Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Power of Doubt: Essays in Honor of David Henige

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Power of Doubt: Essays in Honor of David Henige

Article excerpt

The Power of Doubt: Essays in Honor of David Henige. Edited by Paul S. Landau. Madison, WI: Parallel Press, University of Wisconsin Libraries, 2011. Pp. 281; map, photographs, bibliography, appendix. $25.00 paper.

The nine contributions to this volume all reflect on the relation between interpretation and evidence, a problem that gained center stage in African historiography since David Henige founded History in Africa: A Journal of Method in 1974. Using different approaches, the authors engage upon what according to the editor, Paul Landau, has defined Henige' s scholarship over more than forty years, namely the question, "How do you know?"

In the spirit of Henige' s early interest in oral traditions, Mustafa Kemal Mirzeler (examining the performance of oral traditions by the Jie in northern Kenya), John Thornton (writing on the Kingdom of Kongo), and Elizabeth Eldredge (reassessing the destructive impact of Shaka Zulu's military expeditions) demonstrate some of the potential gains and dangers of using oral sources for writing history. Like Eldredge, Richard Reid focuses on the role of warfare in African history, making a vigorous case, however, for a more traditional documentary approach. Against what he perceives as a postmodern current in the historiography, Reid argues that contemporary European accounts provide a unique window on the military revolution that swept across much of eastern Africa in the nineteenth century. Thornton underlines the importance of written sources for precolonial history, and convincingly points out that Kongo's rich variety of oral traditions only becomes meaningful in the light of its equally rich documentary tradition.

In a study of freed slave children and apprenticeship in early colonial Ghana, Kwabena Akurang-Parry also relies primarily on written documents, in his case colonial reports on abolition and emancipation from 1890 to 1930. Staying within West Africa, Paul Jenkins takes a set of photographs of chiefs and kings from the Basel Mission archive as a starting point for examining the relations between chieftaincy and evangelical Christian institutions among the Akan and in the Cameroon Grassfields. …

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