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Animals in African History  

Sandra Swart

Animal history in Africa—the multi-species story of the continent’s past—as a separate subdisciplinary “turn” is both recent and tentative, but as an integrated theme within the broader historiography it is both pioneering and enduring. Historians of Africa have long engaged with animals as vectors of change in human history and, of course, at the same time, understood that humans were a key agent of change in animal histories too, especially in the long-lived and extensive writing on epizootics, livestock farming, pastoralism, hunting, and conservation. African animal histories should resist the imposition of intellectual paradigms from the Global North.


Digital Sources in Europe for African History  

Marion Wallace

There are copious resources for the study of African history on the internet. They include manuscripts and documentary archives, maps, museum collections, newspapers, printed books, picture collections, and sound and moving images. The websites of European institutions provide a good proportion of this content, reflecting the long, entangled, and troubled histories that connect Europe and Africa, as well as new partnerships with African institutions. This plethora of digital resources enables both specialized researchers and the public to access information about Africa more quickly and easily, and on a larger scale than ever before. Digitization comes with a strong democratic impulse, and the new technology has been instrumental in making libraries, archives, museums, and art galleries much more open. But all is not smooth sailing, and there are two particular aspects of which researchers should be aware. The first is that there are still huge collections, or parts of collections, that have not been digitized, and that resources have been—on the whole—most focused on items with visual appeal. The twin brakes of cost and copyright restrain the process, and researchers need to understand how what they can get online relates to what still exists only in hard copy. The second consideration is that digitized resources can be difficult to find. Information about the riches of the web in this area is very fragmented, and exclusive use of one search engine, however dominant, is clearly not enough. As a counter to this fragmentation, a listing of the major websites for African history in Europe is given in a handy guide for researchers, which covers these resources by format and by region of Africa. The listing also provides websites in two particular areas of interest to historians and to the public: the transatlantic slave trade, and the liberation struggles in southern Africa.


Ethnographic Analogy in Archaeology: Methodological Insights from Southern Africa  

Mark McGranaghan

Analogical arguments are central to and pervasive within archaeological discourse. Within these arguments, ethnographic analogies are often seen as being particularly problematic exercises in essentialism, which unthinkingly cast reified ethnographic schema back in time and thus perpetuate ideas about primitive indigenes, awaiting colonial contact to emerge from ahistorical primordial obscurity. The shadow of 19th-century social evolutionism, in which forager communities (not participating in agriculture and leading nomadic lifestyles) were represented as particularly primitive, has cast a pall of suspicion over ethnographic analogical models—especially as forager communities continue to feature prominently in such models to this day. Archaeologists use ethnographic analogies in a variety of ways; these analogies are heuristic constructs tailored to research questions and to the stubbornness of particular suites of archaeological data. Such uses include inducing imaginative and revelatory modes of thinking about past societies, outside of the archaeologist’s usual experiences, as well as a suite of formal and relational analogies that seek to combine ethnographic data with data drawn from the physical sciences to help constrain archaeological interpretation. Direct historical approaches utilize a collection of ethnographic and historical sources to construct analogies based on a relation of similarity between the communities of people involved; these frameworks, perhaps, carry the greatest danger of unwittingly casting modern populations as “contemporary primitives.” By emphasizing that source-side ethnographic datasets are heuristic tools rather than reflections of some sociocultural reality, such fears may (at least in part) be ameliorated. Saliently, archaeological data must operate as epistemologically equivalent to ethnographic data in order to resist the tendency to cast back a rich, textured ethnographic case study wholesale into the murky waters of prehistory. Only when this status is afforded archaeological data can is it possible to reveal the ways in which past conditions diverged from ethnographic ones.


GIS Applications in Southern African Archaeology  

Seke Katsamudanga

The development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a computer-based technology to handle spatial information has been one of the most fundamental research tools to have benefited archaeology in the late 20th and early 21st century. Since its adoption in archaeology in the 1990s, there has been a gradual increase in the use of GIS in the discipline across the world, including in southern Africa. GIS technology has enabled a variety of spatial questions to be investigated thanks to its capability to handle multiple forms of data and their inherent spatial relationships. In southern Africa, archaeologists have used these systems (a) to present and visualize prehistoric settlement locations and patterns across space and time; (b) as a surveying tool to locate past settlements (archaeological sites) through manipulation of remote sensing data; (c) to develop three-dimensional (3D) models, especially of cave formations, in order to understand site formation processes and hominid behavior in these locations; (d) to predict the locations of archaeological sites; (e) to investigate the extent to which past societies understood and made use of landscape visibility, terrain variability, and other landscape characteristics in order to maximize benefits against perceived costs in resource exploitation; and (f) to develop information systems that can be used in heritage management and academic inquiries involving space use. In some research contexts, the GIS technology has made it possible to integrate old and new spatial data, allowing for revisiting old questions on prehistoric land use and on the occurrence of pastoralism, farming, and metallurgy in southern Africa. The intensity and extent of GIS use in the southern African region varies across countries, institutions, and individuals, although a number of trends can be discerned from the literature. The analysis of published and unpublished sources containing evidence of GIS exploitation in southern Africa shows that these systems have been used first and foremost as map-making tools to provide visual perspective on the locations and distributions of archaeological sites or material under discussion. This is, first, because maps are communicative devices, although they can also serve as tools to think with. Second, there is more use of GIS to answer localized intra and inter-site spatial questions than there is work that investigates issues that cut across present national boundaries. Third, there are more researchers who have made use of GIS in archaeology in South Africa and Zimbabwe than in the other countries of the region. GIS technology is also being exploited by national heritage management institutions and a few private organizations, for the production of spatially enabled heritage databases. Another observation that can be made is that some of the archaeologists who are using GIS in their research in southern Africa were or are themselves based outside the region, reflecting the continuation of the global north-south pattern in the penetration of GIS technology in southern Africa. Undergraduate work on GIS helps reflect on the training that is taking place in education institutions. The popularity of the topic at undergraduate levels may have implications for its uptake at higher levels. Unfortunately, GIS work conducted by undergraduate students is not easily accessible through online means due to the repository policies of many universities. However, the literature consulted suggests that overall there is a growing interest in the use of GIS in the region.


Joshua Nkomo  

Eliakim Sibanda

Joshua Nkomo was a dominant force in the anticolonial independence movement in colonial Rhodesia between 1949 and 1980, and then a major political figure in independent Zimbabwe from 1980 until his death on July 1, 1999. Four historical themes emerge, however, themes that form the context of Nkomo’s life and work and that have intersected in the larger story of Zimbabwe’s independence. First is the politics of the state, which revolves around the question of state power and who controls it, and which has ethnicity as its subtext. Second is the struggle over property ownership, pitting the haves against the have-nots, which has informed class formation. Third is the politics of land, which has likewise informed the nature of class formation and political cleavages. Fourth is the theme of ethnicity and race, especially pitting one ethnicity or race against another. Nkomo rose from a railway welfare officer to lead a militant union, and then three political parties between 1957 and 1987. He made significant contributions to the downfall of a white supremacist colonial regime in Zimbabwe. After independence, the anticolonial revolutionary became a statesman who championed both reconciliation and social justice until his death in 1999. After independence, Nkomo, would become a Member of Parliament, Minister of Home Affairs, and rose eventually to be Vice-President of Zimbabwe.


South African Historical Writing to the End of the Apartheid Era  

Chris Saunders

While many of those who have written about South Africa have included reference to past events, it was only from the early 19th century that attempts were made to present a coherent picture of South Africa’s past. From the early 20th century professional historians, for long all white males, began to present their interpretations of the way in which the country known from 1910 as the Union of South Africa had evolved over time. In the Afrikaans-speaking universities there emerged an often nationalist historiography, while the major English-speaking historians presented a more inclusive but still often Eurocentric and mainly political view of the South African past. From the 1960s a conscious attempt was made to decolonize South African historiography by looking at the history of all the country’s peoples, but the historical profession remained almost exclusively white and the few black works of history were largely ignored. Many of those who were most influential in taking South African historical writing in new directions were South Africans who had left the country and settled abroad. In the 1970s and 1980s, a golden age of South African historical writing, shaped in part by the influence of neo-Marxist approaches from the United Kingdom and the United States, many new topics were explored, including the relationship between race and class and between capitalist development and apartheid. By emphasizing resistance to racial segregation in the past, South African historical writing assisted the process leading to the end of apartheid. By the time that happened, South African historical writing had become very nuanced and varied, but only to some extent integrated into the historiography of other parts of the African continent.


Southern Africa before Colonial Times  

John Wright

Perspectives on southern Africa’s past in the eras before the establishment of European colonial rule have been heavily shaped by political conflicts rooted in South Africa’s history as a society of colonial settlement. The archive of available evidence—archaeological finds, recorded oral materials, and colonial documents—together with the concepts used to give them meaning are themselves products of heavily contested historical processes. Archaeological evidence indicates that Homo sapiens, descended from earlier forms of hominin, was present in southern Africa at least 200,000 years ago, but many members of the South African public reject evolutionary notions of the past. From about 200 bce onward, groups of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and farmers were in constant contact in southern Africa. A widespread European settlerist view, based on deep-seated stereotypes of warring races and “tribes,” is that they were permanently in conflict: historical evidence shows that in fact they interacted and intermingled in a range of different ways. Interactions became yet more complex from the mid-17th century as settlers from Europe gradually encroached from the southwest Cape Colony into most of southern Africa. In some areas, settler graziers sought to wipe out groups of hunter-gatherers, and to break up pastoralist groups and enserf their members; in other areas, particularly in the shifting colonial frontier zone, mixed groups, including settlers, made a living from raiding and trading. In the 19th century, groups of settler farmers sought to subjugate African farmers, and seize their land and labor. Contrary to a common view, they had only limited success until, in the later 19th century, Britain, the major colonial power in the region, threw its weight decisively behind British settler expansion. Other Europeans—traders and missionaries in particular—worked with Africans to make profits and save souls. Some Africans sought to resist loss of land and sovereignty; others sought to take advantage of the colonial presence to seek new political allies, loosen ties to chiefs, find wage work, produce for the market, join churches, seek a book education, and incorporate Christian ideas into their politics. Even before they came under colonial domination, many chiefs sought to move from a long-established politics based on alliance making to a politics based on what Europeans called “tribal” rule.


Stone Tools: Their Relevance for Historians and the Study of Historical Processes  

Justin Pargeter

From at least 3.4 million years ago to historic periods, humans and their ancestors used stone as the raw material for tool production. Archeologists find stone tools on all the planet’s habitable landmasses, even in its cold and ecologically sparse Arctic regions. Their ubiquity and durability inform archeologists about important dimensions of human behavioral variability. Stone tools’ durability also gives them the ability to contribute to the study of long-term historical processes and the deeper regularities and continuities underlying processes of change. Over the last two millennia as ceramics, livestock, European goods, and eventually Europeans themselves arrived in southern Africa, stone tools remained. As social, environmental, economic, and organizational upheavals buffeted African hunter-gatherers, they used stone tools to persist in often marginal landscapes. Indigenous Africans’ persistence in the environment of their evolutionary origins is due in large part to these “small things forgotten.” Stone tools and their broader contexts of use provide one important piece of information to address some of archaeology and history’s “big issues,” such as resilience in small-scale societies, questions of human mobility and migrations, and the interactions of humans with their environments. Yet, stone tools differ in important ways from the technologies historians are likely to be familiar with, such as ceramics and metallurgy, in being reductive. While ceramics are made by adding and manipulating clay-like substances, stone tools are made by removing material through the actions of grinding, pecking, or fracture. Metals sit somewhere in between ceramics and stone: they can be made through the reduction of ores, but they can also be made through additive processes when one includes recycling of old metals. Stone-tool technologies can also be more easily and independently reinvented than these other technologies. These distinctions, along with the details of stone tool production and use, hold significance for historians wishing to investigate the role of technology in social organization, economy, consumption, contact, and cultural change.