Agency and Analogy in African History: The Contribution of Extra-Mural Studies in Ghana1

By Skinner, Kate | History In Africa, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Agency and Analogy in African History: The Contribution of Extra-Mural Studies in Ghana1


Skinner, Kate, History In Africa


I

As the pioneering generation of postwar British academics retired, some produced autobiographical texts which revealed the personal circumstances and intellectual influences that brought them to the study of Africa.2 Edited volumes have also provided broader reflections on the academic disciplines, methodologies, and institutions through which these scholars engaged with the continent.3 In one such text, Christopher Clapham and Richard Hodder-Williams noted the special relationship between extramural studies (also known as university adult education) and the academic study of Africa's mass nationalist movements:

The impetus for this study came to a remarkable degree from a tiny group of men and women who pioneered university extra-mural studies in the Gold Coast immediately after the [Second World War], and to a significant extent established the parameters for subsequent study of the subject [African politics]. Gathered together under the aegis of Thomas Hodgkin [. . .], they were led by David Kimble [. . .], and included among the tutors Dennis Austin, Lalage Bown and Bill Tordoff, all of whom were to play a major role in African studies in the United Kingdom over the next forty years.4

These extra-mural tutors carried out their initial and most innovative research in the 1950s, "beyond the walls" of university campuses, where departments were only just beginning to consider Africa from any perspective other than that of European penetration. The research produced by extra-mural tutors bears the distinct imprint of their experience in the Gold Coast: for approximately a decade, they provided university adult education, in history, economics, and politics and government to self-selecting groups of literate Anglophone Africans in towns up and down the colony. While Clapham and Hodder-Williams have recognized the importance of extra-mural tutors' research to the study of African politics, the extra-mural contribution has been somewhat overlooked in recent reviews of African history in the United Kingdom, This may be because, unlike Roland Oliver or John Fage, the extra-mural tutors were not typically among the very first lecturers or professors of British university departments specializing in the subject. However, the names Hodgkin, Kimble, Austin and Tordoff are just as familiar to students of Africa's modern history as they are to students of African politics. Ivor Wilks-who is not mentioned by Clapham and Hodder-Williams-also began his academic career as an extra-mural tutor in the Gold Coast.

In this paper I will elaborate on the important but hitherto unexplored relationship between extra-mural studies and the ways in which we now study Africa's modern history. Firstly, I will explain how and why extramural studies were introduced to the Gold Coast. After World War II, influential colonial advisors in the metropole regarded the economic and social situation of parts of tropical Africa as analogous to that of mid-nineteentiicentury Britain. African nationalism was interpreted dirough references to British history, and, more specifically, through references to Chartism-the first national mass movement through which British workers demanded the franchise. For a short but significant period under the postwar Labour government, the initiatives and experiences of the British working class became an important model in the formulation of policies designed to guide Africa and its nationalist politicians to self-government. Adult education occupied a central place in British working-class history, and some influential policy-makers and academics believed that this type of education could be transferred to the African colonies.

Secondly, I will discuss how this insistence on the comparability of nineteenth-century British working-class politics and twentieth-century African nationalism influenced the particular model of teaching and research that was introduced to the Gold Coast. This was vital in allowing extra-mural tutors to use their exceptional familiarity with the peoples and environments of the Gold Coast as a starting point for academic research. …

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