The African Diaspora: A History through Culture

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The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture. By Patrick Manning. Columbia Studies in Global and International History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Pp. ix-xxi, 395; maps, graphs and tables, photographs, illustrations, notes, index. $24.50 / £17 paper.

Patrick Manning's The African Diaspora: A History Through Culture is an ambitious and far-reaching volume that puts Africa and the African Diaspora at the center of world history. Like Michael Gomez in Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2005), John Thornton and Linda Heywood in Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660 (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and Toyin Falola and Kevin Roberts in The Atlantic World, 14502000 (Indiana University Press, 2008), Manning presents a broad revision of how Africans and the African Diaspora can be understood as social actors in the past. Yet, Manning does not necessarily invoke the idea of the Black Atlantic per se. Rather, he believes the idea of modernity can be productive, and that people of Africa and its Diaspora are at the center of the construction of the contemporary world. Aware of the potential pitfalls and critiques of such an approach, Manning's detailed and encyclopedic discussion of the African Diaspora over the last five hundred years stresses connectivity and flow of communities moving into and out of Africa. Thus, though Manning may seem a little too eager to accept "modernity" as a real historical era, his approach certainly takes the best of post-colonial and postmodern approaches in revising and re-constructing the idea of world history with Africa and the African Diaspora as important generators of history and cultural meaning.

The African Diaspora also offers us a way to think about the most important aspects of African and African Diaspora history from multiple starting points. His chapter, "Diaspora: Struggles and Connections," gives a well-rounded discussion of the idea of Diaspora starting from its biblical and Greek roots to how the idea and term has been internationalized, and especially used to describe the experiences of dispersed Africans over the centuries. What is particularly refreshing is Manning's constant return in the volume to Eastern African Diasporas as examples of this process (p. 176-77). Manning also turns the lens onto Africans at home in order to think about early African history and culture in his chapter "Connections to 1600" (esp. pp. 42-58). Other chapters, like "Survival, 1600-1800," and "Emancipation, 1800-1900," broadly discuss slavery and colonialism in a manner that explains the connections between the two in creating global structures of power and material wealth. …


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