The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa, C. 1750-2000

By Myers, Garth Andrew | African Studies Review, September 2003 | Go to article overview

The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa, C. 1750-2000


Myers, Garth Andrew, African Studies Review


Andrew Burton, ed. The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa, c. 1750-2000. Nairobi: The British Institute in Eastern Africa, 2002. For ordering details go to: http://britac3.ac.uk. Photographs. Maps. Notes. $24.00. Paper.

This is one of several books heralding a new interest in eastern Africa's urban history. All but two of its fourteen chapters were presented at a conference in Nairobi sponsored by the British Institute in Eastern Africa in July 2001. It brings together senior and junior scholars based in nine different countries to offer some new approaches to studying eastern Africa's modern urban history. A generous geographical definition of the region allows inclusion of essays that range from Eritrea south to Zimbabwe. The conference's host city does take center stage, though, with six Nairobi-oriented chapters.

The volume is organized into four parts. These deal with precolonial urban centers, colonial urban East Africa, rural-urban interactions, and colonial Nairobi's town life. The book has two major strengths. First, it is exciting to see attention paid to a diverse array of smaller towns and to the interactions of rural areas with urban settings in eastern Africa's history. Where urban historians have been active at all in this region, they have focused on the largest cities-Nairobi and Mombasa in particular-while smaller settlements (other than those along the Swahili coast, of course) get left out of the picture. I particularly enjoyed Peter Waweru's chapter on Archer's Post and Maralal in Samburu District in Kenya, Giacomo Macola's chapter on Eastern Lunda royal capitals, and James Giblin's piece on Iringa, each of which opened readers' eyes to "rural" areas in new ways. second, the broader geographical sweep means that relatively undeveloped historiographies, even in the urban context, receive attention. Heretofore such urban areas as Lusaka, the Copperbelt, Dar es Salaam, or Harare have had their histories more prominently studied by political scientists, anthropologists, or geographers than by historians. …

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