Interviews

From March to early October 2016, Florence Bernault conducted a series of interviews with Jan Vansina at his home, setting up meetings almost every week while Jan was recovering from chemotherapy and enjoying a remission of his illness.  After some thinking, Jan and Florence chose to use English, with the understanding that the interviews would later be transcribed and subtitled in French.  Florence proposed that the interviews mix a chronological and thematic order, focusing on Jan’s scholarly work.  The conversations would give Jan an opportunity to reflect on his past works from the present context, on African history, on colleagues and students, and also to imagine the future of the field.  Some interviews focus on a particular book, others on Jan’s academic activities in Madison and elsewhere.  Jan watched the entire collection of interviews after if was completed, and was very happy with the project.

Tio Kingdom. June 10, 2016 (1:00:42)

Jan Vansina remembers the happy times of his research in Congo-Brazzaville (1963) for the book The Tio Kingdom. He talks about the 1963 Marxist revolution in Brazzaville. In transit from his post at UW-Madison to a new job in Europe, he took a sabbatical year and settled in Mbé, the capital of the Tio Kingdom, with his wife Claudine. He talks about his relations with the French research institute ORSTOM, with geographer Marcel Soret, historian Pierre Bonnaffé, and about his research strategies with Téké informants. He remembers food scarcity in Mbé, the annoyance of French tourists coming to the town, and a measles epidemic. After the publication of the book, he talks about the debates on historical anthropology and anthropological history at the times, criticizing French sociologist Georges Balandier. He explains the parallels between The Tio Kingdom (1973) and his final book Being Colonized (2010).

Jan Vansina évoque le temps heureux de sa recherche au Congo-Brazzaville pour l’ouvrage The Tio Kingdom, au moment de la révolution (1963). En transit de UW-Madison vers un poste en Europe, il prend une année sabbatique et s’installe à Mbé, la capitale Tio, avec sa femme Claudine. Il raconte les rapports avec L’ORSTOM, Marcel Soret, Pierre Bonnafé, et ses techniques de travail avec les informateurs Téké. Il parle de la rareté de la nourriture à Mbé, des visites de touristes français, et d’une épidémie de rougeole. A propos de la parution du livre, il analyse les débats de l’époque sur l’anthropologie historique et l’histoire anthropologique, et critique le sociologue français Georges Balandier. Il explique les parallèles du livre The Tio Kingdom (1973) avec son ultime ouvrage Being Colonized (2010).

UW History Relations with Political Science Crawford Young and Michael Schatzberg. April 24, 2016 (11:03).

Jan Vansina talks about the early beginning of the African Studies Program at UW-Madison, his collaboration with Crawford Young and Michael Schatzberg in Political Science, and with Philip Curtin.

Jan Vansina parle des débuts du programme d’Etudes africaines à UW-Madison, et de sa collaboration avec Crawford Young et Michael Schatzberg en Sciences politiques, ainsi que de l’historien Philip Curtin.

Maturation of African History. April 8, 2016 (26:28)

The professionalizing of African history. Identities and history. The writing of Paths in the Rainforest (1990). Different generations of students at the UW-Madison African History Program. Changes after the 1990. Tom Spear’s leadership. Decline of positions in African History.

La professionalisation grandissante de l’histoire africaine. Identités et histoire. L’écriture de Paths in the Rainforest (1990). Les différentes générations d’étudiants dans le programme d’histoire africaine à UW-Madison. Les transformations des années 1990. Le leadership de Tom Spear. La baisse des postes universitaires en histoire africaines.

Kingdom of Savannah. March 20, 2016 (10:55)

The video starts with a reminder of how Children of the Savanna (1966), Vansina’s first book written at UW-Madison, in English, was published after a series of conferences organized to convince UW faculty – and the broader public- of the significance of Africa. Vansina talks of the book in English, of the version published in French in Congo-Kinshasa, the influence of this version in the broader region, including Angola. Then Vansina goes on explaining the transition from his research on the Kuba people, to his next field project, the Tio Kingdom.

La vidéo commence avec un rappel des conditions dans lesquelles Children of the Savanna (1966) fut publié en anglais, à Madison (Wisconsin). Le livre résulta d’une série de conférences données par Vansina, organisées pour convaincre les chercheurs de l’université – et le grand public – de l’importance de l’Afrique. Vansina parle de la version en anglais, ainsi que de celle publiée en français à Kinshasa (Congo). Cette dernièe eut une grande importance dans la région, jusqu’en Angola. Puis Vansina explique comment il est ensuite passé du royaume Kuba, sujet de Children of the Savanna, à son projet ultérieur sur le royaume Tio au Congo-Brazzaville.

Children of Woot. March 20, 2016 (22:31)

Jan Vansina discusses the genealogy of his three monographs on the Kuba people, from his PhD thesis (1957) to Children of Woot (1978), and finally, on the colonial period Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo (2010). He talks about sources and methods, and the writing of De la tradition orale (1961), translated as Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (1961).

Jan Vansina discute la généalogie des trois ouvrages qu’il a consacrés aux Kuba, sa thèse de doctorat (1957), le livre Children of Woot (1978), et enfin son livre sur la période coloniale, Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo (2010). Il parle de ses sources et méthodes, et de l’écriture de son livre De la tradition orale (1961), traduit en anglais sous le titre Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (1961).