1. No one can account for all the inspiration that has contributed to reflections drawn from an entire professional life devoted to Africa and history—at first in that order, but increasingly over the years also to history and Africa. As an Africanist, my enduring debts to mentors—Jan Vansina and Philip D. Curtin—and colleagues at, and subsequently from, the University of Wisconsin will be evident in the notes that follow. As a historian, I acknowledge colleagues at the University of Virginia. Those who have spontaneously, sometimes unwittingly, influenced these remarks in the course of their preparation include members of the Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies and of the University of Virginia Department of History, and especially Amy Birge, Bryan Callahan, Hunt Davis, Matthew Engelke, Jeff Fleischer, John Holloran, Adria LaViolette, Adell Patton, Jr., Ed Steinhart, and Phillip Troutman. Steven Feierman, John Mason, Emmanuel Akyeampong, and the editors of the AHR provided insights critical—in both senses of the word—to the final revisions.
2. In this essayistic spirit, I limit references in these notes to recent works illustrative of the steps along the way to writing history in Africa; those will orient the reader in turn to the many other authors, not all historians by any means, who historicized Africa’s past. I regret my inability to acknowledge by name the legions of important contributions to the substantive historiography of Africa. For an introduction to the literature, see the still reasonably current “Africa” section (Margaret Jean Hay and Joseph C. Miller, eds.) in Mary Beth Norton, ed., American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature, 2 vols. (New York, 1995), sect. 19, 1: 560–616. It is also necessary here to omit references to relevant works in other regional fields, familiarity with which I trust to the expertise of my intended readers.
3. I employ the term “progressive,” not capitalized, in a sense broader than Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (New York, 1988), who capitalizes the phrase as “Progressive Historians,” to explore the senses it acquired among historians in the United States after World War I. I include the nineteenth-century German rigorous critics of documentary sources whom Novick characterizes as “scientific historians.” “Progressive” here connotes, above all, a teleological orientation of the story of the world’s past to culminate in modern Europe and, in its American extension, the United States. This style of history was confident in the value of progress and modernity, optimistic, positivistic in its certainty that critical rigor might establish scientifically verifiable “truths” about the past, but also romantic, nationalistically centered on political identities, idealist. An Africanist can only be all too aware of the caricatured effect of compressing the many distinctions and controversies among those in Europe who claimed the mantle of such history into a single phrase. The way I use the label, largely for contrastive purposes, in particular blurs the “idealist”-empiricist/positivist distinction that animated many of these debates; the conclusion to this essay will, I hope, make clear why that blurring is deliberate.
4. Eric Wolf’s now-classic phrase, in Europe and the People without History (Berkeley, Calif., 1982), with acknowledged inspiration from Hegel.
5. Europeans did not take seriously the efforts by mission-trained Africans in the 1890s to frame local histories in European historical models; see Paul Jenkins, ed., The Recovery of the West African Past: African Pastors and African History in the Nineteenth Century; C. C. Reindorf and Samuel Johnson (Basel, 1998); also Toyin Falola, ed., Yoruba Historiography (Madison, Wis., 1991).
6. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York, 1979); “Orientalism Reconsidered,” in Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, Margaret Iversen, and Diana Loxley, eds., Europe and Its Others, 2 vols. (Colchester, 1985),1: 14–27.
7. French sociology, primarily Emile Durkheim, influenced the African anthropology read in the U.S. mainly through its British adaptations. Early French interest in Africa had drawn a pejorative distinction in mentalités between rational Europeans and “pre-logical” savages, like Africans; see Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (Paris, 1910). Although later French anthropologists emphasized sophisticated cosmological thought in Africa, this crude distinction continued to confine historians’ understanding of African thought within typologically contrasted “mental structures” much later.
8. Such trait tracing, of course, still resonates in American history in studies of African “survivals” in the New World.
9. Suzanne Marchand, “Leo Frobenius and the Revolt against the West,” Journal of Contemporary History 32 (1997): 153–70.
10. Marchand, “Frobenius and the Revolt against the West,” 161.
11. Based on prodigious, if also random and even unscrupulous, collecting of artifacts and verbal arts; for example, Leo Frobenius, Und Afrika Sprach, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1912–13), culminating in the huge Atlantis: Volksmärchen und Volksdichtungen Afrikas, 12 vols. (Jena, 1921–28). Marchand characterizes these works as “mix[ing] highly insightful ethnological analyses with wildly conjectural global histories”; “Frobenius and the Revolt against the West,” 159. For a rehabilitation of Frobenius as ethnographer, see J. M. Ita, “Frobenius in West African History,” Journal of African History 13 (1972): 673–88.
12. Wyatt MacGaffey, “Concepts of Race in the Historiography of North Africa,” Journal of African History 7 (1966): 1–17; Edith B. Sanders, “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective,” Journal of African History 10 (1969): 521–32.
13. Daniel Joseph Singal, “Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: The Old South as the New,” in John David Smith and John C. Inscoe, eds., Ulrich Bonnell Phillips: A Southern Historian and His Critics (Westport, Conn., 1990), 223.
14. W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New York, 1940), 32, 41, 49, 55, 97–98. On this, as with all succeeding comments on Du Bois, see the lively, insightful, and suitably appreciative life story by David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919 (New York, 1993).
15. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn, 44; Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois, 155–61. The dissertation, of course, became The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (New York, 1896).
16. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn, 99.
17. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Negro (New York, 1915), 244, citing Frobenius’s eulogies of an African “Atlantis” with approbation. Also see Werner J. Lange, “W. E. B. DuBois and Leo Frobenius on Africa: Scholarship for What?” Abhandlungen und Berichte des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde (Dresden) 41 (1984): 262–77. The work of the West African historians (note 4), which was appearing by the later 1890s, seems not to have attracted Du Bois’ attention. Had it done so, it is not clear how these historians’ uncritical presentation of local oral materials would have struck the scientifically trained Du Bois. For African-American public writing and lecturing transitional from oral performance of community memory during the second half of the nineteenth century, see Dennis Hickey and Kenneth C. Wylie, An Enchanting Darkness: The American Vision of Africa in the Twentieth Century (East Lansing, Mich., 1993), chap. 7. George Shepperson’s introduction to the 1970 edition of The Negro (London) frames the intellectual context in which Du Bois wrote in terms of existing studies of Africa, citing as his source Dorothy B. Porter, “A Bibliographical Checklist of American Negro Writers about Africa,” in John A. Davis, ed., Africa from the Point of View of American Scholars (Paris, 1959), 379–99.
18. Heated references to this figure in ongoing debates about the numerical dimensions of the Atlantic slave trade may merit a digressive comment on what Du Bois employed so large a number to denote. He offered 100,000,000 as an inclusive estimate of all losses “[t]hat the slave trade cost Negro Africa,” including exports to Muslim lands estimated at two-thirds the size of the European trade (that is, 40/60), multiplied by six to reflect his assumption that “every slave imported represented on the average five corpses in Africa or on the high seas”; Du Bois, The Negro, 155. Du Bois acknowledged that the “total number of slaves imported” to the Americas through the Atlantic portion of the several trades in slaves from Africa “is not known.” He went on to summarize others’ estimates to speculate that “perhaps 15,000,000 in all” might have arrived, and that “at least 10,000,000 Negroes were expatriated” across the Atlantic from Africa. In The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, Wis., 1969), Philip D. Curtin made sophisticated inferences from reports of arrivals in the Americas and from reports of New World slave populations to estimate imports at 9.566 million people, with a confidence interval of +/- 20 percent, essentially confirming Du Bois’ minimal estimate; Curtin then used evidence on shipboard mortality to estimate the numbers of people taken on board in Africa at 11.2 million. Thirty years of subsequent archival research have yielded details on more than 27,000 Atlantic slaving voyages, perhaps two-thirds to three-quarters of all the ships leaving Europe or ports in the Americas with the intent of taking on slaves in Africa. On the basis of this massively expanded primary documentation of the trade—in significant part, data on European origins and on departures from Africa independent of Curtin’s import-based research strategy, the compilers of these data at Harvard’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute estimate that 9.683 million people reached the Americas alive, the survivors of 11.349 million exported, once again confirming the minimum range that Du Bois suggested in 1915. See David Eltis, David Richardson, Stephen D. Behrendt, and Herbert S. Klein, eds., The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Database on CD-ROM Set and Guidebook (New York, 1999, forthcoming); for the most current estimate, see David Eltis, Stephen D. Behrendt, and David Richardson, “The Volume of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: A Reassessment with Particular Reference to the Portuguese Contribution” (unpublished paper, conference on “Rethinking the African Diaspora: The Making of a Black Atlantic World in the Bight of Benin and Brazil,” Emory University, Atlanta, April 17–18, 1998).
19. Du Bois, The Negro, 156. The exclamation point is Du Bois’.
20. Particularly in the relatively prosperous British colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, and Uganda. These were also sites of considerable African production of written works that employed oral traditions about the past as precedent to defend the prerogatives of various political interests in the “native authorities” created under Indirect Rule. A recently studied example is Jacob U. Egharevba, A Short History of Benin (Benin, 1934, originally in Edo); see Uyilawa Usuanlele and Toyin Falola, “The Scholarship of Jacob Egharevba of Benin,” History in Africa 21 (1994); 308–18.
Graduates of Britain’s colonial schools in Africa found less opportunity to study African history in the United Kingdom. The principal academic degree relevant to Africa there was in anthropology, and its most prominent holder Jomo Kenyatta; see Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu (London, 1938). No similar Africa-oriented history took shape in the educational systems in the colonies of France, where training was in geography and other “human sciences”; rev. edn. (London, 1956); M. Delafosse, Haut-Sénégal-Niger (Paris, 1912); R. Mauny, Tableau géographique de l’ouest africain au moyen âge (Dakar, 1961). Belgium and Portugal, which viewed their colonies as continuing under European control for many years into the future, focused resolutely on the Europeans’ “civilizing mission.”
21. Hansberry’s African history derived directly from Du Bois’ inspiration and inspired a number of young African students, including Kwame Nkrumah (future president of Ghana) and Nnamdi Azikiwe (nationalist leader in Nigeria); William Leo Hansberry, “W. E. B. DuBois’ Influence on African History,” Freedomways 5 (1965): 73–87; Joseph Harris, ed., Pillars in Ethiopian History (Washington, D.C., 1974), 18–22.
22. African historians now look back on this formative phase of historicized study of Africa’s past as its “nationalist” era, since its neo-progressive themes not only demonstrated Africans’ sophistication in governing themselves but also gave Africa’s nascent “nations,” often led by former students of history turned politicians, the deep, popular historical roots that the theory of nationalism prescribed.
23. A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, ed., The Emergence of African History at British Universities (Oxford, 1995); Roland Oliver, In the Realms of Gold: Pioneering in African History (Madison, Wis., 1998); and for a revealing incident in 1947, John D. Hargreaves, “African History: The First University Examination,” History in Africa 23 (1996): 467–68, with support from Aberdeen and Oxford examiners, in 1947. The founding generation of Africans earning British doctorates in history—Kenneth O. Dike, Saburi Biobaku, B. A. Ogot, Jacob Ajayi, Adu Boahen, and many others shortly thereafter—have not published memoirs that would reveal their experiences of those years or of their subsequent academic leadership in Africa. For the principal African-directed synthesis, see UNESCO, General History of Africa (Los Angeles, 1981–93), 8 vols. Bogumil Jewsiewicki and David Newbury, eds., African Historiographies: What History for Which Africa? (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1986), took up the distinctions between Africans’ histories and the developing international historiography of Africa.
24. For example, William Malcolm (Lord) Hailey, An African Survey of Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara (London, 1938).
25. The substantive themes by which historians have interpreted Africans and the intellectual resources on which they drew are familiar enough to specialists, and the theoretical perspectives of African historiography would present few surprises to historians familiar with the conceptual trajectories of the field in other parts of the world. Arnold Temu and Bonaventure Swai, Historians and Africanists: A Critique (London, 1981), and Caroline Neale, Writing “Independent” History: African Historiography, 1960–1980 (Westport, Conn., 1985), present contrasting general outlines. Several contributors, many of them African, test that structure against national and other “African” perspectives in Jewsiewicki and Newbury, African Historiographies. The dominant figure in the intellectual history of African studies is V. Y. Mudimbe; see The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington, Ind., 1988), edited with Bogumil Jewsiewicki; History Making in Africa (Middletown, Conn., 1993); and The Idea of Africa (Bloomington, 1994).
26. And thus distinct from the “oral history,” or interviews drawing on living memory with which historians sometimes supplement inaccessible written evidence for recent periods.
27. Jan Vansina, De la tradition orale: Essai de méthode historique (Tervuren, 1961), trans. as Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (Chicago, 1965).
28. For an early critique of practices attained, see David P. Henige, “The Problem of Feedback in Oral Tradition: Four Examples from the Fante Coastlands,” Journal of African History 14 (1973): 223–35.
29. Sally Falk Moore, Anthropology and Africa: Changing Perspectives on a Changing Scene (Charlottesville, Va., 1994).
30. A prominent example from Bantu-speaking regions of Africa was T. O. Beidelman, “Myth, Legend, and Oral History: A Kaguru Traditional Text,” Anthropos 65 (1965): 74–97.
31. Luc de Heusch, Le roi ivre: ou, L’origine de l’Etat; Mythes et rites bantous (Paris, 1972), trans. by Roy Willis as The Drunken King (Bloomington, Ind., 1982). The historian’s critique is found in Jan Vansina, “Is Elegance Proof? Structuralism and African History,” History in Africa 10 (1983): 307–48.
32. “Mnemonic” rather than “oral,” because the relevant focus is on how people preserved knowledge, by devising ways of remembering it, rather than the contrast in the form of transmission—“oral”—against written sources, thus retained as the implicit standard.
33. Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison, Wis., 1985). This work integrated Vansina’s revisions of his own Tradition orale over two decades in an essentially new synthesis covering many aspects of oral tradition beyond the point accented here.
34. For an example of a strong statement of this neo-presentist case, see Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (New York, 1992).
35. For exemplary insight along these lines, see Steven Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (Madison, Wis., 1990); compare Feierman’s earlier presentation of related materials in The Shambaa Kingdom: A History (Madison, 1974), to sense the shift in emphasis away from structure toward historians and their intellectual strategies. Also Isabel Hofmeyr, “We Spend Our Years as a Tale That Is Told”: Oral Historical Narrative in a South African Chiefdom [an Ndebele state in the Northern Transvaal] (Portsmouth, N.H., 1994). E. J. Alagoa, “An African Philosophy of History in the Oral Tradition,” in Robert W. Harms, Joseph C. Miller, David S. Newbury, and Michele D. Wagner, eds., Paths toward the Past: African Historical Essays in Honor of Jan Vansina (Atlanta, Ga., 1994), 15–25; Ralph A. Austen, ed., In Search of Sunjata: The Mande Oral Epic as History, Literature, and Performance (Bloomington, Ind., 1998).
36. The first volume of the Journal of African History anticipated most of these lines of subsequent inquiry: G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, “East African Coin Finds and Their Historical Significance,” 1 (1960): 31–43; Margaret Priestley and Ivor Wilks, “The Ashanti Kings in the Eighteenth Century: A Revised Chronology,” 1 (1960): 83–96; Roger Summers, “The Southern Rhodesian Iron Age,” 1 (1960): 1–13, concluding with an “Appendix on Chronology”; and the first of a long series of “Radiocarbon Dates for Sub-Saharan Africa—I,” 2 (1960): 137–39.
37. None convertible to Precise chronology, though sometimes reliable with regard to sequence; The Chronology of Oral Tradition was, as David P. Henige wondered rhetorically, a Quest for a Chimera? (New York, 1974). For a sequence broadly confirmed by dated documents back to the early seventeenth century, see Joseph C. Miller, “Kings, Lists, and History in Kasanje,” History in Africa 6 (1979): 51–96. For the classic effort to correlate the king lists of several neighboring, interacting—and hence presumably mutually verifying—dynasties, see the summary by David W. Cohen, “A Survey of Interlacustrine Chronology,” Journal of African History 11 (1970): 177–201; response by David P. Henige, “Reflections on Early Interlacustrine Chronology: An Essay in Source Criticism,” Journal of African History 15 (1974): 27–46. Recent extensions of discussion in this style include David Newbury, “Trick Cyclists? Recontextualizing Rwandan Dynastic Chronology,” History in Africa 21 (1994): 191–217.
38. For example, Tamara Giles-Vernick, Vines of the Past: Environmental Histories of the Sangha River Basin in Equatorial Africa (forthcoming).
39. Derek Nurse, “The Contributions of Linguistics to the Study of History in Africa,” Journal of African History 38 (1997): 359–91, figure given on p. 362. Allowing for the subtleties of distinguishing languages from dialects, a figure in the range of 1,500 represents a surprising degree of consensus; compare Paul Newman, “Language Families: Overview,” in Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara, John Middleton, ed., 4 vols. (New York, 1997), 2: 501; Christopher Ehret, “African Languages: A Historical Survey,” in Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa, Joseph O. Vogel, ed. (Walnut Creek, Calif., 1997), 159.
40. The classic is Joseph H. Greenberg, The Languages of Africa (The Hague, 1963).
41. For a recent, comprehensive introduction to historical linguistics in Africa, written for historians, see Nurse, “Contributions of Linguistics,” 360.
42. Jan Vansina, “New Linguistic Evidence and ‘The Bantu Expansion,’” Journal of African History 36 (1995): 173–95.
43. Jan Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (Madison, Wis., 1990), is a tour-de-force application of this technique to 4,000 years of the past in a vast region all but inaccessible through any other source. Christopher Ehret and several former students at UCLA are now consolidating two decades of working from similarly humanistic and historical premises in other parts of Africa; see David Lee Schoenbrun, A Green Place, a Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th Century (Portsmouth, N.H., 1998). Most generally and suggestively, Christopher Ehret, An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa inWorld History, 1000 B.C. to A.D. 400 (Charlottesville, Va., 1998); The Civilizations of Tropical Africa: A History (forthcoming).
44. So-called “radiocarbon, or 14C, dating,” with the laboratory “dates” it produced, was recorded faithfully in the Journal of African History for more than three decades. Other chemical and nuclear traces were put to similar use, though mostly at time-depths before human intentionality, and therefore historical methods, become central to explaining change.
45. See the critique of older styles of archaeology in Jan Vansina, “Historians, Are Archeologists Your Siblings?” History in Africa 22 (1995): 369–408.
46. Duncan E. Miller and Nikolaas J. van der Merwe, “Early Metal Working in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review of Recent Research,” Journal of African History 35 (1994): 1–36. The most adventurous integration of archaeology with ethnography, linguistics, and other disciplines toward a humanistic history is that of Peter R. Schmidt, most recently Iron Technology in East Africa: Symbolism, Science, and Archaeology (Bloomington, Ind., 1997); also, but less historically, Eugenia W. Herbert, Iron, Gender and Power: Rituals of Transformation in African Societies (Bloomington, 1993). And for iron workers rather than iron working (the title notwithstanding), see Colleen E. Kriger, Pride of Men: Ironworking in 19th-Century West Central Africa (Portsmouth, N.H., 1998).
47. In the modern country taking its name from its leading national monument. See Peter Garlake, The Kingdoms of Africa, rev. edn. (New York, 1990); and Thomas N. Huffman, Snakes and Crocodiles: Power and Symbolism in Ancient Zimbabwe (Johannesburg, 1996). A recent overview of the debates that swirled early in this century over whether Africans might have built these striking stone constructions is Henrika Kuklick, “Contested Monuments: The Politics of Archaeology in Southern Africa,” in George W. Stocking, Jr., Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge (Madison, Wis., 1991), 135–69. Graham Connah, African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa: An Archaeological Perspective (New York, 1987), extends this classical analysis of “civilizations” throughout sub-Saharan Africa in thoughtful, enlightened tones.
48. Until Derek Nurse and Thomas T. Spear, The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800–1500 (Philadelphia, 1985).
49. Recent examples along the Indian Ocean coast are Mark Horton, Shanga: The Archaeology of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Africa (Nairobi, 1996); and John Sutton, “The African Lords of the Intercontinental Gold Trade before the Black Death: Al-Hasan bin Sulaiman of Kilwa and Mansa Musa of Mali,” Antiquaries Journal 77 (1997): 221–42. The title of the latter conveys Sutton’s humanizing and historicizing strategy, in this case moving beyond the ruins to the contexts in which the original structures were built, and to the men who built them. A conference on “The Growth of Farming Communities in Africa from the Equator Southwards,” Cambridge University, 1994, marked the shift in archaeologists’ attention to priorities of rural Africans; see (partial) proceedings published in Azania 29–30 (1994–95).
50. For an early, accessible statement of this approach, see Susan Keech and Roderick J. McIntosh, “Finding West Africa’s Oldest City,” National Geographic 162 (September 1982): 396–418; for an accessible short survey, see “Cities of the Plain,” in Oliver, African Experience, 90–101. The leading interpreters are Susan K. McIntosh and Roderick J. McIntosh, “The Early City in West Africa: Towards an Understanding,” African Archaeological Review 2 (1984): 73–98; and “Cities without Citadels: Understanding Urban Origins along the Middle Niger,” in Thurstan Shaw, Paul Sinclair, B. Andah, and A. Okpoko, eds., The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals and Towns (London, 1993), 622–41.
51. A single example is abandonment of the modern, European assumption that dense settlements, particularly political capitals, need be permanent; David Conrad, “A Town Called Dakajalan: The Sunjata Tradition and the Question of Ancient Mali’s Capital,” Journal of African History 35 (1994): 355–77.
52. Historians’ use of linguistic evidence in terms of holistic languages, classified in single-dimensioned arrays of standardized, and hence inherently ahistorical, vocabulary, further selected for its assumed stability, created no cognitive dissonance against this background.
53. Led by anthropologists; Aidan Southall, “The Illusion of Tribe,” Journal of African and Asian Studies 5 (1970): 28–50.
54. For the limited kinds of change conceivable within this paradigm—homeostatic cyclical deviations followed by self-regulating restoration of equilibrium conditions, see Max Gluckman, “Some Processes of Social Change, Illustrated with Zululand Data,” African Studies 1 (1942): 243–60. African ethnicity begs specific comment on uses of the concept in American and African-American history, which is only beginning to historicize the concept; beyond Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1998), which does so more thoroughly for the Americas than for Africa, see Robin Law, “Ethnicity and the Slave Trade: ‘Lucumi’ and ‘Nago’ as Ethnonyms in West Africa,” History in Africa 24 (1997): 205–19. Forthcoming work in this and other regions will further demonstrate the complex and dynamic sources of collective identities attributed to, and sometimes claimed by, Africans in the slaving era.
55. Jan Vansina, The Tio Kingdom of the Middle Congo, 1880–1892 (London, 1973), applied ethnographic method to historical sources from a single decade, the 1880s, to one African region, in a “historical ethnography” that emphasized the historicity of the moment thus describable. Also see Vansina’s Children of Woot: A History of the Kuba Peoples (Madison, Wis., 1978). More recently, Sharon E. Hutchinson, Nuer Dilemmas: Coping with Money, War, and the State (Berkeley, Calif., 1996), won the 1997 Amaury Talbot prize of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland for setting E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s classic Nuer ethnography in the context of the Sudan in the 1930s.
56. That ethnography and anthropology in Africa have also become more historical since the 1950s forms a major theme of Moore, Anthropology and Africa.
57. E. J. Hobsbawm and T. 0. Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (New York, 1983). Subsequently, Martin Chanock, Law, Custom, and Social Order: The Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia (New York, 1985); Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals; and many recent works, notably Jonathon Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888 (Portsmouth, N.H., 1995). Historians have historicized continuity as uses that Africans make of remembered experience and inherited wisdom in trying to take advantage of their existential experience; see Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests.
58. For example, Jean and John Comaroff, eds., Modernity and Its Malcontents: Ritual and Power in Postcolonial Africa (Chicago, 1993); Rosalind Shaw, “The Production of Witchcraft/Witchcraft as Production: Memory, Modernity, and the Slave Trade in Sierra Leone,” American Ethnologist 24 (1997): 856–67; Ralph Austen, “The Slave Trade as History and Memory: Mutual Confrontations of Slaving Voyage Documents and African/African‑American Traditions” (unpublished paper, conference on “Transatlantic Slaving and the African Diaspora,” Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, September 11–13, 1998); Elizabeth Isichei, The Moral Imagination in Africa: A History and Ethnography; Or Explorations in the History of Popular Sensibility (forthcoming). For a dramatic historical interpretation of a so-called “millenarian” anti-witchcraft movement in the Cape colony, see Jeffrey B. Peires, The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of 1856–7 (Bloomington, Ind., 1989). This understanding of witchcraft extends to the greed and accumulation of contemporary African politics: Peter Geschiere, The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Charlottesville, Va., 1997). Also see Luise White, “Vampire Priests of Central Africa: African Debates about Labor and Religion in Colonial Northern Rhodesia,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 35 (1993): 744–70; or “Tsetse Visions: Narratives of Blood and Bugs in Colonial Northern Rhodesia, 1931–9,” Journal of African History 36 (1995): 219–45, among several other studies, for the historical sense of other African supernatural idioms.
59. And often as much through missionary and other European interests as by African ones. Leroy Vail, ed., The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa (London, 1989). For recent examples, see Thomas T. Spear and Richard Waller, eds., Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa (London, 1993); Justin Willis, Mombasa, the Swahili, and the Making of the Mijikenda (Oxford, 1993).
60. Some recent names do in fact appear in the earliest European reports from the African coast: Paul Hair, “Ethnolinguistic Continuity on the Guinea Coast,” Journal of African History 8 (1967): 247–68, but the contribution of Europeans to such apparently stable denomination has not been assessed. For the constantly updated contemporaneity of “tradition,” see Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests.
61. Ed Wilmsen and James Denbow, “Paradigmatic History of San-Speaking Peoples and Current Attempts at Revision,” Current Anthropology 31 (1990): 489–525; Richard B. Lee and Mathias Guenther, “Problems in Kalahari Historical Ethnography and the Tolerance of Error,” History in Africa 20 (1993): 185–235. Also see Peter S. Garlake, The Hunter’s Vision: The Prehistoric Art of Zimbabwe (London, 1995).
62. On the “pygmies”: Vansina’s emphasis on “autochthones” in Paths in the Rainforests, “New Linguistic Evidence,” and elsewhere; most recently, Kairn A. Klieman, “Hunters and Farmers of the Western Equatorial Rainforest: Society and Economy from c. 3000 B.C. to 1880 A.D.” (PhD dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1997).
63. The tone in African history of the 1960s that Wyatt MacGaffey once, acutely, characterized as “the decathlon of social science”; in “African History, Anthropology, and the Rationality of Natives,” History in Africa 5 (1978): 103.
64. Without slighting the steady, disciplined leadership of others rigorously trained in conventional fields of history.
65. With some justification, given styles of European history not then as profoundly engaged as they have since become with issues relevant to Africa or African history.
66. The journal History in Africa (“a journal of method” edited by David Henige at the University of Wisconsin and published by the African Studies Association) formalized this agenda in 1974; it remains the starting point for systematic critical study of written as well as many other types of sources.
67. For the Muslim intellectual background of the Arabic-language documentation, see J. F. P. Hopkins and Nehemiah Levtzion, eds., Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (New York, 1981). John O. Hunwick’s many initiatives have been critical to the historical contextualization of Arabic texts; see his newsletters and journals, including Sudanic Africa and Saharan Studies Newsletter, as well as numerous publications. And, recently, from the African context: Ralph A. Austen and Jan Jansen, “History, Oral Transmission and Structure in Ibn Khaldun’s Chronology of Mali Rulers,” History in Africa 23 (1996): 17–28. Even this extensive list does not begin to mention the many projects started in recent years to develop critical standards for written materials from Africa. David Robinson and several collaborators have edited publications of African materials of several sorts and are pursuing these efforts under the sponsorship of a West Africa Research Association. Critical editions form a central element in the strategy of the large “Nigerian Hinterland Project” directed by Paul E. Lovejoy. Ethiopian writings offer the same critical opportunity, which has been led in the United States by Harold G. Marcus as editor of Northeast African Studies; for a recent summary with emphasis on Ethiopian scholarship, see Donald Crummey, “Society, State and Nationality in the Recent Historiography of Ethiopia,” Journal of African History 31 (1990): 103–19.
68. Where there must, exist more productive parallels for specialists in both fields than either has yet exploited. An initial assertion of the point underlies John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, 2d edn., expanded (New York, 1998).
69. A cause sustained by Robin Law, Paul Hair, and others in History in Africa, and notably furthered by Adam Jones, Raw, Medium, Well Done: A Critical Review of Editorial and Quasi-Editorial Work on Pre-1885 European Sources for Sub-Saharan Africa, 1960–1986 (Madison, Wis., 1987), and subsequent publications.
70. A key strategy of the enormously influential work on missionary engagement with southern African peoples in Jean and John L. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: Vol. 1, Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa (Chicago, 1991); Ethnography and the Historical Imagination (Boulder, Colo., 1992); Of Revelation and Revolution: Vol. 2, The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier (Chicago, 1997).
71. For example, William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago, 1963).
72. A premise congruent with the unproductive interaction among the “tribal” groups recognized, which were not only static but also isolating and interacted with outsiders only as enemies, for example the “warring tribes” in international media coverage of Africa. The current premise that Africans constructed communal identities around interactive complementarities (and also used them on occasion for competitive, hostile purposes) received early effective statements in John Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge, 1979); and Richard Waller, “Ecology, Migration and Expansion in East Africa,” African Affairs 84 (1985): 347–70.
73. Immanuel Wallerstein theorizes only the European side of structured, unequal exchange among the elements of The Modern World-System, 3 vols. (New York, 1974, 1980, 1989) (through the 1840s), and thus excludes Africa for much of its history as beyond its “peripheries.” Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London, 1972; rev. edn., Washington, D.C., 1982), attempted to reconcile external with internal differentiation in terms of political economy; Wolf, Europe and the People without History, extends this style of integration.
74. Robin Horton, “Stateless Societies in the History of West Africa,” in J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, eds., History of West Africa, 2d edn., 2 vols. (New York, 1976), 1: 72–113.
75. For example, Claude Meillassoux, Femmes, greniers et capitaux (Paris, 1975), and in English, Maidens, Meal and Money: Capitalism and the Domestic Economy (New York, 1981).
76. In a mature, fully theorized extension, Claude Meillassoux, Anthropologie de l’esclavage: Le ventre de fer et d’argent (Paris, 1986), trans. as The Anthropology of Slavery: The Womb of Iron and Gold, Alide Dasnois, trans. (Chicago, 1991). And extended again to issues of gender: Claire C. Robertson and Martin A. Klein, eds., Women and Slavery in Africa (Madison, Wis., 1983).
77. John Iliffe, The African Poor: A History (New York, 1987).
78. For example, the “big men” featured in Vansina’s Paths in the Rainforests.
79. And in sometimes-heated opposition to “underdevelopment” theories that treated distinctions between the capitalist world and (implicitly noncapitalist) Africa in neo-Marxist language; the classic formulation is Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
80. Gender has not featured prominently in this discussion, since it has remained difficult to develop from the sources for earlier periods; one suspects that greater potential lies in linguistic reconstruction than has yet been exploited. For now, see Iris Berger, “‘Beasts of Burden’ Revisited: Interpretations of Women and Gender in Southern African Societies,” in Harms, et al., eds., Paths toward the Past, 123–41; Edna G. Bay, Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey (Charlottesville, Va., 1998); Herbert, Iron, Gender, and Power. Revealingly, but for a relatively recent period, see Helen Bradford, “Women, Gender and Colonialism: Rethinking the History of the British Cape Colony and Its Frontier Zone, ca. 1806–1870,” Journal of African History 37 (1996): 351–70. For now-aging surveys on work on recent periods, and often from perspectives other than historical, see Claire C. Robertson, “Developing Economic Awareness: Changing Perspectives in Studies of African Women, 1976–1985,” Feminist Studies 13 (1987): 96–135; Nancy Rose Hunt, “Placing African Women’s History and Locating Gender,” Social History 14 (1989): 359–79.
81. Among many other qualities illustrative of difference but marginal to advancing the central argument on historical epistemology.
82. I borrow this felicitous phrase from Austen, “Slave Trade as History and Memory.”
83. For a promising exception, see Sutton, “African Lords of the Intercontinental Gold Trade.”
84. Two of the best documented people were women who attracted the attention of missionary writers in the Portuguese Catholic-influenced regions of Kongo and Angola. For the famous early seventeenth-century “Queen Nzinga,” see Joseph C. Miller, “Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective,” Journal of African History 16 (1975): 201–16;and John K. Thornton, “Legitimacy and Political Power: Queen Njinga, 1624–1663,” Journal of African History 32 (1991): 25–40. For a Kongo prophetess at the turn of the eighteenth century, see Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706 (New York, 1998). Also for political women in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Dahomey, see Bay, Wives of the Leopard. The intricate interplay between a prominent, even dominant, personality, African constructions of it, and multiple European images deriving from those is elegantly evoked in Carolyn Hamilton, Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention (Cambridge, Mass., 1998).
85. The reference here is to literacy as cognitive technique, not as a state of mind. Intensely diverse perspectives on the degree to which mnemonic and literate thinking reflected, or created, distinct mental styles, narrative genres, and much else have, as might be expected, emerged from the multiple disciplines that have sensed its importance, from the range of historical contexts where these distinctions have been applied around the world, and from confusion with various modern reformulations of the old distinction between “civilized” and “savage” minds. Jack Goody and Ian Watt initially combined the skills of a classicist with those of an anthropologist to emphasize literacy as mental technology in “The Consequences of Literacy,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 5 (1962–63): 304–45; for a recent, clear summary of the thinking deriving from this seminal essay and its implications for African historiography, see Hofmeyr, “We Spend Our Years as a Tale That Is Told,” intro.
86. In Africa, structuralist anthropologists (or structural historians of several sorts) drew implicit support for their predilections toward static institutions from this African epistemology of similarly transformative, revolutionary change. A modern notion of historical change of this contrastive sort underlies the revolutionary transformations that are logically necessary in theoretical Marxism to move from one typologically contrasted “mode of production” to another, and more abstractly still in dialectical logic.
87. A cliché since the publication of Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy (Paris, 1952; orig. Bantoe‑filosofie, oorspronkelijke tekst [Antwerp, 1946]), but recently rendered more historically in Emmanuel Akyeampong and Pashington Obeng, “Spirituality, Gender and Power in Asante History,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 19 (1995): 481–508.
88. An insight developed, for example, in Randall M. Packard, Chiefship and Cosmology: An Historical Study of Political Competition (Bloomington, Ind., 1981); more recently, Herbert, Iron, Gender, and Power.
89. Although this commonsense observation should not be overstated: Jan Vansina, “The Doom of Early African History?” History in Africa 24 (1997): 337–43.
90. Examples that draw revealingly on historical context include Elias C. Mandala, Work and Control in a Peasant Economy: A History of the Lower Tchiri Valley in Malawi, 1859–1960 (Madison, Wis., 1990); and B. Marie Perinbam, Family Identity and the State in the Bamako Kafu, c. 1800–c. 1900 (Boulder, Colo., 1997).
91. J. F. Ade Ajayi put historical brackets around “Colonialism: An Episode in African History” (in Peter Duignan and Louis H. Gann, Colonialism in Africa [Cambridge, 1969], 497–509) to emphasize European rule as a superficial interlude in longer-term, deep-rooted African processes.
92. Most widely noted: Robert D. Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” Atlantic Monthly (February 1994): 44–76.
93. Also the major axis of change in Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks; and Colin Palmer, Passageways: An Interpretive History of Black America: Vol. 1, 1619–1863 (Fort Worth, Tex., 1998).
94. Though not only in Africa, but also in the several other thriving regional fields outside Europe and North America: Steve J. Stern, “Africa, Latin America, and the Splintering of Historical Knowledge: From Fragmentation to Reverberation,” in Frederick Cooper, Allen F. Isaacman, Florencia E. Mallon, William Roseberry, and Steve J. Stern, Confronting Historical Paradigms: Peasants, Labor, and the Capitalist World System in Africa and Latin America (Madison, Wis., 1993), 3–20.
95. With grateful acknowledgment to Jan Vansina, who emphasized this aspect of history’s logic in an elegant lecture, “The Unity of History” (unpublished, 1998), and an unpublished paper, “Historical Traditions Today” (also 1998), which helped focus the ruminations that preceded the present essay.
96. Closer to Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, Md., 1973), as characterized by J. D. Y. Peel, “Two Pastors and Their Histories: Samuel Johnson and C. C. Reindorf,” in Jenkins, Recovery of the West African Past, 69: “a historian’s intention, formed from his experiences and his existing notions of what an account of the past might look like and be useful for, must always be prior to [my emphasis] his use of the evidence, even though it may be modified by working on it,” than to Ranke’s ordering of the balance, as quoted in Novick, That Noble Dream, 27–28: “After [my emphasis] the labor of criticism, intuition is required.”
97. For a convenient collection of these perspectives (among others), see the internationally authored and edited UNESCO General History of Africa. Volumes 3 and 4 contain some of the few accessible syntheses from Islamic perspectives, vital for many parts of Africa.
98. As emphasized with a rich array of examples from recent African history and anthropology in Steven Feierman, “African Histories and the Dissolution of World History,” in Robert H. Bates, V. Y. Mudimbe, and Jean O’Barr, eds., Africa and the Disciplines: The Contributions of Research in Africa to the Social Sciences and the Humanities (Chicago, 1993), 167–212. In Feierman’s phrase (p. 175), “tension between the new African evidence, showing autonomous processes, and the older vision of world history in which progress radiated from a few historical civilizations” also “changed our understanding of general history, and of Europe’s place, in the world in profound ways” (p. 182). For a rich contemplation of the challenges of decentering “World History in a Global Age,” see Michael Geyer and Charles Bright under this title in the centennial volume of the AHR 100 (October 1995): 1034–60.
99. Whether centered on the northern Atlantic: Wallerstein, Modern World-System. Or the Indian Ocean: K. N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (New York, 1985). Or southwestern Asia: Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System, A.D. 1250–1350 (New York, 1989).
100. A contemplation of the historical dynamics of “frontier” hypotheses; for theorization, see Igor Kopytoff, ed., The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies (Bloomington, Ind., 1987). The stimulating contacts among world civilizations across McNeill’s “ecumene” in The Rise of the West utilize the underlying concept of confronted differences as energizing historical change but concentrate on effects at their centers rather than focusing on the process at the fringes. All, of course, realize the underlying Hegelian concept of dialectic in geographical metaphors.
101. And vice versa: as Feierman puts the complementing process, “The need for historians to hear African voices originates with the same impulse as the need to hear the voices that had been silent within European history”; “African Histories and the Dissolution of World History,” 182.
102. The valuable sort of context that quantitative data set, and the questions they thereby raise; statistics cited by Eltis, Richardson, and Behrendt in various essays based on the Du Bois institute database of slaving voyages.
103. As “Atlantic” historians are now exploring. From North America, Ira Berlin, “From Creole to African: Atlantic Creoles and the Origins of African‑American Society in Mainland North America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 53 (1996): 251–88; and Many Thousand Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (New York, 1998). From the African side, Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World. Blending the two: Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks.
104. Bernard Bailyn, “The Idea of Atlantic History,” Itinerario 20 (1996): 19–44. I anticipate the theme of the millennial program of the Organization of American Historians (to be offered in the year 2000): “The U.S. and the Wider World.”
105. In its modern context, in a field familiar to me, see Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800 (London, 1997). For the year 2000, the theme of the conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies is “The Eighteenth Century Seen around the World”; Harvard University’s Program for the Study of German and Europe has announced a workshop (1999) on “Western Europe in an Age of Globalization.”
106. For example, Curtin, “Depth, Span, and Relevance”; Frederic Wakeman, Jr., “Voyages,” AHR 98 (February 1993): 1–17.
107. One of the AHA’s most active affiliates, the World History Association, with its Journal of World History.