Approaching African History

Approaching African History

Michael Brett

Personal eBook

James Currey



Explores how the conception of Africa and its history has changed over time and narrates the story of this vast continent over the past 10,000 years.
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.


19 line illustrations
368 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Hardback, 9781847010636, January 2013
Personal eBook, 9781782047261, January 2013
Library eBook
BISAC HIS001000, POL010000, HIS037030
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Table of Contents

PART I The Problem of African History
The Problem of Definition
Solving the Problem: the Search for Information
Solving the Problem: the Writing of African History PART II The Making of African Society A: The Archaeological Dimension
From Hunting and Gathering to Herding and Farming
From Herding and Farming to Cities and States
The Peopling of the South B: The Ethnographic Dimension
Men and Women
From Kinship to Kingship
The Mind of Africa
The Empires of the South PART III Africa in the World C: The Written Dimension
Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern
Ancient Egypt and Nubia
The World of Greece and Rome
Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers D: The Scriptural Dimension
Christianity and the World of Late Antiquity
The Arabs and Islam
Islam, the Sahara and the Land of the Blacks
Islam and Christianity in the East
Ibn Battuta and Ibn Khaldun PART IV The Unification of Africa E: The European Dimension
The Age of Empire
An Islamic Africa
Between the Americas and the Indies F: The European Invasion
A History in Change
After Napoleon
The Reconfiguration of Africa
The Reorganisation of Africa
The Reaction of Africa PART V The Arrival of African History G:The Present Dimension
The Resurgence of Africa
Africa in Contemporary History
The Approach to African History


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