African History: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780192802484

John Parker; Richard Rathbone
184 Pages
110 x 170 mm
Pub date
Mar 2007
Very Short Introductions


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  • There is no other short book that explains African history and historiography.
  • Concrete histories and stories are used to build a picture of both the continent's past and how that past has been interpreted in Africa and beyond.
  • Africa has been known as 'the cradle of mankind', and its recoverable history stretches back to the Pharoahs. But the idea of study of 'African history' itself is new, and the authors show why it is still contested and controversial.
  • Important themes include the unity and diversity of African cultures, slavery, religion, colonial conquest, the diaspora, and the importance of history in understanding contemporary Africa.
  • Examines questions such as: Who invented the idea of 'Africa'? How is African history pieced together, given such a lack of documentary evidence? How did Africa interact with the world 1,000 years ago?

Essential reading for anyone interested in the African continent and the diversity of human history, this Very Short Introduction looks at Africa's past and reflects on the changing ways it has been imagined and represented. Key themes in current thinking about Africa's history are illustrated with a range of fascinating historical examples, drawn from over 5 millennia across this vast continent.


1: The idea of Africa
2: Africans: diversity and unity
3: Africa's past: historical sources
4: Africa in the world
5: Colonialism in Africa
6: Imagining the future, rebuilding the past
7: Memory and forgetting, past and present

About the author: 

John Parker teaches African history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He specializes in the history of Ghana and is the author of Making the Town: Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra (2000) and (with Jean Allman) Tongnaab: The History of a West African God (2005). He is currently researching a book on the history of death and burial in Ghana.
Richard Rathbone
is Honorary Professor of History in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and Emeritus Professor in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He has written on south and west Africa and his books include Ghana (1992), Murder and politics in colonial Ghana (1993) and Nkrumah and the chiefs (2000). He is currently working on 19th century west African intellectuals.

"A very well informed and sharply stated historiography... should be in every historiography student's kitbag. A tour de force... it made me think a great deal." - Terence Ranger, The Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"You will finish this book better informed, with a better understanding of Africa and a clearer idea of the questions." - Robert Giddings, Tribune

"This small book is a smart and stimulating essay exploring issues of history, sources and methods, Africa in the world, colonialism and postcolonialism, and the past in the present as a means of introducing students and others to academic thinking about African history." - Tom Spear, Journal of African History

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