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Africa Today 48.3 (2001) 169-170

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Musiker, Naomi and Reuben Musiker. 1999. Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. 480 pp.

This latest volume in a series of historical dictionaries from Scarecrow Press will prove a useful reference guide to both scholars and business people interested in greater Johannesburg. The authors, Naomi and Reuben Musiker, both experienced bibliographers, provide a volume which reflects the evolution of the city with its waves of immigration, industrialization, and shifting political context. Researchers previously unfamiliar with the area will find the dictionary useful in plotting the seemingly perpetual reconfiguration of communities which make up greater Johannesburg. Those already knowledgeable about the city's history will nonetheless find selections among the diverse biographical and institutional entries of use in their work.

Given the inextricable relationship between urban history and national history the authors faced a difficult task in selecting the entries for the book. Thus they limited biographical entries to persons who "made a decisive contribution to the city." Nonetheless, they present a wide range of information, and have done an excellent job of providing thumbnail sketches of complex material. The reader will find substantial entries on local businesses, businessmen, mining engineers, formal architecture, monuments, and local politics. Missing, however, are some key references to local culture. For example, one would like to have seen entries for some of Soweto's major football teams, and to have the section on architecture extended to include a discussion of the planned architecture of the major townships and the more organic architecture of "informal settlements." The dictionary also lacks entries for the city's major newspapers (past and present), which would be of use to scholars using these sources in their research. Lastly, there is no mention of the major epidemics: pneumonia, polio, typhus, etc., which have certainly played a role in shaping the city. [End Page 169]

The book contains several sections in addition to the main body of the dictionary. The Musikers provide an historical time line, which appropriately begins with brief descriptions of regional events for several centuries preceding the founding of the city. The time line though by no means exhaustive is certainly comprehensive enough to be of use to scholars and students attempting to understand the evolution of the city in broad strokes. Together with the concise yet cogently written introduction, scholars familiar with South African history will be able to locate the specificities of urban history within the broader transformations taking place at the regional and national level. Following the time line and introduction the Musikers offer a thorough list of acronyms and abbreviations. This list alone will prove useful to the novice researcher.

Before the main body of the dictionary the authors present a series of five maps of Johannesburg and surrounding areas. Three are from the 1890s, one from the 1920s, and the last from 1996 is a "general map" of the Pretoria/Witwatersrand/Vereeniging region. While these maps are certainly useful, one would wish for a greater selection of maps in a reference volume concerned with the history of a city. For someone unfamiliar with the geographic upheavals since the 1920s it would be impossible from the maps provided to locate major settlements like Soweto or Alexandra, much less key neighborhoods within them. Likewise, the book would benefit from a map which helps the reader find various institutions: hospitals, schools, stadiums, etc., listed within the main body of the dictionary. Given the widespread geographical effects of both national apartheid era legislation and twentieth-century municipal level efforts in social engineering, additional maps would help the reader to visualize how such policies affected the development of greater Johannesburg.

The end of the dictionary contains a thirty-four page bibliography arranged topically. It is well organized and would provide a useful starting point for the student researcher or for scholars new to the history of the Witwatersrand. For the experienced South Africanist, however, it will hold few surprises. All in all this Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg is a valuable reference tool for researchers to have on hand, for its extensive range...


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