David B. Mattingly and Kevin MacDonald
This article examines early urban societies in Africa. It emphasizes three key issues: the strikingly wide geographical range and structural variety of urban forms; the apparent dichotomy between more hierarchical and more heterarchical urban societies; the contrasting functions of towns in the service of state formation or inter-regional exchange. The earliest cities in Africa are linked to the great rivers of the continent, in particular the Nile and the Niger. There have also been significant urban expressions along the Mediterranean seaboard, or on the Red Sea and East African coast, where contact with neighbouring civilizations was part of the context. Yet, African urban forms assume a dazzling array of expressions, confounding traditional expectations of normative Old World archetypes of what defines ‘urban’.
This chapter examines the impact of the Cold War on Africa. It explains that while Africa is the least-known Cold War battleground, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba became embroiled in the internal affairs of countless African countries. The chapter analyzes the ideologies, practices, and interests of these main external actors and describes the four major arenas of conflict that are representative of broad trends in Cold War intervention in Africa. It also discusses how the Cold War altered the dynamics of local struggles, created unprecedented levels of destruction and widespread instability, and contributed to many of the problems that plague Africa today.
Inquiries into commodification, social distinction, and fashion have offered fresh perspectives on social relations and cultural formations in Africa. Imported consumer goods were both elemental to social relationships and a cornerstone of Africa's global interfaces. This article explores how the social dynamics of consumer demand in Africa were shaped by, and gave shape to, larger social, economic, and political relationships from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. This approach underscores the interrelation of African cultural imperatives and histories of globalization. Focusing on East Africa in the late nineteenth century, the article begins with a snapshot of consumer trends before the nineteenth century. It then examines three dimensions of consumption in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: marketing consumer objects, the social relations of consumption, and the ways manufacturers accommodated African consumer demand. Taken together, these themes augment our understanding of social change in Africa, contribute to wider reflections on consumption as a mode of trans-societal relation, and highlight how manufactured objects can be conceptually and physically transformed throughout their global life cycles.
The transatlantic slave trade peaked in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, when more than 80,000 slaves annually were being shipped from Africa for the Americas. This overshadowed the older-established trade in slaves northwards from West Africa across the Sahara Desert to the Muslim world, which was probably under 10,000 annually. Despite the long history of commerce, direct European involvement in Africa remained limited. In contrast to the Americas, European colonial occupation of African territory was minimal before the later nineteenth century. Some African states maintained diplomatic relations with their trading partners across the Atlantic. The operation of the Atlantic trade had the effect of linking up different parts of Africa with each other, as well as with Europe and the Americas. The autonomous (or northern-oriented) character of the West African historical process might seem to be self-evidently illustrated by one of the major developments of this period, a series of jihads, or ‘Islamic Revolutions’, in which Muslim clerics seized power from existing ruling groups.
This article describes the origins of Africa; the ‘First Great Transition’ of human history from foraging to food production; the era of agricultural elaboration; the ‘Second Great Transition’, from villages and tiny local political units to towns and states; early towns and states in West Africa and the Horn of Africa; the era of empires, and Africa in the Atlantic Age. To view Africa over the very long term is to discover that the notable developments of Africa's past followed similar pathways and proceeded at similar paces as comparable changes elsewhere in the world. Two great transitions of human history in the Holocene — from foraging to farming and, several thousand years later, from villages and informal governance to towns and states — shows that Africa was a continent of primary invention in those times.
Africa is the continent least associated with cities and it is the least urbanized today. The maps of early modern Europe reflect this bias, with elephants and other beasts featured in place of towns to fill in unknown spaces. However, towns have a long history in parts of Africa. This article begins by discussing the early cities in Africa. It then considers the colonial era, and suggests that the layered nature of urbanization over time sees decline in some urban networks but a rapid growth in cities along the lines of new economic forces, reflecting the power of both capitalist-inclined and racist ideas. In the challenges they began to raise to the forms put into play, the African masses began the process of urban reconstruction. The final sections cover the last half century, more or less, since the end of colonialism.
Heather J. Sharkey
This chapter sketches a history of European colonial states in Africa, north and south of the Sahara, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It explains when and why colonial states emerged, what they did, how they worked, and who shaped them. Noting discrepancies between the theory and practice of colonial administration, the chapter shows that colonial administration was far more diffuse and less closely coordinated than official discourses of governance suggested. The performance of colonialism involved a wide range of actors: not only European military and civilian elites and African chiefs, but also African translators and tax collectors, as well as European forestry experts, missionaries, anthropologists, and settlers. The chapter also considers debates over reconciling the violence and exploitation of colonial states with their claims to, and aspirations for, social development in Africa, particularly in light of their relationship to the postcolonial states that succeeded them.
In recent decades, research on the African diaspora has increasingly expanded from its established focus on the northern Atlantic to Latin America, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean world, and the African continent itself. This chapter discusses differing definitions of the diaspora, considers the role of pioneering scholars in early twentieth-century Cuba, Brazil, and the United States, and examines the debate between those who have stressed lines of cultural continuity between Africa and African American peoples, on the one hand, and those who have stressed cultural transformation or ‘creolization’ in the Americas, on the other. Recent research on African American religions has moved the field beyond the search for African origins by showing how the practitioners of these belief systems creatively and strategically imagined and reimagined ‘African’ ritual identities and Africa itself. Finally, the process of creolization in the African continent itself and in the Indian Ocean are considered.
This chapter offers a series of approaches to, and questions about, the different types of historical engagement to be found in African literatures. History, in African literatures, is not a term that applies simply to narratives that engage with the past: African literatures offer historians examples of the imagination in history and the imagination as history. The chapter proposes a three-tiered methodology: first, consideration of the time and place of literary production; second, consideration of the ways in which works of literature engage with the concepts of time, memory, and historical consciousness; and third, consideration of the temporal and geographical distances separating literary works from their current audiences.
Slave trading is a salient theme in African history and in the continent’s global connections between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries. This chapter focuses on the economic dimensions of African slave trades, summarizes the state of research on the size and demography of slaving, and explores the commodity trades of which slaving was a part. It argues that whereas the slave trades have typically been studied ocean-by-ocean with Africa as a point of departure, recentring the history of slaving onto the African continent allows for a global perspective in which all of Africa’s slave trades can be taken into account simultaneously and in dynamic interaction. Shifting focus onto Africa allows for a number of themes common to different slave trades to emerge, including the key role of textiles in all of them.