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Approaching African History


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Africa is a huge continent, as large as the more habitable areas of Europe and Asia put together. It has a history immensely long, yet the study of that history as an academic discipline in its own right is little more than fifty years old. Since then the subject has grown enormously, but the question of what this history is and how it has been approached still needs to be asked, not least to answer the question of why should we study it.

This book takes as its subject the last 10,000 years of African history, and traces the way in which human society on the continent has evolved from communities of hunters and gatherers to the complex populations of today. Approaching that history through its various dimensions: archaeological, ethnographic, written, scriptural, European and contemporary, it looks at how the history of such a vast region over such a length of time has been conceived and presented, and how it is to be investigated. The problem itself is historical, and an integral part of the history with which it is concerned, beginning with the changing awareness over the centuries of what Africa might be. Michael Brett thus traces the history of Africa not only on the ground, but also in the mind, in order to make his own historical contribution to the debate.

Michael Brett is Emeritus Reader in the History of North Africa at SOAS.


A monumental undertaking [that] adds valuable perspective to our understanding of African history as a whole. HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY

A very readable narrative [that] perfectly fulfils what it promises. THE MAGHREB REVIEW

I recommend it strongly not only to all those who are just beginning to come to grips with the depth, beauty, and complexity of African history, but also to the more specialized scholars who might want to broaden their perspective on their home field of African history. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORICAL STUDIES

A major study.lucid and very accessible. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT


First Published: 17 Jan 2013
13 Digit ISBN: 9781847010636
Pages: 368
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: James Currey
BIC Class: GTB

Details updated on 06 May 2016


  • 1  PART I The Problem of African History
  • 2  The Problem of Definition
  • 3  Solving the Problem: the Search for Information
  • 4  Solving the Problem: the Writing of African History PART II The Making of African Society A: The Archaeological Dimension
  • 5  From Hunting and Gathering to Herding and Farming
  • 6  From Herding and Farming to Cities and States
  • 7  The Peopling of the South B: The Ethnographic Dimension
  • 8  Men and Women
  • 9  From Kinship to Kingship
  • 10  The Mind of Africa
  • 11  The Empires of the South PART III Africa in the World C: The Written Dimension
  • 12  Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern
  • 13  Ancient Egypt and Nubia
  • 14  The World of Greece and Rome
  • 15  Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers D: The Scriptural Dimension
  • 16  Christianity and the World of Late Antiquity
  • 17  The Arabs and Islam
  • 18  Islam, the Sahara and the Land of the Blacks
  • 19  Islam and Christianity in the East
  • 20  Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun PART IV The Unification of Africa E: The European Dimension
  • 21  The Age of Empire
  • 22  An Islamic Africa
  • 23  Between the Americas and the Indies F: The European Invasion
  • 24  A History in Change
  • 25  After Napoleon
  • 26  The Reconfiguration of Africa
  • 27  The Reorganisation of Africa
  • 28  The Reaction of Africa PART V The Arrival of African History G:The Present Dimension
  • 29  The Resurgence of Africa
  • 30  Africa in Contemporary History
  • 31  The Approach to African History

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