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Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism.

Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism

Ariella Aisha Azoulay


20 Jay Street, 10th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201-8346

9781788735711, $44.95, PB, 656pp,

Synopsis: Ariela Aisha Azoulay is a professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture, and Media at Brown University, as well as a curator and documentary film maker. Her many books include The Civil Contract of Photography and Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography, and she has curated exhibits for galleries and museums around the world.

With the publication of "Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism" she has created a theoretical tour-de-force that calls on her readers to recognize the imperial foundations of knowledge and to refuse its strictures and its many contributions to violence.

Professor Azoulay argues that the institutions that make our world, from archives and museums to ideas of sovereignty and human rights to history itself, are all dependent on imperial modes of thinking. Imperialism has segmented populations into differentially governed groups, continually emphasized the possibility of progress while it tries to destroy what came before, and voraciously seeks out the new by sealing the past away in dusty archival boxes and the glass vitrines of museums.

By practicing what she calls potential history, Professor Azoulay argues that we can still refuse the original imperial violence that shattered communities, lives, and worlds, from native peoples in the Americas at the moment of conquest to the Congo ruled by Belgium's brutal King Leopold II, from dispossessed Palestinians in 1948 to displaced refugees in our own day. In Potential History, Azoulay travels alongside historical companions (an old Palestinian man who refused to leave his village in 1948, an anonymous woman in war-ravaged Berlin, looted objects and documents torn from their worlds and now housed in archives and museums) to chart the ways imperialism has sought to order time, space, and politics.

Rather than looking for a new future, in "Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism" Professor Azoulay calls upon us to rewind history and unlearn our imperial rights, to continue to refuse imperial violence by making present what was invented as "past" and making the repair of torn worlds the substance of politics.

Critique: An impressively informed and informative work of meticulous scholarship made completely accessible to the non-specialist general reader and academician alike, "Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library collections. It should be noted for personal reading lists that "Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $19.99).

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Author:Dunford, Michael
Publication:MBR Bookwatch
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2019
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