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Ad.E. Jensen Memorial Lecture

Historical ethnography and the ritual archive

Prof. Dr. Andrew Apter


Andrew Apter 1 Kopie

The general theme of my lectures engages the generative crossroads of anthropology and history, an interdisciplinary relationship with its own distinguished history evidenced by the illustrious genealogy of articles on the topic that have emerged since Evans-Pritchard’s signal Marrett Lecture delivered in 1950.

Based largely on my own experience bringing anthropological methods to Afro-Atlantic historical ethnography over the last two decades, I explore the possibilities of using rituals as archives for unlocking repressed historical memories and the pasts which they reenact.

Whereas “fetishized” forms of ritual invocations and representations of the past provide standard fare for anthropological reflection, few studies meet the far greater challenge of determining the pasts which rituals manifest, or what I pose as the deceptively complex problematic of “what actually happened.”

How are “actual” pasts ritually archived and accessed? How can we account for their generational transmission through performative genealogies predicated on ritual surrogation? And how do we transform them into historical narratives without doing violence to their culturally specific epistemological frameworks? These are some of the questions that I will pursue in my lectures.


03 June 2024: My Life in the Forest of Spirits

10 June 2024: An Operating Manual for the Ritual Archive

17 June 2024: The Ritual Archive in Yoruba Culture

24 June 2024: 'Yoruba Culture' in the Frobenius Archive

Hor 20210517 10 cFI 

Picture: Peter Steigerwald


About the Ad.E. Jensen Memorial Lecture

Each year the Frobenius Institute invites an internationally renowned researcher to give a series of guest lectures during the summer term. The lecture series is dedicated to Adolf Ellegard Jensen (1899-1965), who in 1946 was appointed Director of the Frobenius Institute, as well as Director of Frankfurt's Museum of Ethnology. The subject of these lectures is usually centred on Jensen's main research interests, which were myth, ritual and cult. However, the invited guests are free to choose their own preferred subjects.

Video recordings of past lectures are available on the YouTube channel of the Frobenius Institute youtube


Previous Jensen Memorial Lectures were:

2022: "Connectivity: Insights from Hunter-Gatherer Cultures", Prof. Dr. Nurit Bird-David (Haifa)

2021: "Anverwandlungen: Beiträge indigener Völker zur Kultur der Moderne", Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Kohl (Frankfurt)

2020: (Die Ad.E. Jensen-Gedächtnivorlesung 2020 musste angesichts von COVID-19 leider entfallen).

2019: "A genealogy of method: anthropology's ancestors and the meaning of culture", Prof. Sondra Hausner (Oxford)

2018: "Values, Social Theory, and the Anthropological Study of the Good", Prof. Joel Robbins (Cambridge)

2017: "On the pursuit of wealth and happiness: Some lessons from Central India", Prof. Chris Gregory (Canberra)

2016: "Repatriating Anthropology - Ethics and empirics in some lessons from Native America", Prof. Justin B. Richland (Chicago)

2015: "Cultures and Translation", Prof. Souleymane Bachir Diagne (New York)

2014: "Fieldwork in Philosophy: Refiguring Social Inquiry's Conceptual Ground", Prof. Ann Laura Stoler (New York)

2013: "From Artifact to Primitive Art", Prof. Nancy Lutkehaus (Los Angeles)

2012: "Is Religion a Special Form of the Social?", Prof. Maurice Bloch (London)

2011:  "The Anthropology of Encounter - From 'First Contact' to the Everyday", Prof. Francesca Merlan (Canberra)

2010: "Kult und Kunst - Ästhetik des ethnographischen Archivs", Prof. Dr. Fritz W. Kramer (Berlin)
Publikation: "Kunst im Ritual. Ethnographische Erkundungen zur Ästhetik", Reimer-Verlag, Berlin 2014

2009: "Lessons in the Anthropology of Nature", Prof. Dr. Philippe Descola (Paris)

2008: Ringvorlesung "The end of anthropology?": Adam Kuper (London), Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm), Signe Howell (Oslo), Maurice Godelier (Paris), Antonio Palmisano (Triest), John Comaroff (Chicago), Vincent Crapanzano (New York), Patricia Spyer (Leiden) und Mark Münzel (Marburg)
Publikation: "The End of Anthropology?", edited by Holger Jebens and Karl-Heinz Kohl, Sean Kingston Publishing, 2011

2007: "A Quest for Understanding: Eastern Indonesia in Historical and Comparative Perspective", Prof. Dr. James J. Fox (Australian National University)

2006: "The Making of Colonialism in Equatorial Africa", Prof. Dr. Robert Harms (Yale)

2005: "Amazons: Women Warriors of Dahomey in and out Africa", Prof. Dr. Suzanne Preston Blier (Harvard)

2004: "Colour of the Sacred", Prof. Dr. Michael Taussig (New York)
Publikation: "What Colour is the Sacred?", University of Chicago Press, 2009

2003: "Social Anthropology: only a Western science?", Prof. Dr. Maurice Godelier (Paris)

2001: "Violence, Social Order and the Spectral State. Policing The South African Postcolony", Prof. Dr. Jean Comaroff, Prof. Dr. John Comaroff (Chicago)

2000: "Emotion: Experience and Expression - A Cross-Cultural View", Prof. Dr. Unni Wikan (Oslo)

1999: "The Anthropology of Imagination" Prof. Dr. Vincent Crapanzano (New York)
Publikation: "Imaginative Horizons. An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology", University of Chicago Press, 2003

1998: "The Crisis of Presence: Death and Alterity in Amerindian Amazon" Prof. Dr. Tullio Maranhão (St. Paul)

1997/98: "Out of our Minds. Science, Ecstasis and the Ethnography of Africa" Prof. Dr. Johannes Fabian (Amsterdam)
Publikation: "Out of Our Minds. Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa", University of California Press, 2000