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Article

The first well-attested maps showing Southern Africa date from the late 15th century. Before the 19th century, maps provided little information about the interior but depicted coastlines in great detail, thanks to the requirements of seaborne navigators. Information about the inhabitants was scanty and skewed by misconceptions about the nature of African societies. Land-based exploration activity increased dramatically in the 1830s but the poorly trained and equipped human agents made many errors that had significant historical consequences. Accuracy in the mapping of physical topography improved with the advent of skilled civil and military surveyors, but entanglement with advancing forces of European colonialism resulted in biased representations of the nature and distribution of the indigenous people. Competition among European invaders during the so-called Scramble for Africa in the last decades of the 19th century made cartography a volatile element in the general mix of combustible material. Continual war among Europeans and Africans also affected the production of maps. The impact of African resistance to colonial surveys and land seizures on map making was for too long neglected by historians. By the end of World War I, the geopolitical boundaries of the region assumed their present configuration, marking off South Africa from its neighbors. The imposition of European rule, racial inequality, and segregation introduced cartographical distinctions between areas in which land was held in freehold title by members of a ruling racial elite and so-called African reserves and locations where land was held communally under the surveillance of traditional authorities. Decolonization beginning in the 1960s swept away the colonial racial order but did not abolish its legacy of boundaries, inequality, and parallel systems of land governance. The advent of geographical information systems, digital mapping, and satellite imaging has revolutionized cartography.

Article

Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and José Pedro Monteiro

European imperial expansion and consolidation in Africa was, from its inception, a trans-imperial process that was increasingly codified, regulated, and legitimized in an international sphere. Similarly, initiatives that aimed to counter Western dominance and hegemony across the 20th century looked for international institutions as privileged instances for claim-making and enhanced resistance against imperial and colonial projects. All these dynamics included several and diverse actors, networks, and institutions, from distinct geographies and with varied political and social outlooks. They gave origin to the global normative and institutional order of today. From the different but competing “civilizing missions” to the crystallization of self-determination as the global political norm, the history of Africa has been a recurrent feature of the mounting drives for internationalization that marked 20th century, offering several possible avenues of research for a global history of colonialism in the continent.

Article

Zachary Kagan Guthrie

Forced labor was central to the modern history of the Portuguese empire. It was widely imposed across Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Guinea after the imposition of Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th century and persisted within the Portuguese empire for decades after it had been abolished by other European powers. The brutal violence and far-reaching social disruption created by forced labor had a profound impact on colonized communities. It was one of the most important ways that individual subjects interacted with the Portuguese colonial state. Forced labor was also fundamental in structuring the economic, political, social, and ideological contours of the Portuguese empire: the colonial economy was deeply dependent on the exploitation facilitated by forced labor, and both the operations of the Portuguese colonial administration and the justification for its existence were closely intertwined with conscripting forced workers. Finally, the prevalence of forced labor in the Portuguese empire precipitated recurring international scandals, which did a great deal to define Portuguese colonialism in the eyes of the world. Studying forced labor has therefore become an important methodology for understanding the depredations of Portuguese colonial rule, its impact on the lives of the people it governed, and the economic and political organization of the Portuguese empire.

Article

In the first half of the 20th century, Sudan, which included the territories of present-day Sudan and South Sudan, was ruled by a dual colonial government known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899–1956). Britain was the senior partner in this administration, Egypt being itself politically and militarily subordinated to Britain between 1882 and 1956. During most of the colonial period, Sudan was ruled as two Sudans, as the British sought to separate the predominantly Islamic and Arabic-speaking North from the multireligious and multilingual South. Educational policy was no exception to this: until 1947, the British developed a government school system in the North while leaving educational matters in the hands of Christian missionaries in the South. In the North, the numerically dominant government school network coexisted with Egyptian schools, missionary schools, community schools, and Sudanese private schools. In the South, schools were established by the Anglican Church Missionary Society, the Roman Catholic Verona Fathers, and the American Presbyterian Mission. Whereas Arabic and English were the mediums of instruction in Northern schools, the linguistic situation was more complicated in the South, where local vernaculars, English and Romanized Arabic were used in missionary schools. The last colonial decade (1947–1957) witnessed a triple process of educational expansion, unification, and nationalization. Mounting Anglo-Egyptian rivalries over the control of Sudan and the polarization of Sudanese nationalists into “pro-British” independentists and “pro-Egyptian” unionists led the British authorities in Khartoum to boost government education while giving up the policy of separate rule between North and South. In practice, educational unification of the two Sudanese regions meant the alignment of Southern curricula on Northern programs and the introduction of Arabic into Southern schools, first as a subject matter, then as a medium of instruction. Missionary and other private schools were nationalized one year after Sudan gained independence from Britain and Egypt (1956).

Article

From the period of the “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s to the era of decolonization that began in the 1950s, culture and media played essential roles in constructing images of the colonized subject as well as governing newly conquered empires. In the struggle for political independence, Africans used film, music, literature, journals, and newspapers to counter European ideas about African society as well as to provide the foundations for postcolonial national identities. With sovereignty largely realized across Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, the roles of culture and media were critical in forging the bonds of nationhood and solidifying the legitimacy of the new states. However, those official efforts increasingly clashed with the aspirations of cultural activists, who desired a more thorough transformation of their societies in order to transcend the colonial legacy and construct progressive communities. Media and culture became a forum for political conflict whereby governments increasingly restricted creativity and subsequently sought complete control of the means of cultural creation and diffusion. Both the aspirations of public officials and opposition activists suffered during a period of prolonged economic crisis in Africa, which began in the 1970s and stretched into the 1990s. The sinews of governance as well as the radical pretensions of culture workers were torn asunder as many parts of Africa suffered state collapse, civil war, famine, and epidemic diseases (including the HIV/AIDS and Ebola crises). The dawn of the new millennium coincided with the age of neoliberal globalization that, for many African countries, was synonymous with structural adjustment programs and oversight from such international lending institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This often required the privatization of media across Africa and included the greater prominence of non-African media sources on radio, television, and the cinema throughout the continent. It also was reflected in a shift among African culture workers, who frequently centered on the impact of globalization on African societies in their work. Filmmakers, musicians, and writers often use their platforms to speak to the wider world beyond Africa about the place of African societies in the globalized world.

Article

Oluwatoyin Oduntan

The case for narrating the history of slavery and emancipation through the biography of enslaved Africans is strongly supported by the life and experiences of Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Kidnapped into slavery in 1821, recaptured and settled in Sierra Leone in 1822, he became a missionary in 1845, founder of the Niger mission in 1857, and Bishop of the Niger Mission in 1864. His life and career covered the span of the 19th century during which revolutionary forces like jihadist revolutions, the abolition of the slave trade, the rise of a new Westernized elite, and European colonization created the roots of the modern state system in West Africa. He was intricately tied to the Christian Missionary Society (CMS), Britain’s antislavery evangelical movement, resulting in Ajayi becoming the poster face of slavery, its acclaimed product of abolitionism, the preeminent advocate of evangelical emancipation, and the organizer of practical emancipation in West Africa. The leader of a very small group of Africans who worked diligently against the slave trade and domestic slavery, Ajayi also became a victim of the use of that agenda by imperialists. Thus, the contrasts of his life (i.e., slavery/freedom, nationalist/hybrid, preacher/investor, leader/weakling, linguist/literalist, etc.) were celebrated by himself, his patrons, and his evangelical followers on one hand, and denounced by his critics on the other. They underline the disagreements over his legacy, and indeed over the understanding of the institution of slavery, abolition, and emancipation in West Africa.

Article

African military history is more than just the study of “tribal warfare,” imperial conquest, military coups, and child soldiers. Moving beyond conventional questions of strategy, tactics, battles, and technology, historians of precolonial Africa are interested in the role of armies in state formation, the military activities of stateless societies, and armed encounters between Africans and foreign visitors and invaders. Scholars working in the 19th and 20th centuries are similarly focused on the role and influence of African soldiers, military women, and veterans in society. In this sense, African military history is part of a larger effort to recover the lived experiences of ordinary people who were largely missing from colonial archives and documentary records. Similarly, Africanist historians focusing on the national era are engaging older journalistic and social science explanations for military coups, failed states, and wardlordism. The resulting body of literature productively offers new ways to study military institutions and collective violence in Africa.

Article

Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo

The Portuguese colonial empire was the first and the last European empire overseas, from the conquest of Ceuta (1415), in Morocco, North Africa, until the formal handover of Macau to the People’s Republic of China (1999). From the coastline excursions in Africa and the gradual establishment of trade routes in Asia and in the Indian Ocean and the related emergence of the Estado da Índia (the Portuguese empire east of the Cape of Good Hope), to the colonization projects in the Americas, namely, in Brazil, and, in the second half of the 19th century, in Africa, the Portuguese empire assumed diverse configurations. All of these entailed expansionist projects and motivations—political, missionary, military, commercial—with changing dynamics, strongly conditioned by local circumstances and powers. In Africa, actual colonization was a belated and convoluted process, which started and ended with violent conflicts, the so-called pacification campaigns of the 1890s, and the liberation wars of the 1960s and 1970s. In Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe, the Portuguese enacted numerous modalities of formalized rule, based on political, military, and religious apparatuses. These forms of control engaged with and impacted on local societies differently. However, until the very end, coercive labor and tax exactions, racial discrimination, authoritarian politics, and economic exploitation were the fundamental pillars of Portuguese colonialism in Africa.

Article

Since direct contact between Europeans and West Africans was established in the mid-15th century by the Portuguese, Euro-African trade relations have played a major role in West Africa’s long-run socioeconomic development. This critical role was connected to two totally different kinds of trade conducted by Europeans at different points in time: trade in commodities (the products of West African labor and natural resources) and trade in human captives. The first 200 years (1450–1650) of European commercial enterprise in West Africa were dominated overwhelmingly by trade in commodities; trade in human captives overwhelmingly dominated in the 200 years which followed (1650–1867). Trade in commodities returned with a bang in the last decades of the 19th century (1870–1900). The respective effects of these two trades on the development process in West Africa were as different as the trades themselves. The early trade in commodities contributed positively to the process; the transition from the trade in commodities to the trade in human captives had a disastrous effect; the 19th-century transition to commodity trade made an immense positive contribution. The positive contribution was significantly enhanced by the ending of the socioeconomic crises engendered by the trade in human captives, and by the establishment of general peace (Pax Britannia) by British colonial rule, with its free trade policy. However, the failure of the colonial administration to take advantage of the general increase in real household incomes and purchasing power and encourage domestic manufacturing in the colonies prevented the transformation of short-term growth into structural transformation and long-run development.

Article

The League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) turned to the problems of slavery and forced labor in the context of a general program to promote welfare and social justice as the foundations of a lasting peace after World War I. Their initiatives for abolition and labor regulation, global in scope but focused mainly on Africa, were driven forward by humanitarians and defined ultimately by colonial interests. While the colonial powers attempted to induce the League and the ILO to accommodate their coercive labor systems in Africa, they also proved positively responsive to critical international oversight and especially to the charge of slavery. Humanitarianism and imperialism intersected most clearly in the case of Ethiopia, with which the League’s work on slavery effectively began and ended. Although the League’s Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1926, and the ILO’s Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, 1930, had limited constructive effects on colonial labor systems in Africa between the wars, they laid important groundwork in international law for the long-term development of new norms in the rights of labor worldwide.

Article

The Industrial Revolution in England has remained the most debated subject in economic history. The debate has moved in a circle—the growth of trade (the “commercial revolution”), especially overseas trade, occupied the center stage of explanations from the nineteenth century to World War II; the pendulum shifted to inward-looking explanations between 1950 and the mid-1980s; the circle was completed in the late 1980s, when overseas trade began to be the dominant causal factor, once again. There was hardly any room for the contribution of the trans-Atlantic trade in African captives and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas in inward-looking explanations. Once it was convincingly demonstrated that inward-looking explanations are not consistent with historical reality, the contribution of enslaved Africans in the Americas to the growth of the Atlantic economy and the central role of the latter in the Industrial Revolution became realistically demonstrable. However, more recently, a fascinating argument based on British high wages and cheap energy (coal) appears to bring in a variant of the inward-looking arguments of decades ago through the back door. Comparative study of the evidence from England’s counties makes it abundantly clear the counties where the Industrial Revolution occurred (Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, in particular) exploited their general poverty and initial low wages to capture the rapidly growing slave-based Atlantic economy (initially secured by British naval power and protected with mercantilist policies) at the expense of the erstwhile more developed southern counties, whose initial high wages may have worked against them. Cheap energy was not important in the eighteenth-century developments in the leading counties; its importance was to help sustain continuing growth in the nineteenth century.

Article

Resistance to slavery within African societies was as complex and heterogeneous as slavery itself. For enslaved Africans and their descendants taken by force to Europe’s colonies in the Americas, antislavery was an existential struggle. Among European states, Britain was among the first imperial powers to pass laws abolishing its slave trade (in 1807) and slavery in its colonies (in 1833). Antislavery was a transnational phenomenon, but Britain made suppressing the Atlantic slave trade an element of its foreign policy, employing a Royal Navy squadron to search for slave ships, pressing African leaders to sign anti-slave-trade treaties as a condition of trade and coordinating an international network of anti-slave-trade courts. And yet, for many leading British abolitionists, “Africa” was an ideological sandbox—an imagined blank space for speculation and experiment on the development of human societies and the progress of “civilization.” In the 18th century, early British critics of the transatlantic slave trade argued that “Africa” presented an unparalleled commercial and imperial opportunity. Although the slave trade—and the plantations in the Americas that slave ships supplied with labor—were profitable, some argued that slave-trading regions could, with enough investment, produce goods and commodities that would be many times more lucrative. Moreover, if Britain were the first European power to abolish the slave trade, it might also be among the first to gain a territorial foothold on African soil. Over time, these arguments coalesced into the concept of “legitimate commerce.” A combination of Christian teaching, slave-trade suppression, and commercial incentives would persuade slave-trading polities to give up the practice and instead produce other goods. Legitimate commerce intertwined with a theory of civilization that held that any society that enslaved people was so degenerate in its social development that nearly any reform or intervention was justifiable. By the end of the 19th century, antislavery became a justification for European conquest. There were at least three broad reform projects launched by British officials and merchants in Africa in the name of antislavery. First, drawing on critiques of the slave trade from the 18th century that emphasized the commercial potential of legitimate commerce, antislavery activists and politicians argued for replacing the slave trade with new kinds of export-oriented commerce. Second, in two colonies, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Britain and the United States experimented with the possibility of using Black people from the African diaspora as settlers and missionaries. In Sierra Leone, more than seventy thousand people, usually known as “Liberated Africans,” were repatriated from slave ships into the small colony. Third, in the mid-19th century, as the transatlantic slave trade declined, Britain and other European powers invested heavily in African plantation agriculture, particularly in cotton and palm oil monocrops.