July 2014

La Rochelle, Liverpool, and the World

On the occasion of the world soccer championship, I could not but pay attention to the French newspaper L’Equipe’s headlines which use history as the main metaphor and marker to talk about the balance of power between the nations involved in the competition. The presence of teams from Old Europe on the one hand, and Africa and South America on the other hand, triggered such expressions as “History repeats itself” or “Now, they are history.”

I was reminded of the relationship between history and sports when, on a short trip to La Rochelle, France, I came into contact with a journalist and historian who uncovered the role and influence of George-Henry Jackson on the growth and development of the local rugby team. An African American who was the American Consul to La Rochelle from 1898 to 1914, Jackson got involved in the social and economic activities of the athletic association and became its president in 1902. He was instrumental in getting the club its first practise field and stadium and is remembered as a charismatic leader who led a campaign among local citizens to support rugby as a new form of athletic activity. The Atlantique Stade Rochelais, as the team is now called, just entered League One, the elite division of the top fourteen rugby teams, and is a major economic contributor to the local and regional economy.

History in La Rochelle is closely linked to the New World, as one of the museums there, the Musée du Nouveau Monde, clearly reminds us. In 2015, the French Association of American Studies will hold its annual congress there looking at “Movement, place, and fixity” in the construction of a national American identity. But the history of La Rochelle is one that also includes, and is closely linked to, the Atlantic slave trade, its legacy and memory. Remembering the past occasionally involves discovering and researching long-forgotten and sometimes overlooked individuals, events, and sites that can enlarge and challenge our conception of how memory, history, and discursive practices within the academy are constructed.

Liverpool, like La Rochelle, is another site for the active engagement of memory and rediscovery of the past. Liverpool, the largest slave port in Britain, will host CAAR’s 11th biannual conference on “Mobilizing Memory: Creating African American Identities” at Liverpool Hope University, on June 24–28, 2015. The conference will examine how the concepts of mobility and mobilisation shape the formation and the mapping of black communities and individual black subjects in Britain and the African Atlantic Diaspora. It will emphasize the role of memory and memorialisation in the creation of identities and cultures, and of new forms of local and global political activism. The call for papers can be read on the CAAR website and proposals for papers are expected by September 30, 2015.

Contrary to L’Equipe’s declaration that history simply repeats itself, the present moment can, and does, grow larger, and richer when we investigate the past.

Arlette Frund

University of François – Rabelais, Tours

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