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date: 16 December 2018

African Philosophies of History and Historiography

Summary and Keywords

Since the late 1950s, the field of African historiography has undergone many changes. While discussing African philosophies of history, one must acknowledge shifts within the discipline of history and the Afrocentric vision of historical scholarship as two constitutive processes through which different historiographical trends have come into being. It is difficult to take an essentialist position on African philosophies of history, because Africa has been at the center of various transnational and global processes of historical formation. As a result, the scope and scale of African historiography signals a variety of entanglements. The imperative lies in recognizing such entanglements in the longue durée of Africa’s past, to dislodge the narrowly framed imagination attached to African historiography. Considering the complexity of the terrain, it would be appropriate to view African philosophies of history and historiography from three different vantage points. Firstly, historical scholarship centering on Africa has produced critiques of the post-Enlightenment philosophy of history in Europe and elsewhere. This strand highlights the interventions posed by African historiography that decenter a globalized philosophical tradition. Secondly, the inclusion of African indigenous epistemological formations into historical scholarship has transformed the scope of African historiography. This shows shifts in the methodological approaches of historical scholarship and highlights the question of access to the multiplicity of Africa’s past. Thirdly, Pan-Africanism and Afropolitanism expanded the scope and scale of the African philosophy of history by thinking through the transnational and global connections of Afrocentric thought. In other words, Afrocentric historiography attends to the ideas of globalism and cosmopolitanism within its scope and scale.

Keywords: historiography and methods, intellectual history, oral traditions, Afrocentrism, African diaspora, East Africa and Indian Ocean

African Historiography: Framing a Problematic

Africanist historians have convincingly resolved the vexed question of whether Africa has a history or not. However, the question of whether an African philosophy of history exists has haunted successive generations of historians. Since the late 1950s, African historiography has developed in diverse forms, which has added more complexity to the question. This article explores that complexity, rather than attempting to address it. However, in doing so it seeks to answer another equally relevant question: how has African historiography renewed once parochial and now globalized philosophies of history? While addressing this question, the article opens a conversation between two strands of historical thinking—one that posits a narrowly framed historical imagination of Africa’s global past, and the other that appropriates universal philosophies of history by denying the continent’s historical differences with the rest of the world. The article offers a survey of various strands in African historiography to identify the interactive spaces between the global and the local, as well as the universal and the particular. The final section of the article explores a few examples of historical scholarship that direct the discussion to the central concern: the connections between historiography and African philosophies of history.

Universal Histories and the African Historiographical Problematic

The influence of German idealism on the discipline of history is profound. Among the thinkers from that tradition, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Philosophy of History offered a fully developed theory in which he attempted to discover meaning or direction in history. Hegel saw history as a logical process moving toward the condition of human freedom. Therefore, for Hegel, the question at issue was “the ultimate end of mankind, the end which the spirit sets itself in the world.”1 Subsequently, at the end of the 19th century, the discipline of history was caught between philosophical speculations and unquestionable faith in empiricism. Amid the uncertainties about the past and the desire for confirmation through scientific understanding, the European philosophy of history chose to exclude most of Africa from the human progress that it celebrated. People who believed in a universal history of humanity navigated such “exclusionary particularity of the discipline” by subscribing to “abstract, static, less humanistic—generalizing epistemologies to bring Africa within the realm of academic respectability.”2 However, the belittling of Africa within post-Enlightenment thought did not render European philosophies of history meaningless to Africanists. Recent scholarly engagement with Hegel suggestively points out that “the very dialectic analytical method that excluded Africa from universal history also fully reinstates it.”3 However, such suggestions came from refuting the Hegelian theses on slavery and state in Africa. This transition in scholarly engagement with European thought leads to two central issues related to philosophies of history. One is methodology, and the other is the subject position of historians.

The modern discipline of history attained its foundation with Leopold von Ranke’s claim that history is a science. Ranke’s primary concern was historical facts and their causal connections, and he extended critical methods of philology to the study of the past.4 In the 19th century, Ranke was without doubt the most important historian to shape the historical profession in Europe and America. However, German idealistic philosophy lost its celebrated position by the turn of the century, and so did Ranke within the discipline of history. Writing in 1940, and from within Europe, Walter Benjamin questioned the dialectic materialist understanding of history, which had attained a highly sophisticated form through the wittings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Benjamin saw history as the object of construction whose “place is formed not in empty homogenous time,” and argued that, “historicism justifiably culminates in universal history.” He further suggested that “nowhere does the materialist writing of history distance itself from it more clearly than in terms of method.”5 Benjamin’s critique was directed at the positivist understanding of history in post-Enlightenment thought, and specifically in German idealistic philosophy. Moreover, his critique hinted at the instrumentalist use of historical materialism as a method for constructing the past.

However, such shifts within the European philosophy of history did not produce immediate effects within the profession of history. On the contrary, post-Enlightenment German idealism remained instrumental in shaping the epistemic formations of African historiography. Europeans continued to see Africa as a place without history, as the absence of sufficient African written sources placed Africa’s past outside of the Rankean definition of history. With the passage of time, it became an ideological problematic, continuing to haunt writing about Africa’s past. In the 1960s, professional historians such as Hugh Trevor Roper concluded that there was no African history to teach other than the history of Europeans in Africa. The legacy of post-Enlightenment positivism continued to haunt African historiography further as post-1970s Africanist historians appropriated Marxist methodologies to approach Africa’s past. In the subsequent decades, Africanist historians struggled laboriously to get rid of that specter. Such struggles often led to major intellectual debates, making key contributions to the discipline of history itself. As the modern discipline of history became progressively globalized, it produced multiple entanglements. To discuss such entanglements, one needs to first consider the major trajectories along which African historiography has developed since the late 1950s.

Afrocentric history came into being with the publication of nationalist historiography on Africa. The first generation of Africanist scholars was trained in the European tradition of historical scholarship, and inevitably they remained trapped in their own historical formation. The nationalist historiography in Africa searched for universal histories, a tendency that developed with Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop’s monographs. Published in 1955, Diop’s magnum opus Antériorité des Civilisations Nègres: Mythe ou Vérité Historique? was structured around the question of who developed the ancient Egyptian civilization. Diop’s seminal works on Africa’s proto-history and ancient past suggested that black Africans developed the ancient Egyptian civilization during its first 2,000 years, and that European civilization was a derivation of African civilization.6 Discussing Diop’s framing of Africa’s past, Immanuel Wallerstein observed that Diop had a theory about the global division of people. Diop’s two categories of people consisted of the southerners or the black Africans and the Aryans, which included the Caucasians, Semites, Mongoloids, and American Indians. Wallerstein suggested that Diop’s hypothesis, though “presented without supporting data,” had “the interesting effect of inverting Western cultural assumptions.”7 Essentially, Diop’s generation was a product of African nationalist formations in the late 1940s and 1950s. Writing from within that social context, Diop’s central concern was to restore Africa’s past within a comparative framing of continental history.

However, the ideological positions of historians such as Diop did not emerge from regional particularity but from within the profoundly transnational phenomenon of the spread of nationalism with the globalization of capital. While discussing the comparative impulses in African nationalist historiography through Diop’s scholarship, one must consider how the specter of comparisons function in nationalist imagination. Reflecting on such intellectual formations, Benedict Anderson came to the conclusion that “the rise of nationalism meant a change of consciousness so thoroughgoing that a prenationalist consciousness had become inaccessible and thus had to be substituted for by History and Tradition.”8 Such practices of imagining are essentially a comparative process, as “the nation is always haunted by something that is at one and the same time both spatially other or exterior to it, but also similar to it in the sense that it is part of it and inhabits the same frame of consciousness.”9

However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the practice of comparative framing of continental history among Africanist historians was a product of African nationalist imagination alone. Scholars writing from diverse cultural contexts and academic locales displayed this tendency. Martin Bernal’s monumental study Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization made an attempt to subvert the historical paradigm that the foundations of Western civilization were Caucasian Greek. Bernal’s study was a historiographical critique of over 2,000 years of Western thought on the origins of Greek society. With an Afrocentric vision, he suggested that Greek civilization and linguistic practices were derived from Egypt and the Semitic Near East. In many ways, Bernal’s critique was a complementary gesture toward Diop’s formulation, as he argued that the Aryan model deployed to study ancient Greek society was deeply influenced by racist theories including Antisemiticism.10 More than anything else, Bernal’s Black Athena exposed the connections between historical interpretation and the subject position of historians. However, it is remarkable to see how historical entanglements of a place drive historians to produce comparative visions across temporal frames. The transregional characteristics of Africa’s past are often at the center of such historical imagination as well as the debates that emerge from within it.

Such tendencies of exploring the connected histories of ancient Africa also permeate the historiography of the medieval period. Historians in the 1970s and 1980s writing about Africa’s medieval past used frameworks and vocabulary derived from Western academia. In the absence of adequate African written sources from that period, gaps were gradually filled in by archaeological findings, studies in linguistics, Arabic manuscripts, material culture, and oral literature. Thematically, discussions focused on state formation, polity’s power, trading networks, and the spread of Islam. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Nehemia Levtzion studied the empires of Ghana and Mali based on Arabic and Portuguese literary sources, chronicles of African Muslim literati, and oral traditions. Levtzion’s Ancient Ghana and Mali offered an account of the states of Ghana and Mali by describing the rise, expansion, and disintegration of Ghana, followed by the expansion of the Mali Empire into the Sahel. The power of the Mali Empire declined in the 15th century and huge numbers of its subjects migrated to the south. Levtzion also explained the significance of the gold trade in the expansion of Sudan and its relationship with North Africa and Europe.11

In a similar vein, Martin Bradford studied the political, cultural, and commercial relations between the Chadian Muslim states of Kanem-Borno and the rest of the Islamic world. Bradford argued that Kanem-Borno was “linked to Egypt in the east by a number of routes, and to Libya and the Mediterranean littoral by an ancient and heavily travelled road which passed through the Kawar oases and the Fazzan.”12 Bradford’s study of Arab migration to East Africa from the 13th to the 16th century suggested that most of the Arab migrants were members of clerical clans claiming to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammad.13 Collectively, this body of historiography highlighted Africa’s relationship with transregional civilizational developments that influenced historical formations on the continent during the medieval period. Such historiographical imaginations often reflected the Africanist historians’ tendency to map change in time with a positivist vision of history, as it was developed in the West.

These tendencies toward mapping the development of African civilization in time were the result of adhering to the models of universal histories. Basil Davidson’s scholarship best represented that spirit of historical imagination as Davidson was among the pioneers of the field to popularize the terms “civilization,” “state,” and “empire” in “medieval” African historiography along the models of universal histories. Published in 1965 and 1967, Davidson’s Growth of African Civilization dealt with the history of West Africa between 1000 and 1800, while his East and Central Africa to the Late Nineteenth Century explored the division of geographical space with respect to time in East and Central Africa. Davidson crafted his narratives explaining the historical growth and value of African civilization with a clear-cut chronological division of time. He considered the days of green Sahara to the Iron Age in Africa, up to ad 1000, to be Africa’s ancient period. The internal dynamics of Africa’s old civilizations and states, and their links with other world regions, along with the development of agriculture and the formation of social groups up to the 19th century, constituted Africa’s medieval period for Davidson.14 A revised version of his work appeared in 1995 with the title Africa in History where he covered a broad ground with accounts on green Sahara and the Iron Age in Africa, the early Portuguese colonization of African coastal areas, slavery and the subsequent legacy of violence and mistrust, the spread of Islam in North Africa, African art and architecture, and patterns of change in social modes of living.15

Davidson is certainly among those who offered academic respectability to African history in Western academia. However, his chronological divisions of time also made his fellow Africanist historians think about the problematic that the models of universal histories presented to them. Writing about the emerging themes in African history in the late 1960s, Terrence Ranger emphasized the need

to examine whether African history was sufficiently African; whether it has developed the methods and models appropriate to its own needs or had depended upon making use of methods and models developed elsewhere; whether its main themes of discourse had arisen out of the dynamics of African development or had been imposed because of their overriding significance in the historiography of other continents.16

Ranger quite succinctly summarized the problematic that Africanist historians were facing by the end of the 1960s. His critique also shared a vision for historical scholarship on Africa for the future. Amid the proliferation of such intellectual visions, from 1971 onward UNESCO undertook a grand project of publishing a multivolume General History of Africa. UNESCO formed an International Scientific Committee, which was composed of thirty-nine historians—two-thirds were African and one-third were non-African. This project was originally designed to evaluate Africa’s contribution to the history of mankind. The president of the committee, Bethwell Allan Ogot, the prominent nationalist historian from Kenya, noted that their goal was to consider the history of Africa in its totality as well as to show the relationships between different regions of the continent.17 The UNESCO collective was critical of the Cambridge History of Africa. They argued that the Cambridge History of Africa was an attempt to place Africa in the path of history using the same perspective as the civilizing missions carried out by European traders, missionaries, and administrators during the colonial period. Furthermore, the collective claimed to maintain a distance from the nationalist and liberal historiography on Africa from the 1960s and 1970s. The UNESCO collective argued that both nationalist and liberal historiography upheld the cause of “anti-colonialism and the legitimation of the newly independent states at the expense of a falsification of the past.”18 However, when the UNESCO series was published, they failed to produce the desired outcome.

The UNESCO series was essentially a history of ideas, civilizations, and African social institutions based on a variety of sources, which included oral traditions as well as various African art forms. It was an important moment in the development of African historiography, but the publication of the series drew strong criticisms from Africanist scholars. Bogumil Jewsiewicki argued that the UNESCO series avoided essential questions pertaining to African historiography, and “focused instead on the simple chronological primacy of black civilization and its unity.”19 However, what Jewsiewicki saw as a problem of content was essentially a problem of form—the Africanist scholars of that generation felt an urgency to produce a parallel narrative of civilizational development in Africa, along the lines of other world regions. Such quests for universal histories gradually became a historiographical problematic as they failed to register the historical differences of Africa’s past.

In relation to periodization, the spirit of revision captured the imagination of Africanist historians from time to time. Efforts to incorporate Africanist perspectives as well as to include the shifts in scholarly engagement with Africa’s past have pushed historians to revise their own work. For example, Roland Anthony Oliver and Anthony Atmore radically revised The African Middle Ages 1400–1800 and redrafted Medieval Africa, 1250–1800 almost twenty years after the former was published. Continued efforts toward unearthing new sources pushed Oliver and Atmore to renew the very periodization of the “medieval” period, pushing the narrative back by 150 years. Oliver and Atmore argued that the renewed periodization offered a view of Africa’s past from a distinctly African perspective, suggesting that African societies were expanding their political and economic scope by 1250, and that Islam spread toward the south of the Sahara from the Mediterranean region down to the Indian Ocean coast. Their survey of the medieval scene in different regions of Africa suggested that African societies evolved in relation to their received inheritance and environmental conditions. The mobility of caravan drivers, captives, pilgrims, students, and skilled artisans into different regions of the continent were prime examples of historical dynamism from Darfur to Zimbabwe. This period also witnessed common rituals extending into centralized kinship.20

However, despite the revisionist enthusiasm, Africanist historians have not arrived at a common consensus on the periodization of Africa’s past. Debates on periodization have centered on historical differences in the temporal frame of state formation and the polity’s organization in the different regions of the continent. For instance, in Central and Southern Africa, the processes of centralized state formation began at a much later date compared with West and North Africa. It was only in the first half of the 19th century that closely related, interlocking, and conflicting movements of people led to the Mfecane among the Nguni-speaking people of Southern Africa, which gradually engulfed the whole region.21 This process led to the formation of centralized military states among the Zulu and Ndebele people in Southern Africa.22 Since the dates of political and social formation in the different regions of Africa vary, Africanist historians have often struggled to invent a standard periodization for the whole continent. Such differences in historical formation, as well as the debates emerging therefrom, indirectly hint at the problematic that Terrence Ranger posed in the late 1960s. As Ranger rightly put it, this problematic is an outcome of adhering to the models of universal histories and deploying them in an African context.

Contribution of Marxist Historiography and the Problem of Universal Histories

The influence of Marxist thought, a legacy of the post-Enlightenment European intellectual tradition, has been very deep in African historiography. The contribution of Marxist historians is enormous, as they effectively explained Africa’s past in relation to transnational processes of capital accumulation and the global division of labor. However, Marxist historical thinking essentially subscribes to a universal history of global capitalism, which returns to the problematic encountered by universal histories. Eric Williams’s pioneering study Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944, departed from Eurocentric narratives that focused on the rise and growth of the global capitalist economy between the late 17th and early 19th centuries. Williams offered an alternative interpretation to the rise of Europe by assessing the economic impact of the Atlantic slave trade. He argued that the idea of using African slave labor was first realized in the sugar and tobacco plantations of the Caribbean islands, due to the tough climatic conditions of the region—the relative cheapness of African slave labor was calculated as soon as the limitations of European indentured labor were identified. Between 1650 and 1850, plantations throughout the Americas required a continuous supply of African slaves, which led to the emergence of a triangular trade between Europe, Africa, and the New World.23

In the early 1970s, inspired by the world system analysis of Latin American dependency theorists such as Paul A. Baran, Paul Sweezy, and Andre Gunder Frank, Walter Rodney studied the long relationship between Africa and Western Europe from 1500 to the period of partial decolonization of Africa in the 1960s. Rodney explained the dialectic interplay between Europe and Africa and argued that the progressive underdevelopment of Africa enabled the development of Europe. In other words, he saw Africa’s contribution to European capitalist development as the dialectic opposite of Africa’s underdevelopment, first conducted through the transatlantic slave trade and then followed by the direct imposition of colonial rule from the late 19th century.24 Both Williams and Rodney collectively inserted Africa into the discussions of the longue durée of global capitalism, but once again, both were moves to insert Africa’s past into a universal history of capital.

However, Marxist economic historians also made attempts to analyze the particularly African situation in relation to the transnational history of global capitalism. The Marxist response began in relation to Anthony Hopkins’s Economic History of West Africa. Hopkins considered the market as the primary unit of study, seeing it as the organizing principle to cover the totality of economic activity in West Africa over many centuries. He examined three specific dimensions of the market. Firstly, he considered the volume and value of goods and services transacted to determine the extent of the market in quantitative terms; secondly, he studied the geographical variations in exchange activity to understand the spatial dimension of the market; and thirdly, he explained the number and social status of the parties engaged in exchange, to assess the composition of goods and services traded. Despite recognizing the slave trade’s disastrous effect on Africa’s demography, Hopkins questioned whether the slave trade alone was responsible for the lack of growth in the early modern West African economy. This marked a departure from Walter Rodney’s thesis that Europe underdeveloped Africa through the Atlantic slave trade during the early modern period.25

In the early 1980s, Frederick Cooper contested Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory, the works of Latin American dependency theorists, and particularly Rodney’s thesis on the European impact on Africa’s underdevelopment. Cooper argued that a closer look at the social base of production in Africa from the early modern to the modern period offers an alternative reading to that of Latin American dependency theory. He observed that the changing relationship of production at the lowest level of labor management ushered in new changes into the very structure of capitalist accumulation in Africa.26

Cooper recognized the strength of the Africanist scholarly emphasis on the specificity of local social structures. However, he argued that Africanists proved their point too easily as they failed to see the impact of global economic currents, which constantly changed the local social base of production in Africa. While emphasizing the connection between the world economy and African production, Cooper further suggested that global economic currents had always had more direct impact on the internal structure of African households as well as on its demography and ecology. The management of labor was never an easy task, neither during the precolonial nor during the colonial period. Cooper concluded that the ability of workers to withdraw their labor power at any given point in time also influenced the restructuring of the social base of production.27 These debates among the Africanist historians belonging to the Marxist school continuously enriched the connected history of global capitalism and gradually inserted the history of African cooperation as well as resistance into it.

The category of resistance—or, more specifically, African “agency”—took center stage among Marxist historians writing about Africa’s colonial past. Marxists focusing on different regions of Africa contested the colonial and liberal historiographies by emphasizing African agency in the colonial situation. In the late 1960s, drawing on the British liberal Marxist tradition, Terrence Ranger studied the Ndebele/Shona rebellion of 1896–1897 in Southern Rhodesia. It was one of the bloodiest and most frightening African attempts to fight against the intrusive British colonial regime. Ranger explored the history of how the Shona people were forcibly deprived of large proportions of cattle and how indigenous Africans were forced to enter the colonial service as workers. Ranger argued that such coercive practices of the colonial state coupled with the natural calamities of the time such as rinderpest led to the rebellion of 1896–1897.28 Similarly, Shula Marks studied the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906 in colonial Natal by exploring the intersections between race and class. Marks explained the colonial situation in Natal in terms of white attitudes toward land, labor, and legislation, the role of missionaries, and the internal dynamics of African politics. In Marks’s reading, land shortages or unaffordable rents for Africans, the divide and rule tactics of Natal’s colonial administration, and the undermining of the authority of traditional chiefs led to the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906.29 Published in the late 1980s, David Levering Lewis’s The Race to Fashoda was a rich rejoinder to this body of historiography. He studied the famous episode of European scramble in the upper Nile leading to the culmination of the race for Africa. Lewis explored the complex terrain of political, diplomatic, and military interactions of European intruders and African polities, arguing that the liberal and colonial historians did not address the African side of the story. Lewis suggested that such readings derecognize African resistance to European imperialism.30

The Marxist historiography on African resistance to colonialism also associated itself with the rise of nationalism on the continent. Terrence Ranger was a key figure from the Marxist school to make the connection between African militant resistance and the rise of mass nationalism.31 Among recent examples, Jonathan Derrick studied the period between the two world wars and argued that “the opposition which alien invasion, occupation, and exploitation have always aroused among subjected people” eventually led to the African militant responses against colonialism.32 Collectively, this body of historiography highlighted the African response to European colonialism through the dialectic interpretation of the colonial situation. They saw the Africans as active participants in the processes of historical change during the colonial period. To view it through its conceptual model, German idealistic philosophy offered momentum to the Africanist historiography, providing the scope to insert African “agency” within it.

However, Africanist liberal historians often criticized the economic reductionism involved in Marxist interpretations of Africa’s past. Ghanaian historian A. Abu Boahen was one of the prominent African historians from the liberal school to contest the Marxists’ interpretation during his long career. Offering a critique of Vladimir Lenin’s classic work Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism as well as of Africanist Marxist historians, Boahen argued that the Marxist version of colonialism is “unconvincing and inadequate, since it was not economic conditions and especially the need to invest surplus capital alone that gave rise to the new imperialist spirit in Europe.”33 Instead, Boahen chose to pay close attention to the political and social conditions in Europe and Africa. In Boahen’s imagination, they laid the grounds for the European scramble. In his critique of Hopkins and his colleagues, Boahen further argued that they

seem to forget that it was not just during the last three decades of the nineteenth century that indigenous African rulers adopted revolutionary attitudes, that conflicts developed among African states which impeded trade, that conditions in Africa became unstable, or trade frontiers were disturbed … these scholars seem to be unaware that the European Scramble was not confined to Africa … the nature of internal conditions of Africa and the absence of the slave trade could not and did not precipitate the Scramble, which was in fact a world wide phenomenon.34

Inevitably, Boahen’s own version of Africa’s integration into the global capitalist economy became an oversimplified and linear account of European imperialism on the continent. But most importantly, the framing of Boahen’s arguments subtly denied the Marxist historians due credit for their efforts to push the narratives of global capitalism inward to Africa, as well as their work inserting African agency within it. These efforts offered a space to restructure global and transnational historiographical trends, but Marxist narratives of social change in Africa in the early modern and the modern period did not attend well to the subjective experiences of the African population. Besides, the form of the Marxist historiography on Africa remained essentially positivist, along the lines of the long cherished 19th-century European tradition of German idealist philosophy. It was far from being a move toward discovering an African philosophy of history. Instead, it continued to adopt the models of universal histories and thus failed to bring the everyday conditions of being and belonging in Africa into a conversation with the global and transnational processes of historical change.

Africa’s Global Past and the Historiographical Entanglements

Since Africa’s past has been shaped by various global and transnational processes of historical change, such connected histories inevitably compel historians to study Africa from different vantage points. As a result, Africa shares multiple historiographical entanglements. In fact, the earliest Afrocentric histories flourished with the works of Pan-Africanist thinkers. The intellectual movement commonly known as Pan-Africanism came into being with the idea that the people of African origin share a common historical, cultural, and spiritual legacy. By the turn of the 19th century, a member of the African diaspora in the United States, W. E. B. Du Bois, laid the philosophical foundations of this movement. Published in 1915, Du Bois’s The Negro was a history of Africans and the diaspora from the early cultural formations through the Atlantic slave trade into the 20th century.35 While comparing the ancient African kingdoms with those of Europe, Du Bois shared the responsibility of critiquing the contemporary racial politics in the progressive historical imagination. As it often projected Africa as a place without history based on the 20th-century state of affairs on the continent, Du Bois unsurprisingly discovered similar causal connections in the spread of Islam and the rise of Europe. Although trapped in the essentialism of contemporary global racial politics, Du Bois’s historical imagination was quite advanced for his time. Africanist historiography has developed to become a much more complex terrain, but the lingering effect of Du Bois’s original imagination is yet to vanish. More often than not, it produces various historiographical entanglements in relation to Africa.

Two broad fields of historical inquiry, the Indian Ocean world and the Atlantic world, have been instrumental in producing historiographical entanglements when it comes to the study of Africa’s past. Scholarship on the networks of trade, labor, and culture in the Indian Ocean arena has often invited discussions on Africa’s global past. Economic historians identified the Indian Ocean world as a sophisticated and durable system of long-distance exchange, which connected Africa and China and all points in between.36 Historical scholarship set in the intersection between economic and cultural history looked at this vast oceanic region through cultural factors, and described the Indian Ocean as an arena of social and cultural diversity rooted in civilizations such as the Irano-Arabic, Hindu, and Chinese.37 But such definitions, based on the rise and decline of civilizations, marginalize the significant role of East Africa in the making of the Indian Ocean world. Subsequently, recent Africanist historiography has described the Indian Ocean as an interregional arena of economy and culture that stands somewhere between the generalities of the “world system” and the specificities of particular regions.38

Among economic historians, C. S. Nicholls studied the period between the late 18th and mid-19th centuries, in which Arabs from Oman expanded their influence over the East African coast from Mogadishu to Delagoa Bay. Nicholls suggested that the cultural life of this region was quite different from that of the interior of Africa. Arab merchants came down with the monsoon winds and traded with the coastal societies. Nicholls highlighted the importance of the Omani Sultan shifting his seat of power to Zanzibar, and the sultan’s complicated relationship with Western powers that had developed strategic and commercial interests in the region. The Sultan of Zanzibar was also closely involved in the conflicts of local societies in the East Africa littoral.39 Edward A. Alpers, on the other hand, studied the diverse network of people in the Indian Ocean world that was established through trade and commerce between 1500 and 1950. Alpers’s discussion of Futa, a cotton textile produced in Somalia’s coastal township of Benadir, extrapolated the collapse of the East African local textile industry with commodities flowing from Bombay-based mills.40 While discussing the coastal trading societies of the Mozambique Channel, Alpers further argued that such societies were essentially multicultural and cosmopolitan in nature. For instance, by the end of the 18th century, Muslim merchants from India were holding key positions in the management of trade at Delagoa Bay in Portuguese Mozambique.41 Thus, the connected histories of Indian Ocean trade and commerce created a vantage point for historians to pluralize the narratives of East Africa’s past.

The scholarship on slavery in the Indian Ocean arena has been influential in explaining the role of African labor in shaping the early modern and modern world. Among recent scholarship, The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia edited by Gwyn Campbell demonstrated that the essential features of the slave trade in the Indian Ocean world contrasted sharply with those of the transatlantic slave trade and plantation slavery in the Americas. Campbell examined what slavery meant in the Indian Ocean arena up to the period of European economic and political dominance in the 19th century. Campbell suggested that Indian Ocean slavery started well before the Common Era and continued well into the 20th century. Furthermore, the Indian Ocean slave trade was multidirectional and changed over time. Large numbers of East African slaves were transported to different regions of Africa, such as Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as exported to Arabia, the Persian Gulf, India, and the countries of the Far East. From the mid-19th century onward, the export markets of East African slaves expanded through Zanzibar, Pemba, Somalia, Madagascar, the Mascarenes, and via Cape Town.42 William Garvase Clarence-Smith’s study of Islam and the Abolition of Slavery was a useful addition to the subject. Clarence-Smith covered the history of a vast geographical region that included Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia over a broad temporal frame beginning with the rise of Islam in the 7th century until the mid-19th century. Setting his work in the intersection between Islamic legal history and the economic history of slavery, Clarence-Smith identified various complex definitions of slavery and conflicting gradations of servitude. He argued that wherever there was the predominance of sharia, the holy law of Islam, slavery was defined with precision.43

An equally important contribution to the field was Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition edited by Robert Harms, Bernard K. Freamon, and David W. Blight. This volume explained the role of Zanzibar and the British imperial efforts toward the abolition of slavery. The British faced three major challenges: firstly, ships from Brazil flying Portuguese flags increased their slave purchases from the ports of Mozambique Channel, while the Slave Trade Act of 1807 prevented the British from intervening. Secondly, the French slave trade from the East African coasts to the sugar plantations of Mascarene Islands was flourishing during this period. Thirdly, the British anti-slavery efforts alarmed the slave traders of Swahili port cities and offshore, who made enormous profits through the East African slave trade. The British had little control over the Swahili traders. By 1840, Sayyid Said bin Sultan had shifted the Omani capital from Muscat to Zanzibar and established control over the coastal areas between Mogadishu and Delagoa Bay.44 This volume offered detailed case studies of slavery along the East African coast while remaining sensitive to the specific contexts of the related contestations and negotiations.

The discussion on the Indian Ocean labor migration has also highlighted how an Indian diaspora emerged on the continent of Africa. Hugh Tinker’s study A New System of Slavery argued that Indian indentured labor migration was rooted in an international structure of trade and finance, which evolved in stages from the 18th-century European slave trade to the 19th-century indentured system. Tinker suggested that Indian laborers joined the sugar, tea, and coffee plantations following in the footsteps of the African slave labor.45 As an excellent addition, Marina Carter’s meticulously researched account of the process of recruiting Indian indentured laborers described life on the colonial plantations of Mauritius, where approximately 450,000 laborers migrated between 1834 and 1874.46 In South Africa, historians from the Indian diaspora entered into a process of discovering the roots of the South African Indian population back in India. These works collectively inform us about the regions from which Indian indentured workers were recruited, the difficulties they encountered during the passage across the sea, and the work conditions they faced upon their arrival in the colony of Natal.47

Among sociologists, H. S. Morris’s The Indians in Uganda offered insight on religion and rituals, the structure of kinship relations, linguistic practices, and economic roles of the Indian community in Uganda.48 Similarly, India in Africa, Africa in India, edited by John Hawley, brought together a wide range of themes and traced the economic and cultural connections that Africa shares with the Indian subcontinent. This volume highlighted that Africans were mostly brought to India over several centuries for both domestic labor and military service, and some others settled in India after being rescued from slave ships. Hawley pointed out that the history of relations between communities surrounding the Indian Ocean remains like a “hidden transcript.” Very often such relationships were fluid, as there is sufficient evidence of complete social assimilation and large-scale religious conversion.49 Collectively, the historiography on the Indian Ocean world explores the global past of the African continent and explains the transregional historiographical entanglements.

On the other hand, scholarship on African laboring masses across the Atlantic has also explained Africa’s global past, creating similar historiographical entanglements. Philip Curtin’s classic work The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census was based on a revisionist premise in which he chose to abandon ethnocentric national histories in favor of an Atlantic perspective. Curtin closely analyzed a wide range of documents, such as port and colony records, shipping records, supply contracts, and population estimates, exploring various themes including the economic productivity of slave-using economies and the relationship between European exports to Africa and exports from Africa. He explained the distribution of African slaves in the Americas with specific reference to the 18th century, as it is considered as the peak century. Furthermore, Curtin showed the continuation of the slave trade after the legal abolition in the 19th century.50

In the 1980s, a significant number of Africanist historians began evaluating the outcome of the institution of slavery for the continent of Africa. Paul Lovejoy’s pioneering study Transformations in Slavery explored slavery-related changes in African societies. He argued that slavery became a key economic institution in many African societies as it grew from marginal, kinship-based servitude into a fully organized mode of production. Lovejoy saw the institution of slavery developing in three broad temporal frames. He suggested that between 1350 and 1600, slavery was little developed outside of kinship-based organizations. However, between 1600 and 1800, the boom in the Atlantic slave trade ushered in new methods of enslavement and commercial systems of exchange, simultaneously encouraging the spread of domestic slavery in West African societies. Lovejoy further argued that these changes eventually retarded economic development, created warlords, and resulted in political fragmentation in Africa.51

As the field of historical inquiry on slavery further developed, historians focused more closely on the impact of the slave trade in African societies. Patrick Manning’s Slavery and African Life, which revolved around demographic models that considered sources and captors of slaves as basic units of analysis, was a major contribution toward this historiographical shift. Manning traced historical changes in demography, economy, and culture, not only in Africa but also in places in the Americas that received millions of African slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries. Discussing the demand side of the slave economies, Manning explained that the West African coast engaged in occidental trade favoring young males, the savannah and the Horn of Africa dealt with oriental trade, preferring young females, and the East Coast tapped into both systems of trade. Manning quite provocatively argued that the world has been shaped by African slave labor.52 In a useful rejoinder to Manning’s work, Robin Law highlighted the rise and consolidation of the state of Dahomey in the 18th century under the aegis of slavery as an economic institution. Law showed that the Atlantic slave trade created conditions for the emergence of powerful states in Africa. In Dahomey, the complex outcome of the slave trade created paradoxical effects. Trade with Europeans stimulated economic growth, but the simultaneous export of enslaved labor undermined the same. Law also argued that the violence involved in capturing slaves spurred interstate wars and banditry.53 Collectively, this body of historiography on slavery showed how external factors in the early modern and the modern world continuously shaped Africa’s internal social formation.

At the same time, various other scholarly discourses have emerged from discussion of the African diaspora and the Atlantic slave trade. Published in 1941, Melville J. Herskovits’s The Myth of the Negro Past focused on the remnants of living African cultures in the Caribbean, Suriname, and Brazil. He argued that such remnants of African culture were also found in North America among isolated communities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.54 Primarily, Herskovits spoke of Africanism in the Americas in a global sense. Although Herskovits faced serious criticism from scholars such as E. Franklin Frazier, he created a new field of historical inquiry. Scholars from various generations have been invested in expanding the scope of Herskovits’s original thesis. Among recent scholarship, Joseph Holloway’s edited collection of essays, Africanism in American Culture, demonstrated the West African influences on African Americans as well as on the white population in the United States. This edited volume was based on the premise that something of Africa survived in the Americas through cultural traits from African social groups. By analyzing music, linguistics, visual art, and folklore, it showed the importance of slaves from Central Africa in the formation of African American cultures in places such as South Carolina and the South.55

Alongside the discourse of Africanism in American culture, the idea of cultural hybridity in the Atlantic world has gained tremendous attention from literary scholars. Paul Gilroy’s powerful monograph The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness ushered the discourse of cultural hybridity into discussions of the Atlantic world. Gilroy parted ways with dyads such as essentialism and constructionism or nationalism and pluralism and instead used the metaphor of “the black Atlantic” to demonstrate that dyads are essentially reductive and limiting. Gilroy argued that any study of Atlantic culture must attend to the influences of European and African American cultures. In other words, he moved away from cultural nationalism of various forms and paid close attention to processes of creolization, métissage, mestizaje, and hybridity.56

The influence of poststructuralist thought has also led to the emergence of a new intellectual project with respect to Africa. Drawing on the term “Afropolitan,” coined by Taiye Selasi, a writer of African origin, a new philosophical discourse has surfaced labeled as Afropolitanism. Chielozona Eze described Afropolitanism as the process of “enunciation of the ideas of contamination, hybridity, hyperculturality and other postmodernist terms that disrupt essentialist and oppositional notions of African culture and identity.”57 In a useful extrapolation of the idea, Cameroonian postcolonial critic Achille Mbembe suggested that “Afropolitanism is a name for undertaking a critical reflection on the many ways in which, in fact, there is no world without Africa and there is no Africa that is not part of it.”58 Thus, for Mbembe it becomes the philosophical inflection of the term Afropolitanism. Mbembe sees such positioning of Africa as a critique of the Hegelian paradigm of history, wherein Africa did not belong to the world. However, Afropolitanism also posits itself as a critique of Pan-Africanism. Mbembe suggested that Pan-Africanism is essentially a racial ideology while Afropolitanism is not, because Afropolitanism acknowledges that to say Africa does not necessarily mean to say “black.” This vision of Africa’s past is more inclusive, in the sense that it encompasses the multiple historical entanglements that Africa represents. In many ways, we experience the ground for the philosophical positioning of Afropolitanism in the existing historical scholarship on Africa’s global past.

But, at the same time, the plurality of Africa’s past and the intellectual formations emerging from it remain unrecognized due to an essentialist reading of African historiography. Exercises in essentialist reading by Africanist historians frequently obfuscate the multiple historiographical visions that Africa’s past demands. In his presidential address to the American Historical Association, prominent Africanist scholar Joseph C. Miller discussed the subject position of historians in relation to various fields of historical inquiry, and Africanist inflections in particular. Commenting on the way Africanist historical scholarship has developed over time, Miller observed that

All history is thus ethnic, part of the creation of group identities by authors who claim affinity with the subjects about whom, and for whom, they write. The prominence of the past in the rhetorics of nationalism, racism, “culture wars,” and chauvinisms of every sort amply confirms the extent to which history is inherently about “us.”59

Miller’s critique was based on the development of African history over the previous six decades. But his critique appears to be problematic once we explore the intersections between various bodies of historiography associated with Africa and the African diaspora. The globality of Africa’s past becomes more evident through the various historiographical entanglements that the continent shares with other world regions. These entanglements also hint at the different vantage points from which the continent of Africa can be viewed. The key to moving out of an essentialist reading of Africa’s past exists very much in the connected histories of the continent. Moreover, recognition of such entanglements can benefit the discipline of history in general as it expands the scope and scale of not only African historiography but also global and transnational histories.

Is There an African Philosophy of History?

Within national and international organizations of professional philosophers, the idea of African philosophy was nonexistent until the 1980s. However, African philosophy has become an emerging field of ideas and idea-spaces, intellectual endeavors, and discursive networks of critical thinking and aesthetic expressions produced by African indigenous groups and people of African descent. The ontological foundation of African philosophy is the “meaningful orderings on individual and shared living and on natural and social worlds,” wherein meaning is conferred through “recurrent, emergent, and radically disruptive challenges to existence so as to survive, endure, and flourish across successive generations.”60 Anthropological research on philosophical articulations and expressions of African indigenous social groups has made enormous contributions to the development of this field. The inclusion of African intellectual formations in historical scholarship has created a space for discussions on everyday conditions of being and belonging in African societies. On the other hand, the enormous influence of poststructuralist critical thinking has created an “archive fever” among historians across different fields since the 1980s, including Africanist historical scholarship. In the African context, the appropriation of poststructuralist thought into the reading of 19th-century colonial archives led to a renewal of the European philosophy of history, particularly due to the continuous insertion of African historical experiences. Engagements with African oral traditions as well as oral interviews of indigenous social groups taken by colonialists and anthropologists of different generations became the center of this emerging trend in historical scholarship.

However, a discussion on African oral history cannot escape its earliest proponents. The practice of engaging with African oral sources in African historical scholarship began much earlier in the nationalist moment of African historiography. However, such suggestive gestures toward the inclusion of African experiences into historical research by nationalist historians are often misread due to the inappropriate homogenization of the nationalist historiography. A discussion of Jacob Ade Ajayi’s contribution to Africanist historical scholarship creates room to explore the variations in nationalist historical imagination. A Nigerian historian, Ajayi was a key African intellectual to have made a well-defined distinction between imperial and African history with a particular sensitivity toward documentation of oral sources. Writing about the origins of the Ibadan School, the first institutional space in Africa from which an Africanist historiography emerged, Ajayi argued that the distinction between the imperial and the African history was “not only about agency, but also about a perspective of understanding.”61

In the late 1950s, both Ajayi and Kenneth Dike destabilized the idea that 19th- and 20th-century African history is essentially a product of European interactions with Africa. Ajayi argued that archival documentation of African oral sources must be recorded in a standard academic form to meet that end. For Ajayi, there was an inherent connection between writing African history and the discourse on nationalism, as one depended on the development of the other. Elsewhere, Ajayi demanded that decolonization “must be recognized as a specific factor shaping concepts of the nation both in the scholarly and the societal spheres.”62 Ajayi, therefore, chose to study colonialism in Africa by juxtaposing it with the continuities of precolonial African social structures. As a result, he dubbed colonial rule in Africa as an episode in African history. Ajayi was the first Africanist scholar to have explained the historical differences of modernity in Africa with that of Europe. Above all, he was able to imagine Africa’s past outside of the models of universal histories.

In the 1960s, as Africanist historiography became more invested in African indigenous traditions, the realm of orality and memory began to take center stage. In 1965, Jan Vansina’s Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology ushered in a new turn in African historiography. Trained as an anthropologist, Vansina conducted intensive fieldwork in Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. While approaching the historical content preserved in oral evidence, Vansina set three pivotal tasks for himself: developing the technique of defining and categorizing oral evidence as historical source, explaining the relationship between history and social anthropology, and providing the necessary theoretical justification for both the collection and the use of oral evidence in writing historical narratives.63 Vansina saw his work as a modest introduction to the possibility of searching for the historical in the oral evidence. With the passage of time, the field of oral history became increasingly popular among Africanist historians. Gradually historians began to revisit the colonial ethnographies from fresh perspectives.

In the 1970s, historians in South Africa undertook a massive project of translating the James Stuart Archive. The James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighboring Peoples was originally a collection of interviews by James Stuart, a settler in Natal. Stuart conducted the interviews between 1890 and the 1920s with elderly members of the IsiZulu-speaking people. Colin De B. Webb and John Wright, the editors of the translated volumes, presented Stuart’s notes in a lucid text. The first four volumes of this invaluable collection were published between 1976 and 1986.64 Its publication transformed the intellectual terrain upon which early scholarship on precolonial and colonial Southern African societies were founded. Paul la Hausse observed that the James Stuart Archive provided the ground to challenge the previous explanations of the trajectory of capitalist development in Southern Africa. As has been observed, since the late 1970s the focus of historians gradually shifted toward class formation, political consciousness, and culture.65

In 1980, a collective of American scholars brought together traditional narratives from East and Central Africa in order to evaluate how African pasts speak through the oral traditions. In an edited volume titled as The African Past Speaks: Essays on Oral Tradition and History, this collective emphasized that it is important to reassert the historical value of African oral traditions beyond the king lists, genealogies, and chronologies and probe into the everyday conditions by pushing the narratives back in time. They further suggested that historians could look back into the past through the mythical structures and timeless existential statements by paying attention to temporally specific political contexts. In other words, they argued that structure and history coexist. It was a moment of structuralist inflections in African historiography. The editor of the volume, Joseph C. Miller, made a definite advance by drawing a distinction between tradition and reminiscence. Miller proposed that narratives could be divided into “episodes” and “clichés” as such a distinction enables one to locate the historical core and the mythical accretion.66 In other words, Miller and his colleagues argued that different narrators can invent episodes in time but that the clichés might carry more historical value.

Among more recent scholarship in African oral history, Luise White, Stephen F. Miescher, and David William Cohen observed that “African oral history has been opening important inquiries into the very nature of African subjectivity.”67 Discussing the practice of reading of African “words,” White, Miescher, and Cohen argued that words are often fraught with struggle for historical evidence, as different schools of Africanist historiography have appropriated them in different ways. Thus, this scholarly collective showed concern for the “hermeneutics of transfiguring text into historical knowledge and meaning.”68 Driven by such concerns, White, Miescher, and Cohen further observed that

African oral history—as opposed to oral tradition research—meant adding an “African Voice” or another perspective to archival histories, it was also, by the late 1980s and early 1990s, a way to access a more true more accurate, and more authentic colonial experience than that which could be teased out of the writings of white male administrators and their officials reports.69

Thus, White, Miescher, and Cohen concluded that various and varied oral forms are found on the ground in Africa and there cannot be a single methodology to approach the historical element present in it. Therefore, this collective asked for a sensibility toward source genres and intertextuality, and at the same time recommended attending to the relationship between the sources and the scholar in order to engage with the various regimes of truths. In their conceptual framing, White, Miescher, and Cohen exhibit a similar kind of archive fever that poststructuralism ushered in to the discipline of history across fields. In other words, the field of African oral history at present is equally haunted by the deferred meaning of texts and the multiple modes of interpretation as much as the well-recorded histories elsewhere.

Therefore, rather than asking the question in an essentialist mode whether there is an African philosophy of history, it would be more appropriate to ask how African historiography compels us to think differently about the philosophy of history in general. The growth and development African historiography since the late 1950s has most certainly put serious questions to the Hegelian philosophy of history. But, at the same time, history as a discipline has also moved far away from its 19th-century foundation. The field of African history has continuously adopted diverse models of historical scholarship in alignment with the development of the discipline in Western academia. However, African historical experiences have often produced critical questions on such forms of adaptations. African historiography in that sense is a result of interactions with other fields of historical inquiry. But this interaction has constantly renewed the narratives of global and transnational histories through its Afrocentric vision. Whenever the particular trajectory of African historical development have demanded new methodological approaches, Africanist historians have responded by attending to the specific context. Essentially, the historical difference that Africa shares has remained at the center of such methodological innovations.

Further Reading

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Cooper, Frederick. “Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African History.” American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994): 1516–1545.Find this resource:

Falola, Toyin, ed. African Historiography: Essays in Honor of Jacob Ade Ajayi. London: Longman, 1993.Find this resource:

Falola, Toyin, and Christian Jennings. Africanizing Knowledge: African Studies Across Disciplines. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Publishers, 2002.Find this resource:

Jewsiewicki, Boghumi, and David Newbury, eds. African Historiographies: What History for Which Africa? Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1986.Find this resource:

Manning, Patrick. “African and World Historiography.” Journal of African History 54, no. 3 (2013): 319–330.Find this resource:

Mbembe, Achille. On the Postcolony. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Miller, Joseph C. “History and Africa/Africa and History.” American Historical Review 104, no. 1 (1999): 1–32.Find this resource:

Mudimbe, Vumbi Yoka. The Invention of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Neale, Caroline. Writing “Independent” History: African Historiography, 1960–1980. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Ogot, Bethwell A. “Rereading the History and Historiography of Epistemic Domination and Resistance in Africa.” African Studies Review 52, no. 1 (2009): 1–22.Find this resource:

Posel, Deborah. “Rethinking the ‘Race–Class Debate’ in South African Historiography.” Social Dynamics 9, no. 1 (1983): 50–66.Find this resource:

Ranger, Terence O., ed. Emerging Themes of African History. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1968.Find this resource:

Temu, Arnold, and Bonaventure Swai. Historians and Africanist History: A Critique. Post-Colonial Historiography Examined. London: Zed Books, 1981.Find this resource:

White, Luise, Stephen F. Miescher, and David William Cohen, eds. African Words, African Voices: Critical Practices in Oral History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Wiredu, Kwasi. Philosophy and an African Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.Find this resource:


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(3.) Babacar Camara, “The Falsity of Hegel’s Theses on Africa,” Journal of Black Studies 36, no. 1 (2005): 82–96.

(4.) Felix Gilbert, “Historiography: What Ranke Meant?,” American Scholar 56, no. 3 (1987): 393.

(5.) Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), 253.

(6.) Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality, trans. Mercer Cook (New York: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1974).

(7.) Immanuel Wallerstein, Africa: The Politics of Independence (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 130.

(8.) Benedict Anderson, The Specter of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World (London: Verso, 1998), 21.

(9.) Pheng Cheah, “Grounds of Comparison,” Diacritics 29, no. 4 (1999): 10.

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(11.) Nehemia Levtzion, Ancient Ghana and Mali (London: Methuen, 1973).

(12.) Bradford G. Martin, “Kanem, Bornu, and the Fazzān: Notes on the Political History of a Trade Route,” Journal of African History 10, no. 1 (1969): 15.

(13.) Bradford G. Martin, “Arab Migrations to East Africa in Medieval Times,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 7, no. 3 (1974): 367–390.

(14.) Basil Davidson, The Growth of African Civilization (London: Longman, 1965); and Basil Davidson, East and Central Africa to the Late Nineteenth Century (London: Longman, 1967).

(15.) Basil Davidson, Africa in History (London: Hachette, 2013).

(17.) Bethwell Alan Ogot, “Preface,” International Scientific Committee, for the drafting of a General History of Africa, 1979.

(18.) Bethwell A. Ogot, “African Historiography: From Colonial Historiography to UNESCO’s General History of Africa,” in General History of Africa, vol. 5 (California: Heinemann, 1992), 897.

(20.) Roland Anthony Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Medieval Africa, 1250–1800 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

(21.) However, Julian Cobbing argued that Mfecane was a myth created by liberal historians and the apartheid state in South Africa to legitimize the unequal division of land. Cobbing suggested the myth of Zulu invasions in the region was an alibi to undermine the impact of external factors such as the slave trade through the Delagoa Bay channel and the increasing demand of labor in the Cape Colony. Julian Cobbing, “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo,” Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988): 487–519.

(22.) Carolyn Hamilton, ed., The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995); and Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee, ed., The Shaping of South African Society, 1652–1840 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014).

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(27.) Cooper, “Africa and the World Economy.”

(28.) Terrence O. Ranger, Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896–97: A Study of African Resistance (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1967).

(29.) Shula Marks, Reluctant Rebellion: The 1906–8 Disturbances in Natal (London: Clarendon Press, 1970).

(30.) David Levering Lewis, The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989).

(31.) Terrence Ranger, “Connections Between ‘Primary Resistance’ Movements and Modern Mass Nationalism in East and Central Africa,” in Conquest and Resistance to Colonialism in Africa, vol. 1, ed. Gregory Maddox (New York: Routledge, 1993), 437–453.

(32.) Jonathan Derrick, Africa’s Agitators: Militant Anti-Colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918–1939 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

(33.) A. Abu Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 29.

(34.) Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism, 29.

(35.) W.E. B. Dubois, The Negro (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

(36.) Edward A. Alpers, The Indian Ocean in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

(37.) K. N. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

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(39.) Christine Stephanie Nicholls, The Swahili Coast: Politics, Diplomacy and Trade on the East African Littoral, 1798–1856 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1972).

(40.) Alpers, East Africa and the Indian Ocean.

(41.) Alpers, East Africa and the Indian Ocean, 3–22.

(42.) Gwyn Campbell, ed., The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia (London: Frank Cass, 2004).

(43.) William Garvase Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (London: Hurst and Company, 2006).

(44.) Robert Harms, Bernard K. Freamon, and David W. Blight, ed., Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013).

(45.) Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery (London: Oxford University Press, 1974).

(46.) Marina Carter, Servants, Sirdars and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius, 1834–1874 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

(47.) Surendra Bhana, ed., Essays on Indentured Indians in Natal (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1990); Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed, The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893–1914 (New Delhi: Manohar, 2005); Surendra Bhana and J. B. Brain, Setting Down Roots: Indian Migrants in South Africa, 1860–1911 (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1990); Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, “The Place of India in South African History: Academic Scholarship, Past, Present and Future,” South African Historical Journal 57, no. 1 (2007): 12–34; and Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indian Indenture: A South African Story, 1860–1914 (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2014).

(48.) H. S. Morris, The Indians in Uganda (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).

(49.) John C. Hawley, India in Africa, Africa in India: Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).

(50.) Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972).

(51.) Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

(52.) Patrick Manning, Slavery and African Life: Occidental, Oriental, and African Slave Trades (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

(53.) Robin Law, The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).

(54.) Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990).

(55.) Joseph E. Holloway, ed., Africanism in American Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).

(56.) Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993).

(57.) Chielozona Eze, “Rethinking African Culture and Identity: The Afropolitan Model,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 26, no. 2 (2014): 234–247.

(58.) Achille Mbembe and Sarah Balakrishnan, “Pan-African Legacies, Afropolitan Futures: A Conversation with Achille Mbembe,” Transition 120, no. 1 (2016): 28–37, 30.

(59.) Miller, “History and Africa/Africa and History,” 25–26.

(60.) Lucius T. Outlaw Jr., “Africana Philosophy,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(61.) J. F. Ade Ajayi, “The Ibadan School of History,” in Tradition and Change in Africa: The Essays of J.F. Ade Ajayi, ed. Toyin Falola (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2000), 378–379.

(62.) J. F. Ade Ajayi, “National History in the Context of Decolonization,” in Tradition and Change in Africa: The Essays of J.F. Ade Ajayi, ed. Toyin Falola (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2000), 243.

(63.) Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition. A Study in Historical Methodology, trans. H. M. Wright (London: Routledge, 1965).

(64.) John Wright, “Making the James Stuart Archive,” History in Africa 23 (1996): 333–350.

(65.) Paul la Hausse, “Oral History and South African Historians,” Radical History Review no. 46–47 (1990): 346–356, 347.

(66.) Joseph C. Miller, ed., The African Past Speaks: Essays on Oral Tradition and History (Folkestone and Hamden: William Dawson/Archon Books, 1980).

(68.) White, Miescher, and Cohen, eds., African Words, African Voices, 2.

(69.) White, Miescher, and Cohen, eds., African Words, African Voices, 15.