The African Experience

The African Experience

The African Experience

The African Experience

Synopsis

This masterpiece of scholarship and compression, the second edition of The African Experience, covers the entire span of human history across the African continent, from the earliest emergence of hominids in eastern and southern Africa up to the present day. Drawing on more than forty years of teaching and research, Professor Oliver arranges the book thematically, beginning with the human colonization of the different regions of Africa, the origins of food production, and the formation of African languages. The achievements of Ancient Egypt are placed in context with the developmentsin the rest of the continent, and the spread of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - "peoples of the book." The tradition of urban settlement is traced, especially in western Africa, as well as the emergence of large and complex societies formed by the interaction of pastoralists and cultivators in eastern and southern Africa. The extent and nature of slavery in Africa is fully discussed, together with the external slave trade and the caravan trade in precolonial times. This leads to an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of African political systems and why, from the early nineteenth century onwards, these systems were unable to withstand political pressure from abroad and the ensuing colonization. The colonial partition of Africa saw the rapid amalgamation of small units, through which considerable modernization was achieved at the expense of the indigenous structures and through the exploitation of the African peoples. Later chapters describe the birth of modern African nation-states, at a time of widespread belief in state planning - now being questioned as the political elites of black Africa begin to review their single-party systems. This new edition sees a number of revisions, including a new chapter on the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War left Africa free at last to try to solve its own problems.

Excerpt

The African Experience is a work of reflection, written for sheer pleasure during the first four years of my retirement from the first Chair of African History ever created in the University of London. It does not attempt to tell a continuous story, but rather to discuss a set of themes, chosen for their significance for the continent as a whole, and arranged in chronological order, from the earliest times until the most recent. While it reflects the teaching and research of forty years, I have deliberately limited most of my references to easily available secondary works published within the last ten years, and I have made particularly extensive use of the two large collaborative histories of the continent - the Cambridge History of Africa, of which I was one of the General Editors, and the General History of Africa produced under the auspices of UNESCO, of which five volumes had appeared at the time this book went to press. I am aware that my choice of continent-wide themes has resulted in the virtual exclusion of Madagascar and the other surrounding islands, and also in a bias towards sub-Saharan as against Mediterranean Africa. In the interests of the general reader, I have struggled to minimize the number of unfamiliar ethnic and geographical names, but inevitably more remain than can be accommodated easily on the maps. I have therefore attempted to locate them at least roughly in the Index, by indicating the modern countries to which they belong.

Among the friends who have helped and encouraged me by reading and commenting on parts of this book, I have to acknowledge specially my colleagues in the British Institute in Eastern Africa, John Sutton, David Phillipson, Peter Robertshaw and Justin Willis; David William Cohen of the African Studies Program of Northwestern University; and Andras Bereznay who drew the maps.

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