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date: 23 May 2024

African Intellectual History and Historiographyfree

African Intellectual History and Historiographyfree

  • Jonathon L. EarleJonathon L. EarleDepartment of History, Centre College


Intellectual historians of Africa are principally concerned with how Africans have understood and contested the contexts that they inhabited in the past, and how ideas and vernacular discourses change over time. As a particular approach in historical methodology it is closely associated with cultural history, and its evolution followed the emergence of political history writing during the 1960s and social history during the 1980s. The first innovative works in African intellectual history were concerned with pan-Africanism and Négritude. These studies were followed by histories of religious ideas and social dissent. Historians have since offered varying descriptions of Africa’s “intellectuals.” For some, Africa’s colonial intellectuals were mostly missionary-educated literati, while others emphasize Africa’s rural intellectual histories and the importance of studying “homespun,” or vernacular historiographies. African epistemologies and knowledge production have also remained a central concern in the study of African intellectual history. To illuminate Africa’s intellectual registers, historians interrogate different topics, regions, and temporalities. Historians of precolonial Africa use historical linguistics to understand the intersection of ideas about public healing and social organization. Scholars of the colonial period challenge many of the earlier assumptions held by colonial researchers and policy makers, who had cast African communities as primordial, conquered peoples. Intellectual historians, by contrast, explore the constantly changing arenas of ideational disputation and political contestation within African societies. Intellectual historians of gender have shown how ideas about production, masculinity, and femininity have informed competing nodes of authority. By the early 21st century, global intellectual historians began demonstrating how Africans reworked European political ideas into local vernacular debates about the past, and how Africans have shaped the making of the modern world. To write Africa’s intellectuals histories, scholars draw from a range of sources, which are often maintained in institutional archives, public libraries, and private homes. These sources—textual, oral, and material—include letters, diaries, annotated libraries, vernacular newspapers, grammars, novels, oral histories, linguistic etymologies, sculptures, clothing, paintings, photography, film, and music.


  • Historiography and Methods
  • Intellectual History

The Genealogies of African Intellectual History

African Historiography: A Review

The discipline of academic African intellectual history traces its beginnings to the late 1950s and early 1960s, during a period when states throughout the continent were securing their independence. National political histories were created and adapted to animate anticolonial nationalisms and postcolonial state building. Activists such as Kwame Nkrumah sought to bury the colonial past and reimagine new possibilities by repurposing the precolonial political and material culture of the Asantehene.1 It is for this reason that the discipline of African history emerged as an internationally recognizable field by the early 1960s, spawning the proliferation of African history departments throughout Africa and beyond.2 The central concern of 1960s political history writing was autochthonous state building prior to colonization—including the history of local economies—and the “big men” of Africa. When the Journal of African History was launched in 1960, for instance, its articles included G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville’s work on eastern Africa’s precolonial oceanic economies and Margaret Priestley’s and Ivor Wilk’s coauthored piece on 18th-century kingship in central Ghana.3 African novelists, many of whom wrote for the African Writers Series, filmographers, and poets during this same period—including Chinua Achebe, Okot p'Bitek, Keorapetse Kgositsile (Bra William), Rajat Neogy, Flora Nwapa, Tayeb Salih, Wole Soyinka, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o—worked to reimagine the possibilities of a postcolonial world.4

By the 1970s, though, the optimisms of the late 1950s had mostly waned. Kwame Nkrumah was removed from power during Ghana’s 1966 coup, the same year that Uganda’s president-king, Kabaka Edward Muteesa II, was forced into exile by the republican reformer Milton Obote. Earlier, in 1961, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in the Congo, and Africa’s Lusophone states and southern Africans were still beset by liberation struggles. By the early 1970s, in turn, historians of Africa had begun to question the legitimacy of national history writing, especially in Tanzania, where “nationalist historians” and their critics engaged in a well-publicized debate in African Affairs.5

A “crisis” in state building across the continent raised a particular set of questions and challenges that economic historians throughout the 1970s sought to address. Following the Guyanese scholar and activist Walter Rodney, writers drew from the resources of Marxist economic theory to critique the legacies of the colonial state.6 But Africanist scholarship of the 1970s struggled to move beyond the narrowing nomenclatures of class formation. Indicative of this approach was Mahmood Mamdani’s history of class formation in eastern Africa, within which he asserted sweepingly, “[c]lass organization is political organization, class consciousness is political consciousness, and class conflict is political conflict.”7 More controversially, scholars such as Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman used the methodologies of cliometrics to maintain that institutional slavery had facilitated the economic lift of enslaved Americans,8 an argument that only reinforced a mounting suspicion among Africanists toward the subfield of economic history.9

Between the mid-1980s and 1990s, following the development of subaltern studies in Bengal, which emphasized “history from below,”10 historians of Africa began to explore the local—or social—histories of everyday life across Africa, and often in ways that listened to voices that had been quieted in the earlier political histories of the 1960s and economic analyses of the 1970s. As Adu Boahen’s 1987 title reveals, historians now sought to understand African Perspectives concerning colonialism.11 With publishers such as James Currey, the African Studies Series with Cambridge University Press, and Heinemann’s series on the Social History of Africa, authors provided powerful insights into Africa’s social histories. Luise White in 1990, for example, published her study on sex workers in colonial Nairobi, which reoriented many of the earlier, rigid assumptions that scholars had made about state and society in modern Kenya.12 Definitions of prostitution, she maintained, “must come from the labor process of prostitution, not reformers’ moralism.” And in his history on western Zimbabwe, Voices from the Rocks, Terence Ranger sought to “unriddle the messages of the cave shrines and to show that they contain statements about environment, history and politics which have influenced not only the inhabitants of the hills but also hundreds of thousands of people throughout Matabeleland and beyond.”13 In African studies, social history was an important precursor for cultural and intellectual history writing. The central aim for social historians was to understand African histories from the perspectives of Africans—not Europeans—even if the methodologies with which they illuminated African pasts prioritized materialist causation over ideational complexity.

Intellectual History

Before turning directly to the question of African intellectual history, it is worth considering the larger contexts out of which the discipline of intellectual history developed. What precisely is intellectual history? The field of intellectual history has a long and contested past. From the outset, it should be emphasized that intellectual history writing is not—nor has it ever been—the exclusive enterprise of western writers or the imposition of Eurocentric concerns upon an unwelcoming or uncritical African mass. As Christopher Bayly has convincingly argued—and long before him, Ibn Khaldun and Mahmoud ibn al hajj al-Mutawakkil Kati—regions beyond Europe and North America have long disputed the production and standardization of intellectual histories.14 And as this article explores more fully, intellectual historians of Africa have worked to recast the genealogies of African history beyond the academy.

Annabel Bret has usefully observed that intellectual historians are principally concerned with how “people made sense of their world.”15 Similarly, the editors of Global Intellectual History—borrowing from John Burrow, the first historian to hold a chair in intellectual history in the British academy (University of Sussex)—suggest that intellectual historians seek to recover “what people in the past meant by the things they said and what these things ‘meant’ to them.” To explore these concerns, intellectual historians—including intellectual historians of Africa—focus extensively on local discourses and cultural innovations, including music, materiality, heritage management, and spatial structuring, and how these types of production have changed over time. Additional historical context will help explain the changes that the discipline of intellectual history underwent over the past two centuries.

During the 19th century, political historians had focused mostly on the “notable” or “honorific” deeds and thoughts of “great men,” as seen in the works of the Scottish social theorist Thomas Carlyle.16 As Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori have shown in their edited volume on global intellectual history, following Karl Manheim, the preoccupation with “free-floating” intellectuals helps explain why the discipline of intellectual history often lagged behind larger subfields.17 At best, it lacked critical, contextual placement; at worst, it was hagiographical. In the 21st century, intellectual historians of the North Atlantic have struggled to move beyond its preoccupation with “big men.”

The foci of intellectual history underwent noticeable change throughout the 20th century. The preoccupation with understanding how political languages and cultural discourses change over time was largely the result of social ruptures brought about by two world wars. As Eric Hobsbawm has shown, the 20th century, or an “age of extremes,” raised far-reaching questions about change and continuity in the face of modern warfare and unprecedented military and civilian casualties.18 The progressive mantras of late 19th-century modernity had failed to assuage intra- and intercontinental conflicts. Medical and scientific technologies could just as easily destroy life and decimate environs as they could foster public healing. But what did such violence mean for different communities in Europe and for competing activists on the edges of colonial empires? In what ways did Asian and African combatants translate their experiences into local claims for political rights and independence? In the arena of foreign policy, the variability of experiences around the world challenged diplomats to reassess how competing political claims were propelled by local psychologies and fragmented patriotisms. Ideas about respectability, Christian civilization, and civic virtue could no longer be assumed to hold undisputed, universal meaning.

In the face of such catastrophic violence, French historians, including Lucien Febvre, who served in the French Army during the First World War, and Fernand Braudel, a prisoner of war for much of the Second, situated or contextualized historical change within shifting environments and international economies over long periods of time (longue durée). Expansive geographies and elongated chronologies helped build continuity in a world torn by trench warfare, collaborative politics, and genocide. Indeed, the recovery of a deep, romantic French past was much of what was at stake in Braudel’s L’Identité de la France, which was published posthumously. One of the principal contributions of Annales historians, a nomenclature that derived from the preeminent journal Annales d’histoire économique et sociale (currently, Annales. Histoire, sciences sociales) was a commitment to understanding the past on its own terms—histoire des mentalités—and how changes occur over extended periods of time.

For German historians during the same period, the past was no less problematic, as were the politics of the mid-20th century. Nationalist historians of the Great War produced competing theories regarding economic reparations and guilt clauses, seen most controversially in Fritz Fischer’s Griff nach der Weltmacht, which, contrary to popular memory in Germany at the time, accentuated the adverse consequences of German military aggression. The task of writing conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte) during a period shaped by the legacies of Versailles and the development of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei meant that scholars struggled to navigate a highly regulatory and increasingly violent state and its demands on German professors.19 Martin Heidegger’s support of the Nazi state was more pronounced than the literary theorist Hans-Georg Gadamer’s, both of whom were instrumental in prioritizing language and ontology in the study of intellectual history. Their respective academic endeavors sought to build upon and revise Hegel and Marx, whose projects had caste a dialectical, teleological vision for explaining causation and the drive toward ostensible social and ideological “perfection.” It was a gaze that often looked favorably toward Nazi social policies. And Heidegger’s interwar preoccupation with time and being (Sein und Zeit) was surely illustrative of a particular Weimarian moment within which German philosophers and historians thought critically about the ability to use language or discussion (logos) to ascertain particular ways of understanding the world (noein), on the one hand, with the political character of the past, on the other.20 To some extent, Heidegger’s preoccupation with being (dasein) resonated with popular arguments that were circulating throughout 1930s Germany about the necessity of racial purity and historical recovery. As Heidegger asserted: “Whatever ‘has a history’ in this way can at the same time ‘make’ history.”21

In the English-speaking world, the study of intellectual history is also customarily associated with the history of political languages or discourse. Of particular interest is the development of what has been loosely identified as the “Cambridge School,” which was influenced by the linguistic turn and the later works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, during the interwar period. His influential Philosophical Investigations was published posthumously in 1951. Cambridge’s postwar intellectual historians included Peter Laslett, John Pocock, and Quentin Skinner.22 The key feature of this approach is its emphasis on the historical production of political language or “speech acts,” and how discourses highlight shifting ideologies and social change.23

The British tradition of intellectual history writing was also influenced by R. G. Collingwood, who insisted that historians must “re-enact the past in [their] own mind.”24 For Collingwood, the past was largely unrecoverable. The task of the historian was to use available evidence to reconstruct the ideals that compelled historical subjects to make particular decisions. The historian, Collingwood argued, “must always remember that the event was an action, and that [the historian’s] main task is to think [oneself] into this action, to discern the thought of its agent.”25 That historians would focus on or prioritize, for example, the event of Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 bce is to think about the past as an outsider. What the historian must ascertain is the extent to which such movements were compelled by larger conversations or ideas about Republican law at the time.

Contrary to the historical approach of E. P. Thompson, whose scholarship focused on the English working class,26 intellectual history in the European academy has mostly preoccupied itself with “big men”—the likes of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, Niccolò Machiavelli, and John Stuart Mill. The discipline has had very little to say about the impact of African intellectual cultures on European political thought, liberalism, or global nationalism.27 As Christopher Bayly, again, once commented: “Intellectual historians of Europe and America do not venture much beyond their patch […].”28 The longer history of this silence can be traced to the early modern period, when Europeans argued that racially inferior Africans—whose societies did not possess written chronologies—did not possess political pasts of which to speak. In the early 21st century, the move to “decolonize the curriculum” has called these legacies in the academy into question.

In African studies and beyond, intellectual and cultural history are deeply interconnected.29 Indeed, the editors of Modern Intellectual History assert that “we see no point in neatly dividing intellectual from cultural history […].”30 Historically, the attempt to define and standardize bourgeois productions of culture and class in Africa and Asia was interconnected with the civilizing mission of colonial empires, as David Cannadine has shown.31 In postwar Europe, writers in the Frankfurter Schule, such as Theodor Adorno, used art and cultural production to critique the intersectionality of capital and social rupture.32 Cultural anthropologists and historians of Africa, including Matory Lorand, Chika Okeke-Agulu, and David T. Doris, have comparatively studied a wide array of cultural practices, such as Black Atlantic religious productions,33 art and decolonization,34 and the private and public management of objects and heritage.35 These studies call into question the earlier, often overlooked relationship between class and the political utility of inventing and standardizing “culture.” More broadly, the development of cultural history was shaped by the pioneering work of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, whose “thick description” of Balinese cockfighting complicated the prioritization of textual sources over other forms of social and historical evidence.36 Following Geertz, intellectual historians now define texts quite broadly. For example, Modern Intellectual History defines texts as performances that are written, printed, visual, or musical.37

African Intellectual History

The intellectual history of Africa, like its international counterparts, is concerned with understanding how communities in the past understood and debated the spaces they inhabited, and how discourses circulated and changed over time. Some of the earliest works in recovering Africa’s intellectual histories were produced by historians of pan-Africanism and Négritude. These historians assessed the translatability of European political thought among Africa’s emerging évolués. Robert July and Imanuel Geiss published their separate works within one year of each other: 1967 and 1968.38 As July noted, it was the intent of his volume to “have viewed the intrusion of the West as completely as I could through the eyes of those on whom it fell, who, so to speak, stood on the shore to meet it, who were obliged to deal with its shattering force and who inherited the fateful task of advising their people how to respond.”39 Geiss’ and July’s monographs were followed by J. Ayo Langley’s book on class formation and ideological production in colonial western Africa and his publication of primary sources on liberation ideologies, which included sixty-four excerpts from forty-seven historical actors.40

In the tradition of western African intellectual history writing, Gary Wilder, more recently, uses the public careers of Aimé Césaire and Léopold Senghor to argue that articulations of self-determination in late colonial Africa were not predicated on larger ideas about state sovereignty. In doing so, he challenges much of the existing literature on territorial nationalism. More broadly, Wilder argues that historians of colonialism have tended to problematically “move from published texts to archival documents to peek behind the scenes, where ‘real’ meanings supposedly reside.”41 To understand the underlying relations between politics, aesthetics, and epistemology, however, historians “need to move in the other direction, from practical interventions to actors’ texts.”42 For Wilder, scholars of the past must not simply think about their subjects; they must think with them, “listening carefully about what their analysis of that world might teach us about ours […].”43

By the mid-1980s, intellectual historians of Africa were increasingly preoccupied with the question of religious beliefs and translation practices. More broadly, this transition reflected a larger shift in the academy, as international relations scholars and political theorists struggled to come to terms with the theoretical implications of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Iran’s religious reformers problematized the earlier projects of Edward Tylor and James Frazer, whose evolutionary theories had informed how scholars throughout the 20th century understood the history and predicted decline of public religions.44 Following the Revolution, scholars could no longer argue that the public authority of religions would decline to the extent that societies experienced democratic, secular reform.

In 1989, Jeffrey Peires published his history of the Xhosa cattle-killing movement, during which approximately 100,000 AmaXhosa killed their cattle and destroyed most of their seasonal crops in the mid-19th century. His study showed how the prophetess Nongqawuse and her followers—during a period of European and Shakan militarization throughout southern Africa—reworked ideas about death, purification, and Christian resurrection to envision political rebirth.45 Peires’ work was innovative, and it challenged many of the materialist assumptions that had been made by economic and social historians of South Africa.46 Scholars such as Paul Landau, Adrian Hastings, and J. D. Y. Peel have similarly shown how Christian converts throughout Africa used their Bibles to generate political vocabularies and ideas with which to envision competing social identities and state formation.47 More recently, Fallou Ngom has shown how Sufi communities reworked Islamic doctrines and textual traditions to contest theological authority and political power in early colonial Senegal.48

The study of religious ideologies has often raised larger questions about colonial education, elites, chiefs, and the challenge of describing African intellectuals.49 Who precisely were, after all, Africa’s colonial intellectuals? No fewer than three broad approaches have been suggested. Scholars such as Philip Zachernuk and Toyin Falola have argued that Africa’s colonial intellectuals were mostly missionary-educated literati who used new forms of textual production to assert generational authority in an imperial context and in ways that were often deeply patriarchal. In his study of Nigeria’s colonial elites, Zachernuk describes western Africa’s intelligentsia as “those men and women born in Nigeria or of African descent who concerned themselves with the past, present, and future problems of Nigeria as an appendage first of the Atlantic economy and latterly of the British Empire.”50 Not unlike Zachernuk, Toyin Falola argues that Africa’s “modern intellectuals owe their origins to the spread of Western formal education, which began in some parts of Africa in the sixteenth century and were soon joined by the British, Danes, French, Dutch, and Germans.”51

If Zachernuk and Falola view Africa’s intellectuals as a particular development following the expansion of colonial pedagogy, it was Stephen Feierman who underscored the sophistication of eastern Africa’s “peasant intellectuals,” whom he suggested were colonial Tanganyika’s “men and women who earned their daily livelihood by farming.”52 His work shows how communities reworked much older conversations about “harming the land” (kubana shi) and “healing the land” (kuzifya shi) to contest political authority between chiefs, communities, and the state. As Feierman notes, “the peasant intellectuals of Shambaai struggled to create forms of discourse dissenting from the order of colonial society, dissenting from the hierarchies of local peasant society as it existed at the time, and from hierarchies as they had existed a hundred years earlier.”53 Such intellectuals did not require, as the Marxist theorist and activist Antonio Gramsci had suggested, “the leadership of the working class or of a Community Party to create a dissenting discourse.”54

Steven Feierman’s work opened new possibilities for rethinking what Derek Peterson and Giacomo Macola have called “homespun historiography,” a nomenclature that they use to describe the attempt to “move the discipline of African history outside the narrow confines of the written and oral archive […].”55 As Peterson and Macola convincingly argue, “African brokers—pastors, journalists, kingmakers, religious dissidents, politicians, entrepreneurs—all have been doing research, conducting interviews, reading archives, and presenting their results to critical audiences.” They continue: “Their scholarly work makes it impossible to think of African history as an inert entity awaiting the attention of professional historians. Professionals take their place in a broader field of interpretation, where Africans are already reifying, editing, and representing the past.”56 The following case illustrates the importance of homespun historiography in colonial southern Uganda.

By the late 19th century, the precolonial kingdom of Buganda constituted a dynamic arena of historical debate. Changing practices of political power from the 16th century onward had developed around extensive and complicated negotiations between clans, royal women, public healers and aspiring kings. Kings throughout the 1800s appointed military chiefs (batongole) to administer the interests and claims of Buganda’s ambitious kings, which had been largely held in check by clan heads (bataka). The hierarchical organization of the kingdom created a culture of political competition within which aspiring chiefs sought to help govern the kingdom. Zanzibari traders reached the royal courts of Buganda during the 1840s. European explorers and missionaries followed soon after in the 1870s. Buganda’s kings, military leaders, and chiefs used new forms of literacy to rework and standardize the distant past. In doing so, would-be administrators sought to simultaneously assert authority within Buganda’s vernacular landscapes, while demonstrating historical and political sophistication or “civilization” before an international audience.

The Protestant prime minister of Buganda, Apolo Kaggwa, published his history of the kings of Buganda in the early 1900s: Bassekabaka be Buganda. Kaggwa followed it with numerous historical monographs, including Mpisa za Baganda (Customs of the Baganda, 1907) and a history of his own clan, Ekitabo Ky’ekika kye Nsenene (A/The book of the Grasshopper Clan, 1904).57 Kaggwa’s histories were bolstered by the three-volume history of Hamu Mukasa, Buganda’s most influential Protestant chief, Simuda Nyuma (do not turn back; keep moving forward). In both cases, Buganda’s Protestant writers created a distant, unstable past that required Protestants to use military force to control the kingdom and the region’s erratic monarchs—a political sequence within which chiefs such as Kaggwa and Mukasa would, out of necessity, control the distribution of labor, land, and resources. It was not without reason, then, that the clan head, James Miti, produced a two-volume, 300,000-word history of Buganda in the early 20th century that showed how God had historically protected the interests of Buganda’s clans against conniving chiefs and kings.

Catholics and Muslims too—both disenfranchised in the colonial state—worked tirelessly to produce histories that challenged the historical gaze of Kaggwa and Mukasa. The Catholic press Munno, from 1911 onward, was inundated with historical commentary on the practice of power in precolonial Buganda. In the mid-1960s, at a time when the Protestant presidency of Milton Obote was increasingly authoritarian, the Catholic priest Father J. Ddiba produced his two-volume history, Eddini mu Uganda (Religion in Uganda), which reworked Protestant histories of Buganda’s religious conflicts during the 1890s. And earlier, during the 1940s, the Muslim writers Abdul Karim Nyanzi and Sheikh Ali Kulumba remembered a time when the kingdom of Buganda was calmed (Obuganda Buladde) by the teachings of Islam following a period of unprecedented geographical expansion in the early to mid-19th century. It had been under the influence of Islam—not Christianity, as Hamu Mukasa maintained—that Buganda’s military king, Kabaka Mukaabya (one who causes suffering or tears), became Kabaka Muteesa (one who comforts or consoles).58 By recasting the genealogies of calm in 19th-century Buganda, Muslim intellectuals worked to legitimize a political order that had been monopolized by Protestant bureaucrats. When eastern Africa’s first generation of academic writers began studying Buganda’s political order during the late 1950s, often with the East African Institute of Social Research, they saw the writings of Apolo Kaggwa and Hamu Mukasa as “authentic” repositories from which to make empirical claims in the field of political science.59 However, Uganda’s academic historiography was interconnected with far-reaching vernacular debates about the past, even if European and American writers were regularly unaware.

The study of African philosophies and epistemologies constitute a third area in the study of African intellectual history. It was the Kenyan priest and philosopher John Mbiti who first argued for the philosophic sophistication of Africa’s precolonial religions. He published his seminal African Religions and Philosophies in 1969, which shaped an entire generation of scholarship on the history of religious ideas and ritual in Africa. The study of the concept of time was central to Mbiti’s earlier project. According to Mbiti, African communities throughout the continent viewed time as “a two-dimensional phenomenon, with a long past, a present, and virtually no future.”60 This enabled communities to “set their minds not on future things, but chiefly in what has taken place.”

Mbiti’s preoccupation with specific ideas or concepts—such as time—opened new possibilities for writing conceptual studies.61 The Tanzanian theologian Laurenti Magesa argues that precolonial ideas about public morality and ancestral veneration have shaped how contemporary communities throughout the continent contest public politics.62 John Iliffe, by contrast, has shown how the idea of honor shaped social and political practices differently throughout the continent from the early modern period onward. As he notes: “Until the coming of world religions, honour was the chief ideological motivation of African behaviour. It remained a powerful motivation even for those who accepted world religions.”63 The Nigerian political theorist Michael Onyebuchi Eze uses the neologism Ubuntu—a term that he describes as social humanism—to orient the intellectual history of South Africa.64 And the Congolese philosopher Valeintin-Yves Mudimbe has called into question the very idea of Africa, which he argues has long been conceptualized as a “paradigm of difference.”65

Like Mudimbe, Achille Mbembe and Jane Guyer have offered powerful interventions in the field of African intellectual history. The Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe authored On the Postcolony in 2001, which remains an important primer in African intellectual history. Mbembe argues that political science and development economics “have undermined the very possibility of understanding African economic and political facts.”66 Such disciplines are “primarily concerned, not with comprehending the political in Africa or with producing knowledge in general, but with social engineering.” Mbembe’s central concern, instead, is to show “that the peculiar ‘historicity’ of African societies, their own raisons d'être and their relation to solely themselves, are rooted in a multiplicity of times, trajectories and rationalities that, although particular and sometimes local, cannot be conceptualized outside a world that is, so to speak, globalized.”67 More recently, in ways that challenge Mbiti’s earlier assumptions, the anthropologist Jane Guyer has developed a more complicated framework for understanding shifting concepts of time in western Africa. For Guyer, the development of macroeconomic and evangelical cannons of distant time—which emphasize, respectively, an alleged economic development that will occur at some point in a distant future or a messianic eschaton that is equally elusive—have resulted in the evaporation of near time. This conceptual shift has helped create an ideological space where life and the organization of society, in increasing measure, derive their meaning from the possibility of an ever distant, unknown future.68

Approaches in African Intellectual History

More broadly, no fewer than four areas or subfields of African intellectual history have emerged. First, following the scholarship of Jan Vansina, historical linguists have worked to provide new insights into precolonial Africa’s vernacular registers, especially in the areas of political authority and religious ideologies. Second, it was John Lonsdale who first challenged historians of the colonial period to conceptualize ethnic communities as arenas of disputation and dissent. This opened new possibilities for envisioning the work of political imagination. Third, developments of social and political discourse in modern Africa were interconnected with larger debates about gender and domesticity. These intersections impacted how novelists, state-builders, and dissenters talked about power and organized societies. Fourth, global intellectual historians have worked to show how Africans reworked European ideas into much older vernacular debates about authority and dissent. Far fewer works have reassessed how Africans shaped the intellectual history of the 20th century beyond the continent.

Precolonial Intellectual Histories and Religious Knowledge

During a moment when writers, performers, and activists were rethinking Africa’s distant and national pasts, it was the Belgian historical anthropologist Jan Vansina who pioneered the study of precolonial historical linguistics. Until Vansina, Africa’s past was limited to the continent’s textual records, which inadvertently meant that the continent’s past did not begin until the 19th century. The preoccupation with textual records had long privileged Middle Eastern and European accounts of the continent, from the writings of Ibn Khaldun to David Livingstone. If Africa did have a political history that warranted study—which was not a foregone conclusion until the second half of the 20th century, at least in the academy—surely its past was unobtainable without textual records, with the exception of Ethiopia, whose royal chronicles were standardized by the 14th century in Ge’ez. Vansina underscored the dilemma in his seminal work on central Africa’s precolonial history, Paths in the Rainforests:

Imagine that Caesar arrived in Gaul and landed in Britain in 1880, a mere century ago, and that your known history began then. You were not Roman, your language was not Latin, and most of your cherished customs had no historical justification. Your cultural identify was amputated from its past. Would you not feel somewhat incomplete, somewhat mutilated? Would you not wonder what your cultural heritage was before Caesar? Unimaginable? Yet that is the situation of the So in Zaire, whose records seem to begin only with Stanley in 1877; of the Tio in Congo, who trace their past back only to the arrival of de Brazza in 1880; and indeed of most of the peoples living in the vast stretches of equatorial Africa.69

Vansina worked to develop a historical methodology that would enable researchers to listen closely and critically to language (regional, etymological change), gossip, visions, creation mythologies, proverbs, and music—and with an ear to the distant past. As he first argued in 1965, “[a]ny message containing historical information tells us about events or sequences of events, describes a situation of the past or reports a trend.”70

Vansina’s study of oral tradition helped pioneer the field of precolonial intellectual history writing and numerous studies on the importance of using oral traditions to reassess Africa’s shifting vernacular, social, and cultural landscapes.71 In memory of his passing (2017), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with which Vansina was associated, launched an annual lectureship in 2018. Building upon his work, historians have produced powerful studies on precolonial Africa’s intellectual arenas. In A Green Place, a Good Place, David Lee Schoenbrun draws from archaeology and historical linguistics to interrogate the intersectionality of environmental, social, and philosophical change. He shows, for instance, how concepts of time and labor in Great Lakes Africa accompanied the transition from dugout canoes (èmmânvu) toward the manufacturing of sewn canoes (èryâto).72 More recently, Neil Kodesh uses clan histories to rethink the politics of state building in precolonial Buganda, which have frequently privileged royalist chronicles. Central and eastern Africa produced numerous powerful precolonial kingdoms—from the Tutsi monarchy in Rwanda to the Buganda kingdom in central Uganda. Kodesh clearly shows how royalist histories operated in competition with clans’ and healers’ histories about social welfare and public healing. By drawing from “the importance of historical visions that lie outside official, courtly histories,” Kodesh wishes to “open up a new territory for discourses that lie outside of dynastic narratives because they lie partly outside the world of royal politics.”73

The study of precolonial clanship and public healing constitutes an emerging field in African studies, strengthened by the contributions of scholars including Sandra Greene, Jean-Pierre Chrétien, and Murindwa-Rutanga.74 The intellectual history of public healing in Africa has also coincided with a growing interest among scholars of modernity, kinship, and “witchcraft,” which is the topic of Peter Geschiere’s important book, Sorcellerie et Politique en Afrique—La Viande Des Autres. As he notes: “Witchcraft, this terribly diffuse notion so highly current in Africa, continues to be a key element in discourses on power, despite modern processes of change (or perhaps because of them).”75 Stephen Ellis and Gerrie ter Haar have also coauthored a significant work on the spiritual or religious character of knowledge production in modern Africa. As they argue in Worlds of Power: “Our approach takes full account of the content of people’s beliefs, rather than regarding religion primarily in terms of social structures or processes, or treating it exclusively as a point of entry for a materialist analysis.”76 Religious thought and the spirit world, they maintain, are the ultimate sources of political power and intellectual production in most African societies.

Ethnicity and Moral Economy

If historians such as Jan Vansina showed how complicated Africa’s precolonial political landscapes were, it was John Lonsdale who first showed the extent to which colonial societies and ethnic communities constituted moral economies, or arenas of intellectual and political disputation.77 Postcolonial writers and theorists, including Franz Fanon and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, saw colonial Africa as a moment of intellectual violence and ideational colonization, an argument that has been accentuated more recently by international debates surrounding the “decolonization of the curriculum.”78 Lonsdale argues that Kikuyu intellectuals, by contrast, like others throughout the continent, were engaged in far-reaching debates about wealth, poverty, and civic virtue.79 However violent colonization was in Kenya, which it surely was, communities asserted powerful acts of political agency and ideological innovation. The arm of colonization could only reach so far, socially and intellectually.80

Following Lonsdale, historians have worked to show how communities throughout the continent repurposed colonial knowledge and newfound technologies into the intellectual experiences of everyday life. Derek Peterson has shown, for example, how Kikuyu youth used letter writing and bookkeeping practices in colonial Kenya to produce a political vocabulary with which to reimagine older forms of elders’ authority,81 a theme that he has developed further in his important work on the East African Revival.82 In his political and intellectual history of modern Zulu, Michael Mahoney also shows the extent to which ethnicity constituted an arena of public disputation, especially in Natal—as opposed to Zululand—where communities and activists only began to self-identify as Zulu during the late 19th century. “Zulu ethnicity,” Mahoney argues, “is not unlike similar ideas that from all over the world and throughout history have bound communities together and legitimated authority while at the same time providing space for dissent, debate, and change.”83

The degree to which ordinary homes in postcolonial Zimbabwe constituted arenas of dissenting perspectives is examined in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s provocative novel, Nervous Conditions, the title of which borrows from Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth: “[t]he condition of native is a nervous condition.”84 Dangarembga’s bildungsroman follows the early biography of Tambu, a Shona youth who wishes to earn her parents’ approval and successfully navigate Rhodesia’s social hierarchy by completing her secondary education at a missionary school. Tambu’s cousin, by contrast, Nyasha, resists her colonial education and, in a revealing moment toward the end of the novel, reacts strongly against the Rhodesian project:

Nyasha was beside herself with fury. She rampaged, shredding her history book between her teeth (‘Their history. Fucking liars. Their bloody lies.’), breaking mirrors, her clay pots, anything she could lay her hands on and jabbing the fragments viciously into her flesh, stripping the bedclothes, tearing her clothes from the wardrobe and trampling them underfoot. ‘They’ve trapped us. They’ve trapped us. But I won’t be trapped. I’m not a good girl. I won’t be trapped.’85

Family life was anything but monolithic in 1960s Zimbabwe. As the novel explains, historical actors, as they looked differently toward the future, created numerous arguments by drawing contrarily from the past, even within the life of a single, extended family.

The use of competing biographies to illustrate Africa’s late colonial moral economies has been used in northern Africa as well. Fatima-Zohra Imalayen (Assia Djebar) authored her novel, Enfants du Nouveau Monde, at the end of the Algerian War of Independence. At a time when French administrators and organizers of the Front de Libération Nationale were working to standardize their respective accounts of Algerian state and society, Djebar retold the story of anticolonial resistance in Algeria through the lenses of competing actors, including wives, radicalized students, and social mobilizers.86 There were different ways of telling the history of colonial resistance in northern Africa.

Gender and Cultural Production

Dangarembga’s and Djebar’s respective novels raise important questions about the place and production of gender in modern Africa. While intellectual history has remained mostly an androcentric exercise due to the availability of colonial records, which were mostly produced by men, novelists, film producers, and historians have worked to underscore the contributions of women in the intellectual life of modern Africa, while also showing how debates over the standardization of gender propelled cultural and historical change throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.87

In her award-winning novel, Une si Longue Lettre, Mariama Bâ retells the story of late colonial Senegal through a collection of semiautobiographical letters between Aissatou and her close friend Ramatoulaye, the latter of whom must navigate the public circulation of ideas about anticolonial liberation, social obligation, and polygyny with the loss of her husband, first to a younger wife and then to death. As Ramatoulaye recounts, “History marched on, inexorably. The debate over the right path to take shook West Africa. […] It was the privilege of our generation to be the link between two periods in our history, one of domination, the other of independence. We remained young and efficient, for we were the messengers of a new design.”88 In the remaining letters, though, Ramatoulaye questions the masculine co-optation of the state, which highlights larger discussions about progress, power, and existentialism: “Nearly twenty years of independence! When will we have the first female minister involved in the decisions concerning the development of our country? And yet the militancy of our women, their disinterested commitment, have already been demonstrated. Women have raised more than one man to power.”89 The novel concludes by offering a haunting reflection: “The word ‘happiness’ does indeed have meaning, doesn’t it? I shall go out in search of it.”90

If Mariama Bâ’s novel shows how women struggled to redirect public discourse in late colonial Senegal, both Thomas Mofolo and Ousmane Sembène powerfully explore the conceptual production of hypermasculinity. The Lesotho historian Thomas Mofolo first published his history of the state builder Shaka kaSenzangakhona in the early 1900s. The Société des Missions Évangéliques de Paris would publish the account only after it underwent several revisions. The book reworked biblical tableaux to critique the hypermasculine character of regional violence in a world torn by colonial militarization and the development of the Shakan state in mid-19th-century southern Africa, and following a period when the Lesotho state builder Moshoeshoe worked to navigate both. Shaka, the “originator-of-all-things-evil,” expressed Mofolo, “had chosen for himself from within his nation extremely beautiful girls, […] picking the fruit of their youth, and then when their breasts fell and they were considered to have lost the bloom of youth, he would pass them on to his councillors.”91 Because of Shaka’s preoccupation with violent conjugality without social obligation, he was eventually killed and his kingdom conquered. As Mofolo concluded: “Even great pools dry away!”92

The “curse” of hypermasculine power in postcolonial Africa is explored in Ousmane Sembène’s 1974 production Xala, the Wolof gloss for a “curse of impotence.”93 The film uses the biological impotence of the fictional, avaricious Senegalese politician El Hadji Abdou Kader Bèye to make larger claims about the intersectionality of political inefficacy and authority. For Sembène, legitimate political power in contemporary western Africa is not generated from within capitol buildings or state houses; it is created by the marginalized, marabouts, and the lumpenproletariat. The subaltern genealogies of power are graphically portrayed in the film’s final scene, as El Hadji is reborn through the projectile saliva of members of Dakar’s destitute community.

From the late 1990s, numerous historians have worked to use gender to rethink the analytic categories with which historians understand the making of modern Africa. John Thornton and Nwando Achebe, in their distinctive works on the Kongolese prophet Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Igbo warrant chief Ahebi Ugbabe, show how ideas about anticolonial resistance were deeply connected to arguments being made about spiritual authority, gender, and labor in the context of Kongo, toward the beginning of transatlantic slavery, and in Igboland, toward its end.94 As Achebe argues, in early colonial eastern Nigeria, the “idea of performing gender, far from being alien, permeates Igbo consciousness.”95 In late colonial eastern Africa, Susan Geiger uses the biography of Bibi Titi Mohamed—and, more broadly, the political contributions of TANU’s women activists—to question the very categories of “nationalism” and “state.” Geiger convincingly argues that the “processes of nationalist movement in Tanganyika were embodied in women’s gendered understandings and actions—understandings and actions that continued to inform nationalism in the postcolonial state whether or not they informed the nation-state agenda or women’s organizing.”96 And concerning postcolonial Africa, historians such as Richard Reid and Alicia Decker have shown how deeply gendered the development of military cultures were in eastern Africa. Reid’s recent history of warfare in Africa shows that “ideas about participation in war, and thus about access to honour, were deeply gendered, for it was men who usually did the fighting and who designed the military systems and the cultures that celebrated them.”97 As Alicia Decker also shows in her work on the history of gender and disappearance in 1970s Uganda, Idi Amin “performed masculinity in strategic ways and deployed irrationality as a performative tactic, one based largely on hypermasculinity and gendered violence.”98 In summary, for recent historians, ideas about gender fundamentally shaped how power and dissent were conceptualized and contested throughout modern Africa.

Global Intellectual History

Global intellectual history constitutes one of the more recent developments in African historiography. Its central concern is the international circulation of ideas, in two senses. First, it wishes to understand how international ideas are interpreted and reworked into shifting vernacular landscapes in particular geographies. For example, how did Zulu intellectuals in early 20th-century South Africa rework Marcus Garvey’s ideas about Black Nationalism into local political debates about apartheid?99 Or one might consider the types of questions raised by Emma Hunter, whose research illustrates how communities in late colonial Tanzania translated international discourses about freedom and citizenship into the Swahili press.100 Second, it is increasingly interested in how Africans have shaped the intellectual history of the modern world, a topic that has been understudied. The intellectual contributions of Africans to the development of American and European political ideologies continue to be significantly overlooked by historians of Atlantic political thought. Where scholars such as Duncan Bell have begun to think about how debates about settler colonialism impacted domestic politics in Victorian and Edwardian Britain,101 others have examined the ways in which colonial contingencies impacted the development of imperial capitals, international racial vocabularies, and domestic sexuality.102 But even then, scholars still know very little about how specific international ideas—including liberalism, rights, power, terrorism, and security—have been impacted by the intellectual innovations of modern Africans.103

Some of the earliest work in Africa’s global intellectual history was produced by scholars of the African diaspora, pioneered by Paul Gilroy, who argued for a cultural and ideological cosmopolitism that circulated throughout the Black Atlantic.104 Following Gilroy and the formidable scholarship of John Thornton, Michael Gomez, and James Sweet,105 historians have continued to investigate the rich and variegated ways that western and southern Africans and the African diaspora have interrelated over the longue durée.106 In the context of the Indian Ocean world, Jonathan Glassman has recently recast the history of the idea and production of race. He challenges the earlier academic preoccupation with the scientific mapping of racial ideologies during the late 19th century, which often privileged European systems of thought, by showing how Swahili intellectuals and activists reworked Arab and Muslim notions about race and civilization to imagine political revolution. As he poignantly remarks: “Concepts convergent with the ideal of civilization, ostensibly inclusive yet contributing to hierarchical beliefs and practices that look uncomfortably like ‘racism,’ have occurred in many non-Western intellectual traditions, including those of the Swahili coast.”107

The helpful reorientation of the idea of scientific racism coincides with a thrilling new strand in Africa’s global intellectual history: the history of medical knowledge. The development of this field was shaped by the earlier work of historians such as Megan Vaughan.108 Historians of African public healing and science have begun to demonstrate how African researchers and fieldworkers shaped the invention of modern medical and scientific classifications.109 Patrick Harries, in his work on the history of lepidopterology in southern Africa, shows how local observers and collectors shaped Swiss missionary-scientists’ understanding of the natural world.110 Matthew Heaton, conversely, uses the biography of Nigeria’s first psychiatrist, T. Adeoye Lambo, to show how Nigerian mental health workers challenged and redefined European psychiatric classifications during a moment of robust cultural and political nationalism. His book shows how “Nigerian psychiatrists’ political and professional agendas meshed in ways that led them to repudiate racist conceptions of the inferiority of African psyches that had developed in the context of European colonial rule and to replace them with a theory of the universal similarities of human psychological processes that transcended perceived boundaries between races and culture.”111 And most recently, Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, in Bitter Roots, which was awarded the Herskovits Prize by the African Studies Association in 2015, follows the history of specific herbal plants in Ghana, Madagascar, and South Africa to show how African scientists and healers, and international pharmaceutical companies—including Pfizer and Unilever—have engaged in far-reaching debates about intellectual property rights, ownership, and the international control of public health.112

In relation to the study of political and religious ideologies and African global intellectual history, two important workshops have been recently organized: the first, convened at Yale University by Daniel Magaziner and Shobana Shankar (2016); the second, at Freie Universität Berlin by Vikram Visana (2018). As the Call for Papers at the 2016 workshop noted: “Africanists have especially influenced the breaking down of the barrier separating ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ in modern thought, thus showing the fallacies of an outworn definition of secular modernity.” Daniel Magaziner’s own work has explored the theological and ontological character of the Black Consciousness movement in 1970s South Africa. “Black Consciousness was built not with the raw material of political Africanism or multiracialism,” maintains Magaziner, “but rather at the interstices of intellectual debate and contestation about fundamental issues of being.”113 Jonathon L. Earle’s recent book on colonial Buganda similarly shows how late colonial intellectuals reworked multiple international literacies into vernacular debates about the distant past. Buganda’s colonial intellectuals blurred European epistemologies and literary classifications, disregarding the distinctive conceptual categories of “secular” and “sacred.” Activists read the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Vladimir Lenin comfortably with their Bibles and Qu’rans in hand—with an ear toward vernacular debates in Luganda about power and legitimacy.114

Primary Sources for Writing African Intellectual Histories

Intellectual historians of Africa draw from numerous sources to explore local discourses, concepts, and practices. As the Call for Papers for the workshop on African intellectual history noted (Yale 2016): “Scholars using written texts (many newly discovered), oral traditions, linguistic and archaeological data, and material culture such as architecture and cloth have reconstructed the roles of African healers, clerics, rainmakers, chiefs, and slaves in the diaspora in creating modes of thought that formed the basis of medical systems, durable political consciousness, and normative quasi-legal regimes across a variety of landscapes and experiences.” The methodologies and interdisciplinarity with which scholars approach these sources are equally expansive. The journal Modern Intellectual History, for example, advertises itself “as a meeting ground and a mediator for hermeneutically minded scholars with an historical orientation, whether their interest is in the history of literature, science, philosophy, law, religion, political thought, economic thought, social theory, psychology, anthropology, art, or music.”115

More broadly, students of Africa’s intellectual histories draw from a wide variety of sources. Toyin Falola’s and Christian Jennings’ edited volume provides a useful overview of the different sources and methodologies with which historians of Africa study the past.116 Institutional archives and private papers provide some of the most important sources for writing African intellectual history, although the silencing infrastructures of the archive—which include privileging particular documents and languages, redaction, and logistical (in)accessibility—have been recognized by scholars such as Achille Mbembe and Ann Laura Stoler.117 The most extensive colonial repositories are the British National Archives in Kew Gardens, London and the Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer, in Aix-en-Provence. The multivolume, three-part collection, British Documents on Foreign Affairs—Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office, Confidential Print, Series G, is a powerful supplement to the British National Archives.118

Missionary and university archives offer indispensible insights into Africa’s varying vernacular landscapes. The Church Missionary Society Archives are located in Birmingham, but can be accessed through microfilm (Interlibrary Loan) and, with payment, digitally through Adam Matthews Digital. The Archives des Missionnaires d'Afrique (Pères Blancs) is located in Rome, and offers extensive textual and photographic resources pertaining to precolonial and Catholic intellectual histories across Africa. The catalogue of Archives Hub enables researchers to review the holdings of over three hundred of London’s archives. The archive of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Cambridge, offers important documentary insights into imperial expansion during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as does the Commonwealth and African Collections housed at Weston Library, Oxford, formally deposited at Rhodes House Library. National and vernacular presses are also an important textual source for interrogating vernacular disputation and change, as are colonial grammars and dictionaries.119

In Africa, there are hundreds of institutional repositories. The Egyptian National Library and Archives maintains the largest collection in northern Africa. Established in 1870 by the modernizing reformer Isma’il Pasha, the repository’s holdings illuminate the long history of Berber politics, Caliphate and Ottoman state building, and Egyptian politics during the Anglo-Egyptian period. Dakar was the administrative capital of French West Africa after 1902. Following the creation of the Archives Nationales du Sénégal, it collected and catalogued material from each of the federation’s eight territories. Following Senegal’s independence, the National Archives began housing audio recordings of griot historiographies as well.120 In addition to maintaining National Archives, many of Africa’s English-speaking countries maintain regional or district archives. These collections provide powerful insights into local vernacular debates beyond imperial capitals and metropoles. For instance, one might use the local correspondence of the Nigerian Coal Corporation, housed in the Enugu regional branch of the Nigerian National Archives, to explore contested colonial and Igbo ideas about labor protest and organization. Similar district archives are located in Uganda and Tanzania.

Many of Africa’s intellectual historians also avail themselves to what Karin Barber has called tin-trunk archives.121 These collections may include private journals, family correspondence, annotated libraries, and political memorabilia. The structuring and organization of the material itself illuminates important insights into how activists and public organizers conceptualized and mapped the political and social landscapes of their time. This is also the case with the organization of the collections of popular colonial activists, ranging from the holdings of the Steve Biko Foundation in Johannesburg to the private library of Hamu Mukasa in Mukono, Uganda.

Since the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narratives in 1789, printed biographies and novels, in both colonial and vernacular languages, have provided insights into Africa’s shifting intellectual registers. A number of publishing houses and African writers’ series have provided and continue to offer a range of historical and contemporary novels. These include the Penguin African Writers Series, the Heinemann African Writers Series, and Waveland Press. More broadly, there are a number of edited volumes that contain original sources with historical commentary. Brill, for instance, publishes two series of this type: Sources for African History and African Sources for African History. Constance Hilliard’s edited collection of Africa’s precolonial intellectual traditions offers no fewer than ninety-two sources in a single volume.122 The best accessible collections for exploring Africa’s intellectual histories are Robert O. Collins’ trilogy, African History: Text and Readings,123 and Nancy Jacobs’ excellent textbook, African History through Sources, Volume 1.124 Beyond general collections, dozens of excellent regional or topical volumes have been published, including material on the precolonial kingdoms of Asante and Buganda,125 southern African poetry,126 western African slavery narratives,127 and early Arabic sources on western Africa.128

Beyond textual sources, an increasingly wide range of digitized art is available for scholars and students to study the history and sophistication of African thought and cultural practices. Throughout the colonial period, Europeans worked diligently to acquire, or plunder, the artifactual productions of Africans through persuasion and force. By accessing and classifying Africa’s material cultures, and in some cases displaying African bodies in scientific laboratories and human zoos,129 Europeans used Darwinian and Christian categories to understand and illustrate the supposed “primitiveness” of the societies that they hoped to civilize. In countries such as Great Britain, parliamentary Acts were instituted to prevent the disposal or return of collections to their locations of origin.130 More recent scholarship, though, has begun to show how local communities co-opted and redirected Europeans’ obsession with material classifications to recast local politics and colonialism more broadly.131 Four of the largest collections of African material culture are housed in the British Museum (London), Musée de l’Homme (Paris), National Museum of African Art (Washington, DC), and the recently renovated Koninklijk Museum voor Midden-Afrika (Brussels). In addition to texts and cultural material, intellectual historians are increasingly using film, sound, and photography to explore the intersections between the history of ideas and shifting social and cultural practices. Links to a number of accessible collections are given here.


The author wishes to thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for their critical suggestions. Ethan R. Sanders also offered helpful interjections. Any omissions are my own.

Digitized Primary Sources

Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent (University of Wisconsin-Madison). The collection includes more than 3000 slides, 500 photographs, and 50 hours of sounds from forty-five African countries.

Africa through a Lens (British National Archives). This forum uses Flickr to provide online access to over 100 years of African photography, housed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office photographic collection. Keyword searchability is strong, and the material is also organized by countries of the former British Empire.

African Activist Archive (Michigan State University). The Activist Project offers digital access to more than 10,000 items that illustrate the contributions of African Americans and international allies in southern Africa’s liberation struggles. Material includes pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets, buttons, posters, T-shirts, photographs, and audio and video recordings.

Archives des Missionnaires d'Afrique (Pères Blancs). The holdings of the White Fathers are geographically and chronologically extensive, ranging from quarterly chronicles to late 19th-century ethnographic and linguistic research. While most of the material is only available in physical form in Rome, the Archives maintain a comprehensive online finding aid.

Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer. The overseas archives spans three centuries and includes the archives of the Secretariats of State and the Ministries of the French colonial empire. It also houses a large body of material transferred from France’s former colonies. While much of the archive’s thirty-eight kilometers of material is accessible exclusively onsite, a significant corpus has been digitized, especially on Algeria.

Bantu Lexical Reconstructions. The Royal Museum for Central Africa’s website for Bantu Lexical Reconstructions offers the most extensive online resource for reconstructing precolonial Bantu etymologies, which it does by programming the findings of linguistic researchers from the early 20th century onward.

British Library, African Manuscripts and Archives. The online collection includes material from across Africa, including a number of important private collections. This site also offers access to a number of early manuscripts from Ethiopia and northern Africa. There is an additional site devoted exclusively to the textual and cultural history of western Africa.

British Library Sounds. The digital holdings of the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library include no fewer than fourteen collections related to Africa, ranging from southern Sudanese Dinka songs to Violeta Ruano’s collection of Saharawi music.

British Museum. The online collection of the British Museum offers an extensive range of material culture to review with great specificity and zooming capability, ranging from late 19th-century western Ugandan bow diagrams to 19th-century Shona cooking spoons.

British National Archives. While much of the British National Archives’ digital holdings concern Britain’s domestic history, an increasing amount of African-related material is available online.

British Pathé. Pathé constitutes one of the largest newsreel archives in the world, with approximately 85,000 films. The collection includes a large body of material from colonial Africa. While one-minute sections of each of the films are available for free online, full digital copies are released after obtaining a viewing license, which researchers may request online. Full viewing licenses typically range from £25 to £240 as of 2018.

Church Missionary Society Archives (University of Birmingham). The Church Missionary Society Archives provide powerful insights into the histories and productions on African Anglicanism. The website offers a detailed finding aid and material can be viewed at the Cadbury Research Library Special Collections or ordered on microfilm through Interlibrary Loan. Digital accessibility is available through purchase from Adam Matthews.

Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. The collaboratively developed Colonial film project provides free, online access to over 150 historic films on life and imperial imagination in the British colonies. Each film possesses a synopsis, analysis, and a section on its historical context.

Commonwealth and African Collections (Weston Library, University of Oxford). Originally housed in the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, this vast collection of material is now maintained in the Weston Library. The collections—approximately 4,000—are mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries and range from diaries to lanternslides. An increasing amount of this material is available online and can be located by a powerful search engine.

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives at the National Museum of African Art. The archives’ holdings include around 450,000 items, including rare collections of glass plate negatives, lanternslides, stereographs, postcards, maps, and engravings. Over 14,000 images are fully accessible online.

Haithi Trust Digital Library. Previously cost prohibitive for independent researchers, Haithi Trust Digital Library, which is now freely available, contains a vast repository of digital holdings of important sources, in both colonial and vernacular languages.

International Mission Photography Archive. Housed at the University of Southern California, this project provides digital copies of African-related colonial photography from no fewer than fifteen significant Protestant and Catholic missionary collections across Europe and North America.

Internet African History Sourcebook (Fordham University). The Sourcebook’s website offers a wide variety of primary source excerpts (textual) from a number of Africa’s colonial administrators and late colonial activists. The material is arranged by country and is particularly useful for teaching.

Internet Archive. The Internet Archive offers one of the largest online resources for accessing early colonial ethnographies. Available monographs and travelogues may be freely downloaded as searchable PDFs.

Koninklijk Museum voor Midden-Afrika. Most of the holdings of the collection concern the political, social, and cultural history of the Congo Free State, the Congo under Belgian colonial rule, and the state’s late colonial politics. Private explorers’ collections in the Museum include Henry Morton Stanley’s and Charles Lemaire’s. The website usefully provides a Spotlight section, which readily displays digitally accessible material.

Manuscripts, Archives and Photographs of the Royal Commonwealth Society (University of Cambridge). The holdings of the RCS include over 800 archival collections and approximately 120,000 photographs, which illuminate social change across the British Empire. The most effective way to locate material pertaining to colonial Africa—onsite and digitally—is through the University of Cambridge’s Janus search engine.

Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies (Northwestern University). The Herskovits library is the largest separate Africanist collection in the world. The digitized collections are expansive, ranging from depictions of Africa in French humor magazines to Africana posters.

National Museum of African Art. The National Museum’s collections are vast and include historic and contemporary textiles, masks, metalwork, and wooden sculptures. Online navigation enables researchers to search the physical and digital collections by artists, cultural groups, object type, or country.

School of Oriental and African Studies, Digital Collections. The Special Collections of SOAS chronicle over 250 years of African and British interactions through sources that include maps, manuscripts, photography, and audio. The digital collections are organized by disciplines, geographical regions, archives and special collections, special formats, languages, and newspapers.

Wellcome Library. The Wellcome Library provides one of the most extensive repositories for studying the history of medicine and science in Africa. It is particularly useful for understanding the history of public health and the circulation and development of colonial medical vocabularies and practices. Its digital collections include HIV/AIDS posters and Arabic manuscripts.

Wilson Center, Digital Archive. The digitized material of the Wilson Center illustrates the ideational arenas of the Cold War. It includes correspondence between African state builders and American diplomats. The search function provides a powerful keyword engine in addition to a map that enables researchers to locate available material according to geographies.

World Digital Library. A service of the Library of Congress, this database provides online access to an extensive range of resources for reconstructing African intellectual histories, from vernacular reports to maps. Searches can be narrowed by place, period, topic, type, language, and institution.

Further Reading

  • Achebe, Nwando. Ahebi Ugbabe: The Female King of Nigeria. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.
  • Earle, Jonathon L. Colonial Buganda and the End of Empire: Political Thought and Historical Imagination in Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Ellis, Stephen, and Gerrie ter Haar. Worlds of Power: Religious Thought and Political Practice in Africa. London: Hurst, 2004.
  • Falola, Toyin. Nationalism and African Intellectuals. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2001.
  • Feierman, Steven. Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
  • Hunter, Emma. Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy and Citizenship in the Era of Decolonization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Lonsdale, John. “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: Wealth, Poverty & Civic Virtue in Kikuyu Political Thought.” In Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa. Edited by Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale, 315–504. London: James Currey, 1992.
  • Magaziner, Daniel. The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968–1977. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010.
  • Mbembe, Achille. On the Postcolony. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001.
  • Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy (2nd ed.). Gaborone, Botswana: Heinemann, 1989 [1969].
  • Mudimbe, V. Y. The Idea of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
  • Peterson, Derek R., and Giacomo Macola, eds. Homespun Historiography and the Academic Profession. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009.
  • Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Oxford: James Currey, 1986.
  • Vansina, Jan M. Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
  • Wilder, Gary. Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization and the Future of the World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
  • Zachernuk, Philip S. Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.


  • 1. The two best studies on Kwame Nkrumah’s contentious relationship with the Asantehene are by Jean Marie Allman, The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993); and Richard Rathbone, Nkrumah and the Chiefs: The Politics of Chieftaincy in Ghana 1951–60 (London: James Currey, 2000).

  • 2. For additional discussion on the history of African studies during this period, see William G. Martin’s concise summary: William G. Martin, “Africa and World-Systems Analysis: A Post-Nationalist Project?” in Writing African History (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2005), 381–402 (esp. 386–390).

  • 3. G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, “East African Coin Finds and Their Historical Significance,” Journal of African History 1 (1960): 31–43; and Margaret Priestley and Ivor Wilks, “The Ashanti Kings in the Eighteenth Century: A Revised Chronology,” Journal of African History 1 (1960): 83–96.

  • 4. Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (London: Heinemann, 1958); Okot p'Bitek, Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo (Kampala: Eagle Press, 1953); Keorapetse Kgositsile (Bra William), Spirit Unchained (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969); Rajat Neogy, editor of the pan-African journal Transition throughout the 1960s; Flora Nwapa, Efuru (London: Heinemann, 1966); Tayeb Salih, موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال‎ (Sudan: Self Published, 1966); Wole Soyinka, A Dance of the Forests (London: Oxford University Press, 1963); and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o’, Weep Not, Child (London: Heinemann, 1964).

  • 5. Donald Denoon and Adam Kuper, “Nationalist Historians in Search of a Nation: The ‘New Historiography’ in Dar Es Salaam,” African Affairs 69 (1970): 329–349; Terence Ranger, “The ‘New Historiography’ in Dar Es Salaam: An Answer,” African Affairs 70 (1971): 50–61; and Donald Denoon and Adam Kuper, “The ‘New Historiography’ in Dar Es Salaam: A Rejoinder,” African Affairs 70 (1971): 287–288.

  • 6. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1981 [1972]).

  • 7. Mahmood Mamdani, Politics and Class Formation in Uganda (London: Heinemann Educational, 1976), 11.

  • 8. Robert William Fogel and Stanely L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974).

  • 9. Two helpful reviews of the historiography of slavery and transatlantic economies are Frederick Cooper, “The Problem of Slavery in African Studies,” Journal of African History 20 (January 1, 1979): 103–125; and Robin Law, “The Historiography of the Commercial Transition in Nineteenth-Century West Africa,” in African Historiography: Essays in Honour of Jacob Ade Ajayi, ed. Toyin Falola (Harlow, UK: Longman, 1993), 91–115.

  • 10. Two important works in subaltern studies are Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (London: Zed Books, 1993); and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal 1890–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989).

  • 11. A. Adu Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987).

  • 12. Luise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

  • 13. Terence Ranger, Voices from the Rocks: Nature, Culture and History in the Matopos Hills of Zimbabwe (Oxford: James Currey, 1999).

  • 14. Christopher Bayly, “History and World History,” in A Concise Companion to History, ed. Ulinka Rublack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3–25 (esp. 17). Bayly positions his work alongside Joseph Levenson’s Confucian China and Its Modern Fate (1958); Albert Hourani’s Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (1962); and David Brading’s The First America (1993).

  • 15. Annabel S. Brett, “What Is Intellectual History Now?” in What Is History Now? ed. David Cannadine (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 113–132 (esp. 127). Emphasis is Brett’s.

  • 16. See, for instance, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (London: James Fraser, 1841).

  • 17. Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, “Approaches to Global Intellectual History,” in Global Intellectual History, ed. Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 3–32.

  • 18. Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York: Pantheon, 1994).

  • 19. For further discussion on the relationship between the Nazi party and the German academy, see Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (New York: Penguin, 2006), 291–321.

  • 20. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 2nd ed., trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996 [1927]), 55.

  • 21. Heidegger, Being and Time, 347.

  • 22. The best overview of the history of the “Cambridge School” is by J. G. A. Pocock, “Present at the Creation: With Laslett to the Lost Worlds,” International Journal of Public Affairs 2 (2006): 7–17.

  • 23. An insightful review of the study of “speech acts” and ideology is by Aletta J. Norval, “The Things We Do with Words: Contemporary Approaches to the Analysis of Ideology,” British Journal of Political Science (2000): 313–346.

  • 24. R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), 282.

  • 25. Collingwood, Idea of History, 213.

  • 26. Two important contributions are E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1963); and E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past & Present (1967): 56–97.

  • 27. A recent panel convened at Harvard University on February 23, 2017, for instance, entitled, “Liberalism, Globalization, Populism and Nationalism in the World Today,” included presenters on China, the United Kingdom and Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and the United States. Africa was completely ignored.

  • 28. Bayly, “History and World History,” 17.

  • 29. For a fuller discussion on the history of cultural studies, see Megan Vaughan, “Culture,” in A Concise Companion to History, ed. Ulinka Rublack (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 227–245.

  • 30. “Editorial,” Modern Intellectual History 1 (2004): 1–2 (esp. 2).

  • 31. David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (London: Penguin, 2002).

  • 32. Theodor Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003 [1970]).

  • 33. J. Lorand Matory, Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

  • 34. Chika Okeke-Agulu, Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015).

  • 35. David T. Doris, Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and the Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011). See also Derek R. Peterson, Kodzo Gavua, and Ciraj Rassool, eds., The Politics of Heritage in Africa: Economies, Histories, and Infrastructures (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • 36. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (London: Fontana Press, 1973).

  • 37. “Editorial,” 1.

  • 38. Robert W. July, The Origins of Modern African Thought: Its Development in West Africa during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: Praeger, 1967); and Imanuel Geiss, Panafrikanismus: Zur Geschichte der Dekolonisation (Frankfurt: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1968).

  • 39. July, Origins of Modern African Thought, 17.

  • 40. Jabez Ayodele Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900–1945: A Study in Ideology and Social Classes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973); Ideologies of Liberation in Black Africa, I856–I970. Documents on Modern African Political Thought from Colonial Times to the Present, ed. Jabez Ayodele Langley (London: Rex Collings, 1979).

  • 41. Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization and the Future of the World (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 12.

  • 42. Wilder, Freedom Time.

  • 43. Wilder, Freedom Time.

  • 44. A review of this transition is offered by Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 1–18. See also John Milbank, Theology & Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990).

  • 45. J. B. Peires, The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle Killing Movement of 1856–7 (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1989).

  • 46. J. B. Peires, “Paradigm Deleted: The Materialist Interpretation of the Mfecane,” Journal of Southern African Studies 19 (June 1993): 295–313. To review the larger Mfecane historiography, see Julian Cobbing, “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo,” Journal of African History 29 (January 1, 1988): 487–519; Elizabeth A. Eldredge, “Sources of Conflict in Southern Africa, c. 1800–30: The ‘Mfecane’ Reconsidered,” Journal of African History 33 (January 1, 1992): 1–35; and Norman Etherington, “A Tempest in a Teapot? Nineteenth-Century Contests for Land in South Africa’s Caledon Valley and the Invention of the Mfecane,” Journal of African History 45 (January 1, 2004): 203–219.

  • 47. Paul S. Landau, The Realm of the Word: Language, Gender and Christianity in a Southern African Kingdom (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995); Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity, Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and J. D. Y. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).

  • 48. Ngom Fallou, Muslims Beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of Ajami and the Muridiyya (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

  • 49. For further discussion on colonial chiefs, see Sara S. Berry, Chiefs Know Their Boundaries (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000); and Olufemi Vaughan, Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890s–1990s (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006).

  • 50. Philip S. Zachernuk, Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 2000), 12.

  • 51. Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2001), 5.

  • 52. Steven Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 18.

  • 53. Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals, 19.

  • 54. Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals, 19.

  • 55. Derek R. Peterson and Giacomo Macola, “Homespun Historiography and the Academic Profession,” in Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa, ed. Derek R. Peterson and Giacomo Macola (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2009), 1–28 (esp. 6).

  • 56. Peterson and Macola, “Homespun,” 6–7.

  • 57. The Luganda grammar does not clearly indicate if Kaggwa had in mind the history of his clan; or simply a history. The ambiguity itself is insightful.

  • 58. Ali Kulumba, Ebyafayo By’Obusiramu mu Uganda (Kampala: Sapoba Bookshop Press, 1953).

  • 59. David E. Apter, The Political Kingdom in Uganda: A Study of Bureaucratic Nationalism, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967 [1961]).

  • 60. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, 2nd. ed. (Gaborone, Botswana: Heinemann, 1989 [1969]), 16.

  • 61. For additional review, see Axel Fleisch and Rhiannon Stephens, eds., Doing Conceptual History in Africa (New York: Berghahn, 2016).

  • 62. Laurenti Magesa, African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997).

  • 63. John Iliffe, Honour in African History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1.

  • 64. Michael Onyebuchi Eze, Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

  • 65. V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (London: James Currey, 1988); and V. Y. Mudimbe, The Idea of Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

  • 66. Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 7.

  • 67. Mbembe, On the Postcolony, 9.

  • 68. Jane I. Guyer, “Prophecy and the Near Future: Thoughts on Macroeconomic, Evangelical, and Punctuated Time,” American Ethnologist 34 (2007): 409–421.

  • 69. Jan M. Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), xi.

  • 70. Jan M. Vansina, Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985 [1965]), 31.

  • 71. Two of the more important interventions include Elizabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995); and Luise White, Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000). To review the status of African archaeology at the end of the 1960s, see F. D. Fage and R. A. Oliver, eds., Papers in African Prehistory (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

  • 72. David L. Schoenbrun, “Pythons Worked: Constellating Communities of Practice with Conceptual Metaphor in Northern Lake Victoria, ca. A.D. 800 to 1200,” in Knowledge in Motion: Constellations of Learning Across Time and Place, ed. Andrew P. Roddick and Ann B. Stahl (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 216–246.

  • 73. Neil Kodesh, Beyond the Royal Gaze: Clanship and Public Healing in Buganda (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), 5.

  • 74. Sandra E. Greene, Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002); Jean-Pierre Chrétien, The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History, trans. Scott Straus (New York: Zone Books, 2003); and Murindwa-Rutanga, Politics, Religion, and Power in the Great Lakes Region (Kampala, Uganda: Fountain, 2011).

  • 75. Peter Geschiere, The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa, trans. Janet Roitman and Peter Geschiere (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997), 7–8.

  • 76. Stephen Ellis and Gerrie ter Haar, Worlds of Power: Religious Thought and Political Practice in Africa (London: Hurst & Company, 2004), 7.

  • 77. John Lonsdale, “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: The Problem,” in Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, ed. Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale (London: James Currey, 1992), 265–314. See also John Lonsdale, “Moral Ethnicity and Political Tribalism,” ed. Preben Kaarsholm and Jan Hultin (Roskilde: International Development Studies: Roskilde University, 1994), 131–150.

  • 78. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963); and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Oxford: James Currey, 1986).

  • 79. John Lonsdale, “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: Wealth, Poverty & Civic Virtue in Kikuyu Political Thought,” in Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, ed. Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale (London: James Currey, 1992), 315–504.

  • 80. John Lonsdale, “Agency in Tight Corners: Narrative and Initiative in African History,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 13 (2000): 5–16.

  • 81. Derek R. Peterson, Creative Writing: Translation, Bookkeeping, and the Work of Imagination in Colonial Kenya (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004). For Peterson’s work on letter writing practices during the Mau Mau insurgency, see Derek R. Peterson, “The Intellectual Lives of Mau Mau Detainees,” Journal of African History 49 (2008): 73–91.

  • 82. Derek R. Peterson, Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival: A History of Dissent, c. 1935–1972 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

  • 83. Michael R. Mahoney, The Other Zulus: The Spread of Zulu Ethnicity in Colonial South Africa (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 10.

  • 84. To think further about the political history of families in late colonial Africa, see James L. Giblin, A History of the Excluded: Making Family a Refuge from State in Twentieth-Century Tanzania (Oxford: James Currey, 2005).

  • 85. Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Condition (Banbury, Oxfordshire: Ayebia Clarke, 1988), 205.

  • 86. Assia Djebar, Children of the New World: A Novel of the Algerian War, trans. Marjolijn de Jager (New York: Feminist Press at CUNY, 2005 [1962]).

  • 87. Marc Epprecht, Heterosexual Africa?: The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2008).

  • 88. Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter, trans. Modupé Bodé-Thomas (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2012 [1962]), 25.

  • 89. Bâ, So Long a Letter, 63–64.

  • 90. Bâ, So Long a Letter, 95.

  • 91. Thoms Mofolo, Chaka, trans. Daniel P. Kunene (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1981 [c. 1908]), 137, 149.

  • 92. Mofolo, Chaka, 168.

  • 93. Ousmane Sembène, Xala (Dommireew Filmes, 1974; New Yorker Video, 2005).

  • 94. John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and Nwando Achebe, Ahebi Ugbabe: The Female King of Nigeria (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

  • 95. Achebe, Ahebi Ugbabe, 3.

  • 96. Susan Geiger, TANU Women: Gender and Culture in the Making of Tanganyikan Nationalism, 1955–1965 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997), 204.

  • 97. Richard J. Reid, Warfare in African History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 9. See also Richard J. Reid, War in Pre-Colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns & Meanings of State-Level Conflict in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: James Currey, 2007).

  • 98. Alicia C. Decker, In Idi Amin’s Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014), 3.

  • 99. Paul la Hausse, Restless Identities: Signatures of Nationalism, Zulu Ethnicity and History in the Lives of Petros Lamula and Lymon Maling (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of Natal Press, 2000).

  • 100. Emma Hunter, Political Thought and the Public Sphere in Tanzania: Freedom, Democracy and Citizenship in the Era of Decolonization (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • 101. Duncan Bell, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860–1900 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).

  • 102. Marc Matera, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015); Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830–1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); and Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995).

  • 103. Two recent exceptions are Derek Peterson, ed., Abolitionism and Imperialism in Britain, Africa, and the Atlantic (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010); and Jessica Johnson and George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane, eds., Pursuing Justice in Africa: Competing Imaginaries and Contested Practices (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2018).

  • 104. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

  • 105. John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Michael A. Gomez, Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004); and James Sweet, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011). See also T. F. Earle and K. J. P. Lowe, eds., Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

  • 106. Robert Trent Vinson, The Americans Are Coming!: Dreams of African American Liberation in Segregationist South Africa (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2012); and Andrew Zimmerman, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

  • 107. Jonathan Glassman, War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 10–11.

  • 108. Megan Vaughan, Curing Their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991). See also Joel Robbins’ article on the history of medical anthropology: Joel Robbins, “Beyond the Suffering Subject: Toward an Anthropology of the Good,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19 (2013): 447–462.

  • 109. For a more extensive review of this literature and material on the decolonization of STEM fields, see: “Reading List: Decolonizing STEM: An Annotated Bibliography.”

  • 110. Patrick Harries, Butterflies & Barbarians: Swiss Missionaries and Systems of Knowledge in South-East Africa (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007).

  • 111. Matthew M. Heaton, Black Skin, White Coats: Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of Psychiatry (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2013), 4–5.

  • 112. Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

  • 113. Daniel Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968–1977 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010), 8.

  • 114. Jonathon L. Earle, Colonial Buganda and the End of Empire: Political Thought and Historical Imagination in Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

  • 115. “Editorial,” 2.

  • 116. Toyin Falola and Christian Jennings, eds., Sources and Methods in African History: Spoken, Written, Unearthed (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2004). See also Steven Feierman, “African Histories and the Dissolution of World History,” in Africa and the Disciplines: The Contributions of Research in Africa to the Social Sciences and Humanities, ed. Robert H. Bates, V. Y. Mudimbé, and Jean F. O’Barr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 167–212; and John Edward Philips, Writing African History (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006).

  • 117. Achille Mbembe, “The Power of the Archives and Its Limits,” in Refiguring the Archive, ed. Carolyn Hamilton et al. (Boston: Springer, 2002), 19–27; and Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

  • 118. British documents on foreign affairs—reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print. Part I, From the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the First World War. Series G, Africa, 1848–1914; British documents on foreign affairs—reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print. Part II, From the First to the Second World War. Series G, Africa, 1914–1939; British documents on foreign affairs—reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print. Part III, From 1940–1945. Series G.

  • 119. Derek Peterson, Stephanie Newell, and Emma Hunter, eds., African Print Cultures: Newspapers and Their Publics in the Twentieth Century (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016); Derek Peterson (Creative Writing); and Jonathon Earle (Colonial Buganda and the End of Empire), for instance, draw extensively from colonial grammars and dictionaries to reconstruct political thought in colonial Kenya and Uganda, respectively.

  • 120. A helpful review of the Archives’ history and oral holdings is Saliou Mbaye, “Oral Records in Senegal,” American Archivist 53 (Fall 1990): 566–574.

  • 121. Karin Barber, ed., Africa’s Hidden Histories: Everyday Literacy and Making the Self (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006).

  • 122. Constance B. Hilliard, ed., Intellectual Traditions of Pre-Colonial Africa (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998).

  • 123. Robert O. Collins, Western African History: Vol. I of African History: Text and Readings, vol. 1 (New York: Markus Wiener, 1990); Robert O. Collins, Eastern African History: Vol. II of African History: Text and Readings, vol. 2 (New York: Markus Wiener, 1990); and Robert O. Collins, Central and Southern African History: Vol. III of African History: Text and Readings, vol. 3 (New York: Markus Wiener, 1990).

  • 124. Nancy J. Jacobs, African History through Sources: Colonial Contexts and Everyday Experiences, c. 1850–1946 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

  • 125. Agyeman Prempeh, “The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself” and Other Writings, by Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, ed. E. Akyeampong et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and D. A. Low, ed., The Mind of Buganda: Documents of the Modern History of an African Kingdom (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971).

  • 126. Leroy Vail and Landeg White, Power and the Praise Poem: Southern African Voices in History (London: James Currey, 1991).

  • 127. Sandra E. Greene, ed., West African Narratives of Slavery: Texts from Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Ghana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

  • 128. Nehemia Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins, eds., Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, trans. J. F. P. Hopkins (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2000).

  • 129. The two best documented cases are the respective lives of Sara Baartman and Ota Benga. For further reading, see Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); and Pamela Newkirk, Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (New York: Harper Collins, 2016).

  • 130. The two most important pieces of legislation are the British Museum Acts of 1902 and 1963.

  • 131. Alison Bennett, “Diplomatic Gifts: Rethinking Colonial Politics in Uganda through Objects,” History in Africa 45 (2018).