There are copious resources for the study of African history on the internet. They include manuscripts and documentary archives, maps, museum collections, newspapers, printed books, picture collections, and sound and moving images. The websites of European institutions provide a good proportion of this content, reflecting the long, entangled, and troubled histories that connect Europe and Africa, as well as new partnerships with African institutions.
This plethora of digital resources enables both specialized researchers and the public to access information about Africa more quickly and easily, and on a larger scale than ever before. Digitization comes with a strong democratic impulse, and the new technology has been instrumental in making libraries, archives, museums, and art galleries much more open. But all is not smooth sailing, and there are two particular aspects of which researchers should be aware.
The first is that there are still huge collections, or parts of collections, that have not been digitized, and that resources have been—on the whole—most focused on items with visual appeal. The twin brakes of cost and copyright restrain the process, and researchers need to understand how what they can get online relates to what still exists only in hard copy.
The second consideration is that digitized resources can be difficult to find. Information about the riches of the web in this area is very fragmented, and exclusive use of one search engine, however dominant, is clearly not enough. As a counter to this fragmentation, a listing of the major websites for African history in Europe is given in a handy guide for researchers, which covers these resources by format and by region of Africa. The listing also provides websites in two particular areas of interest to historians and to the public: the transatlantic slave trade, and the liberation struggles in southern Africa.
From at least 3.4 million years ago to historic periods, humans and their ancestors used stone as the raw material for tool production. Archeologists find stone tools on all the planet’s habitable landmasses, even in its cold and ecologically sparse Arctic regions. Their ubiquity and durability inform archeologists about important dimensions of human behavioral variability. Stone tools’ durability also gives them the ability to contribute to the study of long-term historical processes and the deeper regularities and continuities underlying processes of change. Over the last two millennia as ceramics, livestock, European goods, and eventually Europeans themselves arrived in southern Africa, stone tools remained. As social, environmental, economic, and organizational upheavals buffeted African hunter-gatherers, they used stone tools to persist in often marginal landscapes. Indigenous Africans’ persistence in the environment of their evolutionary origins is due in large part to these “small things forgotten.” Stone tools and their broader contexts of use provide one important piece of information to address some of archaeology and history’s “big issues,” such as resilience in small-scale societies, questions of human mobility and migrations, and the interactions of humans with their environments. Yet, stone tools differ in important ways from the technologies historians are likely to be familiar with, such as ceramics and metallurgy, in being reductive. While ceramics are made by adding and manipulating clay-like substances, stone tools are made by removing material through the actions of grinding, pecking, or fracture. Metals sit somewhere in between ceramics and stone: they can be made through the reduction of ores, but they can also be made through additive processes when one includes recycling of old metals. Stone-tool technologies can also be more easily and independently reinvented than these other technologies. These distinctions, along with the details of stone tool production and use, hold significance for historians wishing to investigate the role of technology in social organization, economy, consumption, contact, and cultural change.
While many of those who have written about South Africa have included reference to past events, it was only from the early 19th century that attempts were made to present a coherent picture of South Africa’s past. From the early 20th century professional historians, for long all white males, began to present their interpretations of the way in which the country known from 1910 as the Union of South Africa had evolved over time. In the Afrikaans-speaking universities there emerged an often nationalist historiography, while the major English-speaking historians presented a more inclusive but still often Eurocentric and mainly political view of the South African past. From the 1960s a conscious attempt was made to decolonize South African historiography by looking at the history of all the country’s peoples, but the historical profession remained almost exclusively white and the few black works of history were largely ignored. Many of those who were most influential in taking South African historical writing in new directions were South Africans who had left the country and settled abroad.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a golden age of South African historical writing, shaped in part by the influence of neo-Marxist approaches from the United Kingdom and the United States, many new topics were explored, including the relationship between race and class and between capitalist development and apartheid. By emphasizing resistance to racial segregation in the past, South African historical writing assisted the process leading to the end of apartheid. By the time that happened, South African historical writing had become very nuanced and varied, but only to some extent integrated into the historiography of other parts of the African continent.
Francesco Montinaro and Cristian Capelli
Southern Africa’s past is constellated by a series of demographic events tracing back to the dawn of our species, approximately 300,000 years ago. The intricate pattern of population movements over the millennia contributed to creating an exceptional level of diversity, which is reflected by the high degree of genomic variability of southern African groups. Although a complete characterization of the demographic history of the subcontinent is still lacking, several decades of extensive research have contributed to shed light on the main events.
Genetic and archaeological researches suggest that modern humans may have emerged as the result of admixture between different African groups, possibly including other Homo populations, challenging the common view of a unique origin of our species. Although details are still unknown, surveys suggest that long term resident populations (related to Khoe-San speakers) of the subcontinent may have emerged hundreds of thousand years ago, and have inhabited the area for at least five millennia.
Population movements, and the introduction of new cultural features, characterize the history of southern Africa over the last five millennia and have had a dramatic impact on subcontinental genetic variability. Traces of these migrations can be identified using different genetic systems, revealing a complex history of adaptation to new selective pressures and sex-biased admixture.
The historical events of the European colonization and the slave trade of the last millennium, and the emergence of new cultural groups, further increased the genomic variability of human populations in this region, one of the most genetically diverse in the world.
Mariana P. Candido
European colonial powers established the contemporary boundaries of Angola during the Conference of Berlin (1884–1885). However, colonialism dates to the 15th century, when Portuguese merchants first contacted the Kingdom of Kongo along the Congo River and established early settlements in Luanda (1575) and Benguela (1617). Parts of the territories that became known as Angola in the early 20th century have a long history of interaction with the outside world, and as a result European primary sources provide much of the information available to historians. The reports, official correspondence, and diaries were produced by European men and are therefore problematic. However, by reading against the grain scholars can begin to understand how women lived in Angola before the 20th century.
Some, such as Queen Njinga, had access to political power, and others, such as Dona Ana Joaquina dos Santos e Silva, enjoyed great wealth. Kimpa Vita was a prophet who led a movement of political and religious renewal and was killed as a result. Most women never appeared in historical documents but were fundamental to the economic and social existence of their communities as farmers, traders, artisans, mediums, and enslaved individuals. The end of the slave trade in the 1850s led to the expansion of the so-called legitimate trade and plantation economies, which privileged male labor while relying on women’s domestic contributions. The arrival of a larger number of missionaries, colonial troops, and Portuguese settlers by the end of the 19th century resulted in new policies that stimulated migration and family separation. It also introduced new ideas about morality, sexuality, and motherhood. Women resisted and joined anticolonial movements. After independence, decades of civil war increased forced displacement, gender imbalance, and sexual violence. The greater stability at the end of the armed conflict may favor the expansion of women’s organizations and internal pressures to address gender inequalities.
States that flourished in the area immediately south of the Zambesi River from the 15th to the 19th centuries were ruled by Karanga dynasties and were the cultural heirs of Great Zimbabwe. The most important of these states was Mokaranga, whose rulers bore the title of Monomotapa. Other important states—Teve, Manica, Barue, and Butua—all depended on the mining and trading of gold. Commerce was conducted at fairs attended by merchants from coastal towns such as Sofala and Chibuene, which were part of the networks of Indian Ocean commerce. At the beginning of the 16th century this trade attracted Portuguese traders who visited the fairs. In the 17th century, the Portuguese gradually expanded their presence through the institution of the prazos, whose owners acquired jurisdiction over extensive areas formerly ruled by the Karanga. The Portuguese were expelled from the Zimbabwe plateau in the 1690s and were succeeded by the Rosvi, another Karanga ruling elite. These states were devastated by droughts from the 1790s to the 1830s. All of them experienced civil wars before they were conquered by the Ngoni, who established the kingdom of Gaza, which covered the whole area south of the Zambesi as far as the Limpopo River until the time of the Scramble for Africa. Some of the old Karanga states, notably Manica and Barue, survived as tributaries of the Gaza state.
The Bantu Expansion stands for the concurrent dispersal of Bantu languages and Bantu-speaking people from an ancestral homeland situated in the Grassfields region in the borderland between current-day Nigeria and Cameroon. During their initial migration across most of Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa, which took place between approximately 5,000 and 1,500 years ago, Bantu speech communities not only introduced new languages in the areas where they immigrated but also new lifestyles, in which initially technological innovations such as pottery making and the use of large stone tools played an important role as did subsequently also farming and metallurgy. Wherever early Bantu speakers started to develop a sedentary way of life, they left an archaeologically visible culture. Once settled, Bantu-speaking newcomers strongly interacted with autochthonous hunter-gatherers, as is still visible in the gene pool and/or the languages of certain present-day Bantu speech communities. The driving forces behind what is the principal linguistic, cultural, and demographic process in Late Holocene Africa are still a matter of debate, but it is increasingly accepted that the climate-induced destruction of the rainforest in West Central Africa around 2,500 years ago gave a boost to the Bantu Expansion.
The African National Congress (ANC) operated in exile for just over three decades, from 1960 to mid-1990. It developed from a flimsy and inexperienced “external mission” to an exiled organization caring for thousands of full-time members and maintaining an army, Umkontho weSizwe (MK), which by the 1980s numbered about 5000 soldiers. Based predominantly in Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola (though with members and offices in many other countries), the exiled movement established schools, hospitals, farms, and factories; it published and broadcast energetically; it lobbied for international support and established a diplomatic presence in dozens of countries. By the late 1980s, it was clear to the apartheid regime that it could not defeat or ignore the ANC but must enter negotiations with the organization. Equally, it was clear to the exiled leadership of the ANC that armed struggle relying on Soviet bloc funding was no longer feasible. Negotiations, and not military victory or seizure of power, was the only available option.
The ANC was pushed to the brink of survival but recovered, cohered, and regrouped, especially after 1976 when its membership and influence increased substantially. By 1990, through a combination of popular support inside South Africa and international solidarity, the ANC was swept to the status of government-in-waiting. Yet the exile experience was by no means an uninterrupted success story. The organization was variously beset by factionalism, rank-and-file disquiet, security failings, and an armed wing that saw little armed action. The ANC’s exile experience has generated controversy: over its relations with the South African Communist Party in exile; its human rights record, especially in the MK camps; and a political culture shaped by secrecy, militarism, and hierarchy. The “reinvention” of the organization in exile was a striking achievement—and it came at a cost.
Approximately 36.7 million people worldwide are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Almost 20 percent of South Africa’s adult population (aged fifteen to forty-nine) is HIV-positive, and about one in every five people living with HIV worldwide is in South Africa. The pandemic, and the political controversies it elicited, have come to define both local and global understandings of the post-apartheid nation. The history of HIV in South Africa begins in the 1980s during an era of heightened repression by the apartheid state, in which discriminatory laws and fearful public responses tapped into broader prejudices relating to race and sexuality. During the 1990s, as South Africa transitioned to democracy and as rates of HIV reached pandemic levels, partnerships were built between civil society and state actors to confront the many challenges that the HIV epidemic presented. However, from the late 1990s, corruption and the abuse of political power within the Department of Health, together with the government’s refusal to provide life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART), ignited a new era in health advocacy. While the HIV-treatment activist movement won the struggle for public access to treatment, Jacob Zuma’s succession to President Thabo Mbeki heralded a new era of political controversies in the state’s HIV response. A copious historiography on the HIV epidemic in South Africa maps the contemporary chronology and evolution of the disease, including a focus on changing public understandings and responses
Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo
The Portuguese colonial empire was the first and the last European empire overseas, from the conquest of Ceuta (1415), in Morocco, North Africa, until the formal handover of Macau to the People’s Republic of China (1999). From the coastline excursions in Africa and the gradual establishment of trade routes in Asia and in the Indian Ocean and the related emergence of the Estado da Índia (the Portuguese empire east of the Cape of Good Hope), to the colonization projects in the Americas, namely, in Brazil, and, in the second half of the 19th century, in Africa, the Portuguese empire assumed diverse configurations. All of these entailed expansionist projects and motivations—political, missionary, military, commercial—with changing dynamics, strongly conditioned by local circumstances and powers. In Africa, actual colonization was a belated and convoluted process, which started and ended with violent conflicts, the so-called pacification campaigns of the 1890s, and the liberation wars of the 1960s and 1970s. In Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe, the Portuguese enacted numerous modalities of formalized rule, based on political, military, and religious apparatuses. These forms of control engaged with and impacted on local societies differently. However, until the very end, coercive labor and tax exactions, racial discrimination, authoritarian politics, and economic exploitation were the fundamental pillars of Portuguese colonialism in Africa.