On November 9th, 2021, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies introduced Dr. Jesse Weaver Shipley, Professor of African and African American Studies at Dartmouth University, to give a talk lending his perspective to the shifts of power and rule in modern African history, particularly on sovereignty and coups d'état. 

Through a unique lens, stemming from his related body of work in ethnographic research, writing, and film-making, Dr. Weaver Shipley’s talk revealed new insights about the perceived duality of governmental and non-governmental authority. In the collective space of modern human thinking, authority is almost always seen as being centralized in the institution of government. On the other hand, groups outside that institution seeking or claiming power are seen as illegitimate, even more so when their actions, such as during a coup, threaten the sanctity of that institution. 

But this false duality of authority, Dr. Weaver Shipley suggests, is just that, a false duality reinforced by the government’s efforts to perpetuate power. In reality, true authority exists in the most deeply rooted principles of the people. 

When we can see coups d’état and other shifts of power in full historical view –– including not only governments who claimed rule illegitimately through colonialism and have since exercised abuse of that power to maintain themselves, but also the legitimate concerns and deeply resonant principles of revolutionary groups –– our collective definition of authority shifts. 

While Dr. Weaver Shipley’s work focuses mainly on the intersection between aesthetics and politics, his ideas about looking more closely at the forgotten histories of revolution strike a chord thematically with his fellow scholars and in this year’s workshops. At a time in modern history where governmental authority is being questioned and challenged in unprecedented ways, scholarship suggests that having a clear view of revolutions of the past may change our thinking about the ones happening now.

The Africa Workshop series will continue in the Winter 2022 semester. Stay tuned for more events!