Victorian Biological Research in Western Equatorial Africa

By midcentury, Victorian natural historians seemed hungry for information from formerly inaccessible regions of Africa. With a groan that had something terribly human in it and yet was full of brutishness, he fell forward on his face. The body shook convulsively for a few minutes, the limbs moved about in a struggling way, and then[…]

Abolition and European Imperialism in East Africa, 1845-1893

What were the links between abolition and imperialism in East Africa? Introduction The islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the East coast of Africa have long been part of a cosmopolitan Indian Ocean trading world. On these tropical islands, as well as the nearby coast, the ancient African civilization of the Swahili grew wealthy on[…]

African Traditional Religions in Art: Religion and the Spiritual Realm

Most traditional religions in Africa have developed at the local level and are unique to a particular society. Traditional Religions in Africa Most traditional religions in Africa have developed at the local level and are unique to a particular society. Common elements include a belief in a creator god, who is rarely if ever represented[…]

Southern Africans and the Advent of Colonialism

History in South Africa from the Stone Age to the Mid-19th century This essay provides a summary of the most important historical events and processes relating to the peoples of southern Africa. The essay also explains the social and political context of the sub-continent from the Stone Age through to the mid-nineteenth century, when Livingstone[…]

The Gold Trade of Ancient and Medieval West Africa

The trade of gold in West Africa goes back to antiquity. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction West Africa was one of the world’s greatest producers of gold in the Middle Ages. Trade in the metal went back to antiquity but when the camel caravans of the Sahara linked North Africa to the savannah interior, the trade[…]

African Art and the Effects of European Contact and Colonization

African cultures never existed in isolation—there was always movement, trade, and the exchange of ideas. Introduction Early encounters with Europeans were often recorded in African art. Look closely at the top of the mask above (and detail, left). Do you see faces? These represent Portuguese explorers with beards and hats (flanked by mudfish) who visited[…]

How Early Anthropologists Hid African Same-Sex Relationships

Sex between people of the same gender has existed for millennia. But anthropologists in sub-Saharan Africa often ignored or distorted those relationships. By Livia Gershon Sex between people of the same gender has existed in various forms for millennia. But many people, including academics, often ignored or distorted those relationships. The historian Marc Epprecht looked[…]

Fever in the Tropics: David Livingstone and Ideas of Causes

Contrasting nineteenth-century ideas (including Livingstone’s own) about fever with modern ideas about the causes and appropriate treatment for fever. By Christopher Lawrence Introduction Livingstone’s writings recurrently return to the problem of fever as the greatest threat to the health of travellers in Africa. Livingstone died shortly before modern germ theory was developed and well before[…]

David Livingstone’s Medical Education

A detailed description of Livingstone’s medical education and an overview of how his education affected his recording strategies in Africa. By Christopher Lawrence Introduction As is well known, Livingstone was born into a poor, deeply religious family at Blantyre, near Glasgow, Scotland. After rudimentary schooling he worked in the town’s cotton mill. What set him[…]

Olaudah Equiano and the Eighteenth-Century Debate over Africa and the Slave Trade

Arguments made by eighteenth-century writers about the slave trade and contributions to those debates by freed slave Olaudah Equiano. Introduction Olaudah Equiano was a British citizen and former slave who, in the 1780s, became a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or[…]

Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”: Slavery and Race in the Atlantic World

Exploring how novel Oroonoko compares to other representations of race, slavery, and colonialism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Introduction Aphra Behn published Oroonoko in 1688, a time when the Atlantic slave trade and African slavery in the Americas were becoming consolidated as a transnational, economic system. The novel draws on popular forms of literature such as[…]

Ancient Manuscripts from the Desert Libraries of Timbuktu

These ancient manuscripts cover every aspect of human endeavor. Introduction Timbuktu, Mali, is the legendary city founded as a commercial center in West Africa nine hundred years ago. Today it is synonymous with the phrase “utterly remote,” but this was not always so. For more than six hundred years, Timbuktu was a significant religious, cultural,[…]

The Great Mosque of Kairouan

The mosque communicated that Kairouan would become a cosmopolitan metropolis under strong Muslim control, an important distinction at this time and place. A New City Seventh-century North Africa was not the easiest place to establish a new city. It required battling Byzantines; convincing Berbers, the indigenous people of North Africa, to accept centralized Muslim rule;[…]

Ancient DNA is Revealing the Origins of Livestock Herding in Africa

Pastoralism is a central part of many Africans’ identity. But how and when did this way of life get started on the continent? Ancient DNA can reveal how herding populations spread. Introduction Visitors to East Africa are often amazed by massive herds of cattle with a gorgeous array of horn, hump and coat patterns. Pastoralism[…]

The Template for the Holocaust – Germany’s African Genocide

Germany, which had only unified in 1870, was a latecomer to the colonial game. By David Carlin “Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot.” General Lothar von Trotha, Commander of German Forces in South West Africa, 1905 Hundreds of emaciated prisoners look out helplessly.[…]

North Africa’s Place in the Mediterranean Economy of Late Antiquity

The Mediterranean Sea was the economic focal point of the Roman Empire. By Michael GoodyearJ.D. CandidateUniversity of Michigan Law School Introduction The Mediterranean Sea was the economic focal point of the Roman Empire. Rome’s armies first established an empire across these waters beginning back in the times of the Roman Republic. In 200 CE, the Mediterranean[…]

A History of Language, Script, and Symbol in West Africa

West Africa is a place of great diversity – in language, in writing, in the hugely varied means of recording information and passing it on. By Dr. Marion Wallace (left) and Dr. Janet Topp Fargion (right)Wallace: Lead Curator, Africa CollectionsFargion: Lead Curator, World and Traditional MusicBritish Library Introduction West Africa is home to well over[…]

Migrants: When Europeans Once Flocked to North African Shores

When we think of migrants, we think of them crossing the Mediterranean to come to Europe. Yet 200 years ago, many did it the other way. “Praise be to God. To my master, may god preserve you. After our master scolded me and became angry with me, accusing me of having often acted without advising him, and of bringing my[…]