Reconstructing Henry. Memories, Politics, and the Reshaping of Henry M. Stanley in Belgium & the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
History & politics
Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers
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From 1879 to 1884, and under contract with Leopold II, King of the Belgians, Henry M. Stanley kept traveling and setting-up outposts ("Stations") in what would become the so-called Congo Free State shortly thereafter. This paper concentrates on the remains both visible and otherwise, connected with Stanley, mainly in present Belgium and DRC. However, this only as a material base to identify and analyze the different memories, and oral histories linked with the traveler/Empire builder, and what they entail. From torn down public statues of the latter, to monuments painted in red, from stories passed down from one generation to the next, to urban or family legends, the resulting apparent patchwork brings about a dynamic cartography of resentment, intellectual representations and expressions of badly digested, but also reconstructed historical facts that Stanley is crystallizing. The paper will show that memories in fact not only reflect, but are an essential element of shifting and blurred borders. Those between feelings, constructions, and political ideology imposed to, and accepted, or deliberately constructed and used by groups of people confronted with rapidly and comprehensively evolving contexts, to which they are bound to adapt. As a result, the paper will stress the need to re-assess and re-position the usual, mostly superficial conflicted feelings about not only the Welsh-American explorer/Empire founder, but more broadly the colonial past, and its political use in both countries.