The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources

By Robin W. Winks | Go to book overview

BRITISH WEST AFRICA

Harrison M. Wright

THE FORMER British West African territories-- Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria1--present a typical historiographical problem in that they may be studied usefully from many points of view. To the Imperial historian the four territories considered together, although geographically disconnected and in many ways dissimilar, make an appropriate unit of variations on a single theme. To the historian of the now-developing independent states, on the other hand, the local background of the individual territories is far more important than the tenuous British connection which existed among them in earlier years. And to the historian of non-political or of precolonial history the boundaries of the territories themselves often seem arbitrary and irrelevant compared to cultural or natural geographic divisions within West Africa as a whole. Depending upon one's historical perspective, in other words, the four territories may be treated as a unit, or separately, or may be largely disregarded as political entities. Yet while these three as well as other approaches are all perfectly valid ones, historiographical essays have to be restricted in their scope. After considering the general development of historical attitudes toward the four territories, therefore, this essay will concentrate primarily on the period of British contact from the point of view of the histories of the individual countries.

Compared to most other Commonwealth areas British West Africa has an extremely sketchy historical literature, because professional historians and West Africa had only the most incidental connection with each other until after 1945. For perfectly obvious reasons there were virtually no professional historians, either African or British, actually living in West Africa until after World War II. The Africans were too busy with other tasks; there were no British settlers; and

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1
Ghana (formerly, the Gold Coast), Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia became independent in 1957, 1960, 1961, and 1965 respectively.

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The Historiography of the British Empire-Commonwealth: Trends, Interpretations and Resources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors ix
  • Introduction 3
  • The American Continental Colonies in the Empire 23
  • The Empire Since 1783 46
  • Canada 69
  • Australia 137
  • New Zealand 174
  • The British Territories in the Pacific 197
  • South Africa 212
  • British Central Africa 237
  • British East Africa 248
  • British West Africa 261
  • Egypt and the Sudan 279
  • Great Britain and Inter­national Trusteeship: the Mandate System 296
  • Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus 312
  • Ireland's Commonwealth Years, 1922-1949 326
  • The British West Indies 344
  • India 357
  • Pakistan 396
  • Ceylon 421
  • Burma 448
  • Malaysia 460
  • Commonwealth Literature: Developments and Prospects 493
  • Appendix: An American Report 523
  • Index 529
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