Some theses on decolonizing history
Boaventura de Sousa Santos

The inner meaning of history […] involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events. History, therefore, is firmly rooted in philosophy.’– Ibn Khaldun1

WHAT is the weight of history? In a novel historical context, as in the case of a revolution, the weight of history tends to be light on the generations that are there at the onset; let’s call them ‘the inaugural generations’. On the other hand, it tends to be heavy on the generations that follow; let’s call them ‘the after generations’. These two types of generations correspond to two different conceptions of the past, respectively: the past as a mission or a task, and the past as a treasure or a trophy. For the inaugural generations, the past is open and unfinished; for the after generations, it is closed and accomplished. The relative prevalence of these two types of generations determines the relative weight of history. Which type of generation prevails in our time?

Since the 1970s the after generations have been prevailing. The farcical metaphor of the end of history signalled the final confirmation of the after generations and the irreversible defeat, if not even extinction, of the inaugural generations.2 History became thereby extremely heavy, as heavy as the defeat of the inaugural generations. Even if in very diverse and extremely unequal terms, this is the time we are living in. The weight of history is becoming suffocating for the orphans of the inaugural generations.

Being orphans conveys the idea of loss. Not necessarily the idea of non-conformity. Conformity with orphanage calls for resignation and nostalgia; non-conformity, for revolt and hope. The conformist orphan of the inaugural generations aspires to belong to the after generations, thereby erasing inauguration from memory and replacing it with posterity. On the contrary, the non-conformist orphans of the inaugural generations aim at reconstructing inauguration. One of the tasks involved in such an enterprise is what I call decolonizing history.

‘White man, hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.’3– James Baldwin >Read More 


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