of fields, including historiography.

John Smail suggested in 1961 ‘that when there occur great changes in the contemporary scene, there must also be great changes in historiography, that the vision not merely of the present but also of the past must change. If the change in the contemporary scene is extreme and rapid, we may speak of a crisis in historiography.’ The workshop explores exactly this crisis of knowledge production in the wake of former colonies becoming independent states, which is understood as rooted in both institutional and epistemological change. We suggest that exploring knowledge production and particularly historiography at the moment of such a crisis offers a window in the mechanisms of knowledge production more broadly. Furthermore, this specific crisis of what used to be called the age of decolonisation lets us explore how far there is such a thing as global history, if there are global epistemologies, or if essentially historiography and knowledge more broadly is always local.

The workshop invites contributions which explore changes, transitions and ruptures of knowledge production taking place in the wake of states gaining their formal independence. While we aim to address primarily knowledge production within historiography, we are open to contributions from related fields including social sciences and humanities. Case studies may focus on the national or international level, or on specific scholars, departments, journals, or academic associations. Besides more obvious cases from Africa, Asia and the Americas, we also encourage submissions which take a broad interpretation of the theme and discuss the independence of cases like former Soviet republics, the independence of Belgium from the Netherlands in 1830, or the states which gained independence upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Contributions should be original and not yet published, as we plan to combine them for a journal special issue.

The programme of the workshop includes lecture by distinguished Professor Toyin Falola (University of Texas) a world leading expert on the topic of the workshop.

Aims and objectives

  • To deepen our understanding of the relations between decolonisation as theory and history in historiography and related fields
  • To connect specialists with different geographical and linguistic expertise and thereby broaden empirically our understanding of the theme
  • To bring together senior and younger researchers in a joint exploration of the theme
  • To facilitate academic exchange about how historians as historians can contribute to the on-going project to decolonise of academia and academic knowledge production
  • To bring together contributors and contributions for a journal special issue

How to apply

  • Submit in one document thetitle and abstract for proposed paper (300-500 words); and a short CV including current affiliation
  • Please send this to and
  • Deadline for abstracts is 15 March 2023.
  • If your proposal is accepted a full paper (approximately 5000 Words) must be submitted by 15 May 2023 for circulation to other workshop participants.

Cost and practical matters

  • The workshop will take place at the History Faculty of the University of Cambridge on June 5 and 6, 2023.
  • College accommodation in Cambridge can be provided at £60 per night.
  • The seminar and workshop is supported by the Cambridge history faculty’s Travelyan Fund.
  • This will allow us to support partial travel costs of some of the attendees with preference going to more junior scholars and scholars in precarious employment.
  • The workshop and seminar is organised by Dr Moritz Mihatsch (Cambridge University) and Dr Casper Andersen (Aarhus University).

Image: Wiki Commons