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Reviewed by:
  • A History of Modern Sudan
  • Dorothy V. Smith
Collins, Robert O. 2008. A History of Modern Sudan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. xxii; 338 pp.

A History of Modern Sudan is a 338-page book authored by Robert O. Collins, professor emeritus of history at University of California, Santa Barbara. In it, Collins has carefully drawn on his vast research experiences, which span not less than half a century. It is divided into ten chapters, a preface, a glossary, an introduction, an epilogue, notes, a select bibliography, and an index.

In the preface, Collins explains his obsession with Sudan, which began in the 1953–1954 academic year at Dartmouth College, where he was a senior. At the time, he was writing his honors thesis in history, about the upper Nile Valley (Sudan) of 1878–1879. It was part of the plan for writing the thesis to visit the area, but, as he wrote, he “did not arrive in Sudan to continue . . . until several months after independence on 1 January 1956.” Until 2006, he “returned regularly to live, travel widely in every part of Sudan, and conduct historical research in the archives and the field” (p. xiii).

Collins says he witnessed several of the events about which he writes: “During these same years I was present when many of the events in the following narrative took place” (p. xii). He explains that because of Arabic and ethnic nuances, the spellings of names and places in his book are inconsistent; however, he adds promptly that “the only legitimate principle is consistency in the text” (preface).

In the section dealing with abbreviations, Collins explains important acronyms and monetary units, including the Egyptian pound and the Sudanese pound, similar to the British pound sterling. Not leaving anything to chance, he explains such famous acronyms as CMS, for the Church Missionary Society; CIA, for America’s Central Intelligence Agency; and IMF, for the International Monetary Fund.

In the glossary, Collins explains several Arabic-related words and Islamic terms, including jihad, Khalifa, Khalifat, and the Holy Qur’an. The introduction (pp. 1–9) is preceded by a useful map of the Nile Basin, and Collins explains the historiography of Sudan as being “complex and long, spanning from the Kingdom of Kush (760 bce–350 ce) to the present day” (p. 1). He provides geographic interpretations of areas and events. For example, he writes, among many details: “One of the most formidable natural obstacles in the world, the Sudd is a labyrinth of 11,700 square miles of lakes, lagoons, and meandering channels” (p. 2). Importantly, he uses the introduction to offer readers an important discussion of the north–south ethnic divide: “If [End Page 128] Muslims have dominated northern Sudan, non-Muslim Sudanese have prevailed in the South. Today, they constitute one-third of the Sudanese and number some sixty distinct groups of Western and Eastern Nilotes” (p. 6).

Collins uses the introduction to explain the racial aspects of the Sudanese nation in varied ways. For example, he writes: “Cultural racism has been less severe. . . . A definition of what constitutes identity is as elusive as any interpretation of racism, but defining who is a Sudanese constitutes yet another ingredient in cultural racism” (p. 8).

Chapter 1 of A History of Modern Sudan is subtitled “The making of modern Sudan: the nineteenth century” (pp. 10–32). With a map of the Turkiya area (p. 11), Collins gives a history of Sudan as it was in the nineteenth century (1800s). He explains in detail several invading forces that operated in Sudan, and offers the fact that “the invading Ottoman army met little resistance except from the Shayqiyya confederacy” (p. 11). It was at that time that foreign interests persisted in Sudan: there were, in fact, two prominent scenes that, in Collins’s opinion, “best symbolize the end of the Mahdist State and French imperial ambitions” (p. 32). Here, he provides details of the war between foreign and indigenous forces, including the Khalifa, and how today, in the Fashoda part of Sudan, one can see “crosses of the French officers who had marched across Africa to die there quietly from disease” (p. 32). Chapters 2–5...


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