Nick Shepherd  / Christian Ernsten:

This a project site in which we document our collaboration, and put work in progress and links to finished work. Our project is situated at the intersection of Critical Heritage Studies, Environmental Humanities, and decolonial thinking and practice. It also draws from our respective disciplinary backgrounds in Archaeology, African Studies and Urban Studies.



Taking archaeology as practice, genealogy and trope, we walk through the troubled landscapes of colonial modernity. We are interested in notions of body as archive, landscape as archive, performance as archive. We are interested in what it means to think through the body, affect and senses. Paying attention to the materiality of sites and remains, we are interested in the layering of memory and experience as palimpsest and as stratigraphy. Disciplinary knowledges are born under the sign of an epistemic violence whose locus is a regime of care centred in the university/ museum/ archive. Decolonial knowledges and practices  begin when we anatomize (interrogate) this violence and, under the heading of ‘back to life’, propose alternative regimes of care. 


As scholars working in conventional university set-ups, we have grown tired of many of the stale conventions of academia: the tiny readerships, the long delays in reaching publication, the stifling conventions of standard academic format, and the banal discourses perpetrated by university managers. Writing and thinking from the site of our own historical entanglement with the University of Cape Town, and inspired by #RhodesMustFall and the student debate, we are driven to explore new forms, media, styles and lines of enquiry.


What does it mean to evolve form of critically accountable and politically grounded practice as scholars working “under the cloud of the anthropocene”, as historian Dipesh Chakrabarty urges us to do? Writing and thinking from a global south perspective, how do we bring together contemporary debates in environmental humanities with the rich traditions and resources of decolonial thinking and practice?


Some of our lines of enquiry include:

1. Exploring the intersection between conventional scholarship and forms of artistic research and practice: How do we draw on the resources of imagination, desire, creativity and the embodied and affective self, in the process of conventional scholarly work? How can artistic production be enriched by paying attention to empirical work, sources, questions of theory and method, and contemporary debates in the disciplines?


2. Using walking as a methodology to engage landscapes and histories: How do we bring the body into play? How do we think through the body? What would it mean to break down conventional binaries between body and mind, reason and emotion, head and heart, subject and object, work and play? Walking with Frantz Fanon and Walter Mignolo, can we break the logic of coloniality/ modernity and Western reason, that hands us capitalism/ racism/ patriarchy/ fascism as accomplished facts?


3. Rethinking time, materiality and memory: Trapped in linear, modern conceptions of time, we have difficulty in thinking about the simultaneity of the past in the present, and the weight of our responsibilities towards future unborn generations. This makes us unaccountable in particular ways, the product of ten disastrous generations that have destroyed the richness of the earth and perpetrated modern war without end. Walking with Derrida and Michel-Ralph Trouillot, we are drawn to think about legacies, revenants, returns and states of hauntedness.


Archaeologies of Memory was initiated in March 2017 when Nick Shepherd began a period as Artist in Residence at the Reinwardt Academy. This initiative links the Reinwardt Academy with the University of Cape Town, Aarhus University, and the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Gothenburg. Project funding has come from the Amsterdam University of Arts, the University of Gothenburg, and the University of Cape Town, and is acknowledged with gratitude.


Nick Shepherd is an archaeologist, curator and heritage studies practitioner based at Aarhus University, the University of Cape Town, and the Reinwardt Academy of the Amsterdam University of Arts. Christian Ernsten is an urban and heritage studies practitioner and curator based at the Reinwardt Academy of the Amsterdam University of Arts, and the University of Cape Town.

Photo credit: Barry Christianson