African History

The book “African History: A Very Short Introduction” by John Parker and Richard Rathbone is actually a very brief introduction to a very big topic. The history of Africa has been considered as insignificant by some historians and ideological weapon by other historians. In the early days, Africa was considered to be a land of Barbaric and illiteracy. However, this kind of categorization of the history of Africa has been intentionally done for providing the legal ground for the colonialism of the 19th century.
The authors of this book John Parker and Richard Rathbone have broadly narrated that the country Africa had their own respective culture and history. This book, on one hand, is a short history of the place and its people while on the other hand, this book narrates the past history of the place (African History: A Very Short Introduction pg. 1).  The authors state
“To begin with Africans speak a dizzying variety of languages. Due to the subtle differences between the languages and dialect the exact number is debatable, but the figure in the region of 1500, is generally agreed upon by linguists” (26).
The authors have indicated that there are enough problems or issues perceived within the context of early Africa which are very much critical not for understanding the entire civilisation but for gaining knowledge about the overall discipline of their history. They had their own perceptions of viewing and analysing their surroundings. As it is stated that perhaps the best known uprising against the colonial rule was the Maji-Maji rebellion in German East Africa (pg. 99). This shows that the study of the history of Africa depicted the autonomous and independent focus on the recent development of the continent. It has been widely believed by the Western historians that the country Africa had no civilisation and thus had no history.

Main approaches to intellectual history of Africa
There are various approaches to intellectual history of Africa that are mentioned as follows:
ü  One approach is to treat the country as an extension of social history. By means of this approach, the ideas about the country become an effective medium to understand the culture of the country. Due to the immigrants of Islam, Spanish, Portuguese, Romans and others in Africa, the continent showed the cultural differences much prominently (African History: A Very Short Introduction pg 36).
ü   Another significant approach to intellectual African history is the approach of collective cultural values. According to John Parker and Richard Rathbone, the differences in the language, signs, traditions, symbols, etc. are the key indicators that determine the diverse history of Africa. The authors propose “ there are signs of the time and shape of thoughts” (p. 64). As observed by the past historians, the intellectual history of the country is very much influenced by the emerging cultural anthropology during the year 1970s and also in the early 1980s.
In the concerned book, the authors have clearly depicted the role of colonialism which has helped to transform the societies and economies of Africa to a great extent. Colonialism was considered as the “ephemeral episode” in the African history (p. 92). The African history has always been a controversial topic and thus is immensely contested. The history of the country has been dismissed by ‘unimportant’ by some historians as mentioned in the book. The question of racial discrimination also evolves while discussing about the history of the country (93).
Furthermore, according to the authors “Slavery brings us back to where we began, to the invention of Africa” (p. 146).  This also depicts the fact that Africans, being dark skinned, are being rejected or refused by the Western countries comprising of the white skinned people.
Main themes
In the book the authors have artistically produced the historical knowledge of the entire country and also brought about the currents in the political thoughts in the twentieth century. The societies of Africa are being treated as primitive and completely unchangeable as there is no literacy which prevents their way to achieve collective historical consciousness. John Parker and Richard Rathbone have been greatly attracted by the nature, development and transformation of the entire African civilisation. Poverty was also an important factor in the continent for which the whole civilisation has suffered from slavery and bondage from the rich European people (p. 10). As discussed in chapter 4 of the book African citizens have long struggled to gain independence which had been isolated from the main currents of the human progress (p. 70). Also the parts of the third world war laid serious impact on the African empires conquered by Europe.
In addition to this the aftermath of the Second World War leading to the fall of the pseudo-scientific hierarchies of racism (p. 3), there have been several doubts regarding the fact whether the past history of Africa is valid or not. This theme of doubting the history of the continent has also paved the way to the idea of African history. Some scholars have also argued that because of the involvement of diaspora (p.89), it cannot be said that the African history has remained at the age of a neat continent. Rather it has reached out to the extent which is called ‘black Atlantic’ (p. 9).
Methods developed by historians to study the African past
As mentioned in the book, John Parker and Richard Rathbone have narrated that the historians have developed or followed various significant methods and techniques that helped them to investigate or study the past history of the continent. They have carefully examined the age archaeology to review the past condition of Africa. From the 19th century, the study of the archaeological excavations in Africa has helped the historians to navigate the past history of the continent. The culture and the data of the people along with the chronology of the continent have also led the historians to analyse and assess the social and cultural perspectives of the people of the country. Moreover, the historians have also gained knowledge about the European knowledge of Africa from the Portuguese voyages of the ‘age of discovery’. Also these voyages have introduced a strategy through which the thoughts and perceptions of the Europeans towards the Africans can be transformed (pg 5).


The overall study narrated that the book “African History: A Very Short Introduction” written by John Parker and Richard Rathbone generally highlighted the past history of the continent Africa. This book describes the past history of Africa and about the physical place and the people of the country. The authors have clearly portrayed the fact that the country is encompassed with diverse and site of early mankind.

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