The prehistory of Botswana concerns the sophisticated environmental knowledge, economic strategies, and social networks of the hunter-gatherer, pastoralists, and agropastoralist communities that have called Botswana home. Diverse subsistence strategies and societal structures ranging from heterarchical to hierarchical have coincided and responded flexibly to climate and environmental variables. Botswana has also played a central, but often overlooked, role in precolonial trade within the interior of Africa and across the Indian Ocean. Botswana contains well-preserved archaeological records for the Middle Stone Age, Late Stone Age, and Iron Age periods, including one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world at Tsodilo Hills. The prehistory of Botswana extends over 100,000 years and includes successful, innovative, and adaptive occupations in a wide variety of environmental zones, from the Okavango Delta to the Kalahari sandveld, and better-watered hardveld areas in the east. Stone Age peoples adapted to both arid and wet lands, and the archaeological record includes early evidence for freshwater fish exploitation. Hunting with bone points dates to 35,000 years ago, with additional evidence for poisonous, reversible arrowheads between 21,000 and 30,000 years ago. Evidence for ritualized behavior through rock paintings, rock carvings, and the intentional destruction and abandonment of stone tools at Tsodilo Hills provides further insights to the social dimensions of early peoples. In the Iron Age, hunter-gatherer communities and agropastoralists participated in a regional and later protoglobal trade across the Indian Ocean for a thousand years before European involvement; as the regional economy intensified, large polities such as Bosutswe and even kingdoms such as the Butua state emerged, controlling access to resources such as game, ivory, salt, specularite, and gold. In the modern era, the historical archaeology of sites such as Old Palapye (Phalatswe) provide additional insight to historical documents that can contradict Eurocentric understandings of Botswana’s past.
Archaeology of Botswana
Digital Sources for the History of the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa has an exceptional cultural heritage, starting with its manuscript sources, which are among the most important on the continent. It is a heritage that is rich but scattered throughout the region and not always easily accessible, prompting researchers to rely on cutting-edge technology. Since the 1970s, photography and microfilm have been key for preserving this especially valuable heritage. In the Horn of Africa, the “digital turn” has been the latest development in the close relationship between technology and research. For Ethiopian manuscript studies, the advent of digitization has meant more than simply improving old techniques. A new generation of projects is experimenting with innovative methods of research made possible by digital technology. The purpose is no longer just to provide digital copies of manuscripts but to explore the possibilities that computerization offers to study documents and other historical sources. Increasingly competitive prices and low operating costs have made the digital revolution attractive even for African institutions, which, in recent years, have sought answers to the pressing needs of preserving and enhancing their historical sources. These technological developments have significantly broadened the range of sources investigated. While important, manuscripts represent only a part of the documentary heritage of the Horn of Africa. Numerous archives and a long-overlooked print culture offer equally interesting access points for studying the region. The experience gained, though temporally circumscribed, has highlighted a number of more or less predictable problems. The projects to date, although they have often yielded only partial results, have highlighted the wealth of sources still present in the Horn of Africa and the way in which digital technology is making a valuable contribution to their preservation. Access remains perhaps the most critical issue. In the Horn of Africa, as in other African regions, digitization does not necessarily lead to Internet access.
Environmental history highlights the dynamic interaction between the physical environment and human society, respectively framed as nature and culture. Attributing agency to the environment is perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of environmental history as an approach while human society’s struggle to overcome environmental challenges is a major focus of environmental historians. Generally, students of the African past have tended to emphasize that Africa and Africans were more dependent on nature (including climate, geography, natural resources, “natural” population dynamics, disease) than societies elsewhere, especially those in the modern West. Thus, colonial and postcolonial analysts ascribe Africa’s past as the cradle of the human species, its present lack of political and economic development, and its bleak future in an age of climate change not to any African (or human) genius but to the caprices of an undomesticated environment and interventions by outside actors that disturb an environment-people balance. Historians emphasized that political subjugation, agricultural development, and conservation increased African societies’ vulnerability (to malnutrition, drought, and indigenous and exotic diseases, for example) in the face of environmental change because it enclosed and alienated such key natural resources as land, woodlands, wildlife, and water. More recently, historians of Africa have highlighted a more dynamic and interactive relationship between society and environment in Africa beyond the analytical and nested dichotomies of Nature-Culture, Indigenous-Invasive, and Victim/Subaltern-Perpetrator/Ruler. The perspective opens space for considering how societies perceived and shaped their environments physically and mentally in conjunction with other ideas and forces, including a variety of human and non-human agents, further enriching the study of environmental history.
Film and Video as Historical Sources
Films and video dramas can become historical sources in different ways. One of them is the use of the filmic images as a source for learning about the physical environment, the layout and look of cities, buildings, rural landscapes, and other cultural elements. The documentation of urban spaces in movies made in the cities that were frequently used as filming locations, such as Dakar in Senegal or Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, furnish cases for extended treatment. Secondly, feature films can comment on the past as a kind of “history writing,” by offering explanation and perspective on past events, a means of doing what written history does in a different medium. The invention of fictional characters or dialogue and filmic strategies such as condensation do not invalidate the contribution that some movies make to the understanding of historical situations. In the case of African history, films by Ousmane Sembene, Med Hondo, and Raoul Peck are illustrations of how this has been achieved. Finally, movies also bear witness to the time of their production, because as creations of the intellect they reflect the interests, concerns, preoccupations, and possibilities of their time. Studies can focus not only on a movie in itself but also on viewers’ perception of it or on critics’ responses, either at the time of its first release or in subsequent viewings. In contrasting ways, Gaston Kaboré’s pre-colonial era films and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s depiction of Yaounde working class neighborhoods offer exemplary material for this kind of study. Popular films and video dramas can in turn have an impact on their societies and be used deliberately by their makers to disseminate messages, entering in this way the chain of historical causality. In the 1990s the low budget video dramas first produced in Ghana and Nigeria in analogue recordings on VHS cassettes brought a challenge to the established African cinema that was recognized in the international film festival circuit, by combining amateurish production values and commercial success. This mass cultural phenomenon offers an opportunity to explore the economic and cultural roots of a particular style of visual storytelling, as well as the connections between popular audiences’ thematic preferences in entertainment and their everyday living conditions.
Natural and human histories intersect in Africa’s forested regions. Forests of several types cover the continent’s mountains, savannas, and river basins. Most current classifications divide forest by physical structure. Open canopy forests occur in semi-arid regions of western, eastern, and southern Africa, while closed canopy rain forests with large emergent trees cover much of the Congo River basin, the upland forests of Rift Valley escarpments, and the volcanic mountains in eastern and Central Africa. Along the tropical coasts, mangrove forests hug the river estuaries. For much of human history, Africa’s forests have anchored foraging and agrarian societies. In the process of domesticating the landscape through agriculture, Africans modified forests in ways that ranged from large-scale deforestation to forest creation on savanna environments. A boom in forest commodities preceded European colonialism and then continued when foreign governments took formal possession of African territory in the late 19th century. In this context, states ascribed value to forest trees as commodities and so managed them as profitable agricultural crops. Colonial forestry separated people from forests physically and culturally. This fundamental shift in human–forest relations still resonates in postcolonial African countries under the guise of internationally funded forest conservation.
Heritage and the Use of the Past in East Africa
This article outlines historical and ongoing uses of the past and academic heritage research into those activities within eastern Africa. The use of the past will be discussed as a deep historical practice in the area that is the EAC in the 21st century, demonstrating how political elites have constructed versions of the past to suit contemporary and future aims for hundreds of years. Then there is an outline of the colonial introduction of formalized Western heritage institutions and legislation in the early 20th century, the subsequent nationalization of these in the mid-20th century, and the late-20th- and early-21st-century internationalization of heritage. These overviews are followed by a discussion of different approaches to heritage research including early studies of museums, traditions, heritage management, archaeological introspections, and more recent “critical heritage studies,” which interrogate the use of the past as a form of cultural production.
History of Photography in Apartheid South Africa
The beginning of apartheid in 1948 saw the emergence of a generation of photographers whose work would come to define South African photography for the next four decades. Many of the most well-known South African photographers, such as Ernest Cole, Bob Gosani Peter Magubane, and Jürgen Schadeberg, worked for Drum magazine in the 1950s, where their images conveyed the experiences of Black people living in cities in the first years of apartheid. Photographers chronicled the Defiance Campaign, the violence of the police, and the growing resistance movements. At the same time, they took portraits and images of everyday life that provide insight into what it was like to live under apartheid. These kinds of images have increasingly been of interest to researchers and curators who have come to recognize the importance of vernacular photography, street photography, and the work of studio portrait photographers. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 marked a turning point in the country’s history and was followed by intensified repression and violence, the banning of opposition political parties, the jailing of political leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, and mass forced removals as neighborhoods were declared “whites only” areas. The Soweto uprisings in June 1976 and the protests that followed across South Africa signaled the beginning of a time of increased violence as the apartheid state sought to crush the resistance movements and thousands of protestors were detained without trial, interrogated, and tortured and several political activists were murdered by the security police. By the 1980s, photography had a clear place in the struggle for freedom in the country and many photographers perceived the camera as a weapon to be used against the state. In 1982, the Afrapix collective was formed by a group of photographers committed to opposing apartheid who went on to produce the most significant visual record of this time. The years immediately before the end of apartheid saw an increase in political violence and between 1990 and 1994 more than 10,000 people were killed. Photographers who documented this time drew the world’s attention to the bitter struggle in the country. They went on to photograph the jubilation when Mandela was finally released from prison and the first free and fair elections when South Africans of all races were able to vote. Some of the most brilliant photographers of the last century documented the apartheid years, and their work plays a key role in how this time period is remembered and understood.
Raphael Chijioke Njoku
The focus of this discussion is on the lingering questions about the origin, character, importance, and dating of the Igbo-Ukwu findings; what they reveal about the Igbo past; and the interpretations scholars ascribe to them. Named after its location at an Igbo village in southeastern Nigeria, Igbo-Ukwu is an important archeological complex with intricately cast bronze sculptures, chieftaincy paraphernalia, glass pendants, and a wide range of other artifacts and objects that are distinctive in their styles, mysterious in their origins and usages, and revealing in their meanings. For the Igbo, whose early history has been the subject of conjecture, the materials unearthed at the ancient settlement are confirmation of the antiquity of an advanced civilization and its participation in regional and long-distance trade, including the medieval era trans-Saharan trade. The eminent historian Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo has affirmed that the Igbo of today, like other indigenous peoples without a well-developed writing culture, are “anxious to discover their origin and reconstruct how they came to be who they are” to better understand “the reality of their group identity which they want to anchor into authenticated history.” The Igbo-Ukwu archeological discoveries dated to the 9th century ce raised high expectations in the frantic search for the rich but elusive Igbo historical heritage. Chinua Achebe expressed the imperative of unraveling Igbo precolonial history with an adage: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The Igbo-Ukwu excavation did not provide conclusive answers to many of the riddles still confronting Igbo historians; it has, however, pointed to some hidden aspects of the African past. As details continue to emerge, some of the conclusions already made about the Igbo in particular and Africa in general will be subject to further revisions.
Islamic Historical Sources: Manuscripts and Online
Amidu Olalekan Sanni
Of central interest here are the historical sources on Islam and Africa, the role and contributions of manuscripts to the narrative, and how the new cyber world has become a domain for those sources as instruments for the generation and utilization of knowledge. Africa came in contact with Islam right from the birth of the faith in the 7th century. Although Judeo-Christian, Late-Antique, and pre-Islamic materials provided the earliest historical sources on Islam and its people, the Qur’an, hadith (statements of the Prophet Muhammad), and the sira/maghāzī (biography/expeditions) were the first original sources on Islamic history on which later writings, including those from Africa, drew. The manuscript tradition in Islam is as old as the faith itself; it was one of the earliest material sources on Islamic sciences, and in the case of Africa, it provided a treasure trove of materials. At the beginning of the 21st century, the approach to scholarship and utilization of manuscripts changed radically, as digitization, creation of online databases, interconnected portals and links to universal portals, catalogs of manuscripts and published materials, among other innovations, redefined the ways knowledge of Islamic history is generated, accessed, and utilized.
Italian Colonial Architecture and City Planning in North and East Africa
Italian colonial architecture began with styles directly transplanted from Italy to Eritrea—Italy’s first African colonial territory—in the 1890s. By the late 1920s, when Italy also held Libya and Italian Somalia, it had already created a substantial set of buildings (cathedrals and banks, for instance) in any number of unmodified Italian styles ranging from the classical to the neo-medieval and neo-Renaissance. Moorish (or “Oriental”) effects were also abundant, in another transplant from Europe, where they were extremely popular. Following the rise of design innovations after World War I, though, at the end of the 1920s, Italian Modernist architects—particularly the theoretically inclined Rationalists—began to protest. In conjunction with the fascist regime’s heavy investment in farming settlements, prestigious city centers, and new housing, architecture proliferated further, increasingly incorporating Rationalist design, which was the most thoughtfully syncretistic, aiming as it did to reflect particular sites while remaining Modernist. After Ethiopia was occupied in 1936, designers’ emphasis gravitated from the particulars of design theory to the wider canvas of city planning, which was driven by new ideas of racial segregation for colonial prestige and control.
Land Resettlement and Restitution in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Program has attracted a lot of scholarly attention. While some scholars have argued that the process through which landless peasants reclaimed land was chaotic and violent, others have praised it for having been one of the most radical redistributive land reform programs in Africa. While these debates have dominated scholarship on land reform program in Zimbabwe since 2000, what has been lacking has been a historical analysis of the entanglement between land resettlement and struggles over restitution. Land restitution has been at the center of the land redistribution in Zimbabwe. In spite of the successes that the government has made in redistributing land, land restitution is the last frontier in the struggle over land. Ruins, ancestral graves, and sacred sites are important landscape features whose emotive presence and materiality enable communities to make land claims and counterclaims. Land restitution processes have been initiated in a variety of regional and country contexts. In former settler societies such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Canada, and Australia, indigenous populations have laid claims over land dispossessed under colonial rule. In post-conflict societies internally displaced people have also attempted to lay claims over land that they had to leave behind fleeing from violence. Further, where large-scale land deals have been unsuccessful or revoked through resistance land reclamation has also been instigated. Land restitution is concerned with restoring landed property to former owners. As compared to land redistribution, restitution is not concerned with ironing out of inequitable distribution of land to create a just future but with reestablishment of former rights based on principles of justice rather than equality. Restitution is therefore based on returning land to former owners who can prove claims. Land restitution is an elastic concept covering a range of processes designed to appease what are perceived as historical injustices around loss of land rights.
Sharon E. Nicholson
Environmental constraints have large impacts on populations, especially in semi-arid regions such as Africa. Climate and weather have long affected African societies, but unfortunately the traditional climatic record for the continent is relatively short. For that reason, historical information has often been used to reconstruct climate of the past. Sources of historical information include reports and diaries of explorers, settlers, and missionaries; government records; reports of scientific expeditions; and historical geographical and meteorological journals. Local oral tradition is also useful. It is reported in the form of historical chronicles compiled centuries later. References to famine and drought, economic conditions, floods, agriculture, weather events, and the season cycle are examples of useful types of information. Some of the records also include meteorological measurements. More recently chemical and biological information, generally derived from lake cores, has been applied to historical climate reconstruction. Early works provided in most cases qualitative, discontinuous information, such as drought chronologies. However, a statistical method of climate reconstruction applied to a vast collection of historical information and meteorological data allowed for the creation of a two-century, semi-quantitative “precipitation” data set. It consists of annual indices related to rainfall since 1800 for ninety regions of the African continent. This data set has served to illustrate several 19th-century periods of anomalous rainfall conditions that affected nearly the entire continent. An example is widespread aridity during several decades early in that century.
Methods in the Study of African Historical Geography, Landscapes, and Environmental Change
Increasingly, methods not traditionally used by historians are becoming available for the study of African historical geography, landscapes, and environmental change. Starting with an outline of the main determinants of vegetation formations across African landscapes, the article goes on to look at a selection of macro, micro, and modeling methods. Remote sensing allows analysis of land cover change over the past few decades but also shows enduring features useful in interpreting sources describing these landscapes at times long past. Google Earth–type software makes it possible to take a virtual walk through landscapes with key informants in the present day, exploring how the land was used and has changed. Geographical information systems make it possible to collate different spatially explicit types of information, including qualitative data, for quantitative and statistical analysis. At the other end of the scale, pollen, diatoms, foraminifera, and other micro-particles (spicules, phytoliths, cuticles, micro-charcoal) from lake or oceanic sediment cores, and the chemical and isotopic composition of organic remains, all convey information about the environmental context of a site and its surroundings. Carbon isotope or thermoluminescence dating techniques can pinpoint the changes they indicate across potentially very long time spans. Genetic, protein, and other molecular materials may allow precise lineages and migrations to be traced back across very long periods and distances. Finally, modeling makes it possible to use sparse historical and more robust recent data to predict possible pasts in exploratory but evidence-based ways. The disequilibrium debate in drylands illustrates how environmental narratives, strategically used, silence place-based knowledge in ways that science, seeing itself as apolitical, is not well placed to detect.
Newspapers as Sources for African History
Newspapers have become increasingly important as a source for African history, and the range of historical questions newspapers have been employed to address has expanded dramatically. Newspapers are not only sources for political history, they also have much to teach us about the social, cultural, and intellectual history of Africa. They were spaces of literary and textual experimentation. They also played an important role in the creation of new identities. It is essential, however, that we approach newspapers critically as sources and think carefully about their limitations, as well as the opportunities they present to the historian.
Primary Historical Sources in Archaeology: Methods
While there are a handful of defined methods for working with primary historical sources in archaeology, few archaeologists take these as their main points of departure or rely upon them too rigidly. This is to do both with the highly variable nature of the historical and archaeological material available for certain African contexts, and also with how archaeologists conceive of the relationship between these two bodies of evidence: as antagonistic, supplementary, entangled and subjective, mutually creative, and so on. Some methodologies focus on the potentials for consonance and dissonance between written and material sources. Others utilize oral traditions to provide insights into chronology, memory, historical and political dynamics, and the material aspects of these. Still other approaches focus on how historical and archaeological sources offer complementary perspectives on the local and the global, events and processes, and other shifts in scale. While these methods are diverse and contingent, they are united insofar as archaeologists take their cues from objects and from preoccupations with time and space. Archaeologists see their work concerning primary historical sources not as filling in gaps in written records but as addressing the partialities of the records themselves by engaging with an array of complex questions about meaning, authority, and materiality
Reading the Archives as Sources
David M. Gordon
Archives used in Africanist historical research include those of the colonial state, postcolonial national archives, missionary archives, personal papers, political party archives, and the archives of corporations and international agencies involved in African affairs. Africanists historians generally accept that these archives are not transparent renditions of the past; they represent and even reproduce power relations related to colonialism and its legacies. Nonetheless, careful readings have enabled Africanist historians to understand the structural order and logic these archives (the archival grain), and thus demonstrate colonial (or other) power relations implicated in the collections. Reading archives against the grain can also reveal alternative voices and agents, however. Even as discussions of archival methodologies have been limited, archives have remained crucial sources for key trends in Africanist historical writing, including the representation of colonial hegemonies as well as African voice and agency. To advance such readings, Africanist historians develop post-positivist readings of archives that appreciate silences, dissonances, and conflicts within archives and documentation. Through a process of archival fieldwork, including a careful combing of archives, reading of files, and transcribing of select documents, historians have become adept at appreciating the grain of archives and reading the archive against this grain. The digitization of archives and digital research methods, including electronic search engines, full-text searches, online archives, and digital photography, challenge aspects of traditional archival fieldwork, holding benefits and potential setbacks for the critical appreciation of archival documentation. These challenges have sharpened with the changing role of physical documentation along with an increase in smaller archives that enable serendipitous and hodgepodge archival investigations.
The Politics of Archives in Uganda
Derek R. Peterson
Since the beginning of the 21st century, archivists in Uganda have been pursuing a number of projects to make previously inaccessible archival collections available for research. All of this work of archival rehabilitation makes it hard to see the longer history of control and curatorship in the management of Uganda’s public record. Uganda’s archives have, over the course of decades, been rearranged and pruned in response to changing political and intellectual demands. In the 1950s and 1960s British and Ugandan officials sought to shield the paper record from examination. This regime of access control deprived campaigners of inspiration and evidence. During the 1970s, with the ascendancy of Idi Amin’s government, archives were rendered into a national patrimony. Civil servants hastened to ensure that the record of their accomplishments was stored in safe custody. Since the late 1980s the government of Yoweri Museveni has disinvested the state from the legacies of the past. For the Museveni government the slow decay of the public record has allowed the foreclosing of divisive debates about history. Uganda’s political history has been episodic and interrupted, and every new regime has had to struggle anew to author a narrative about national self-becoming. That is why Uganda’s governments have taken such dramatically different positions on the management of historical knowledge. Opening or withholding archival materials is a way of editing the public record. It makes some kinds of information state secrets and renders other aspects of the past into a legacy, a source of inspiration and orientation.
The Tangier American Legation Museum
The Tangier American Legation Museum reflects the evolution of Moroccan–American relations over two centuries. Morocco, the first country to recognize the independence of the United States (1777), became the site of the first overseas American diplomatic mission in 1821 when the sultan gave the US government title to the museum’s current home—8 rue d’Amérique (zankat America)—in the old city of Tangier. The building went on to house the US consulate (1821–1905), legation (1905–1956), a State Department Foreign Service language school (1961–1970), and a Peace Corps training center (1970–1973), before becoming a museum dedicated to displaying art and artifacts about Morocco and Moroccan–American relations (1976). Despite the official story of the origin of the forty-one-room museum, its holdings and activities since the late 20th century derive more from unofficial American relationships with Morocco than from US government policy. The private actions of individual Americans and Moroccans, with some State Department support, led the museum to become in the late 20th century a research and cultural center serving academics and the broad public, including the people in its neighborhood (Beni Ider). In 1981 the US Department of the Interior put the Legation on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1982 it became the only site outside the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark due to its past diplomatic and military significance, as well as to the building’s blend of Moroccan and Spanish architectural styles.
West African Manuscripts in Arabic and African Languages and Digital Preservation
West African manuscripts are numerous and varied in forms and contents. There are thousands of them across West Africa. A significant portion of them are documents written in Arabic and Ajami (African languages written in Arabic script). They deal with both religious and nonreligious subjects. The development of these manuscript traditions dates back to the early days of Islam in West Africa, in the 11th century. In addition to these Arabic and Ajami manuscripts, there have been others written in indigenous scripts. These include those in the Vai script invented in Liberia; Tifinagh, the traditional writing system of the Amazigh (Berber) people; and the N’KO script invented in Guinea for Mande languages. While the writings in indigenous scripts are rare less numerous and widespread, they nonetheless constitute an important component of West Africa’s written heritage. Though the efforts devoted to the preservation of West African manuscripts are limited compared to other world regions, interest in preserving them has increased. Some of the initial preservation efforts of West African manuscripts are the collections of colonial officers. Academics later supplemented these collections. These efforts resulted in important print and digital repositories of West African manuscripts in Africa, Europe, and America. Until recently, most of the cataloguing and digital preservation efforts of West African manuscripts have focused on those written in Arabic. However, there has been an increasing interest in West African manuscripts written in Ajami and indigenous scripts. Important West African manuscripts in Arabic, Ajami, and indigenous scripts have now been digitized and preserved, though the bulk remain uncatalogued and unknown beyond the communities of their owners.