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November/December 2004 Historically Speaking Africa and World History: A Forum THANKFULLY, HISTORIANS HAVE COMEA LONG WAY from the late Hugh Trevor-Roper's dismissive barb made in 1963: "Perhaps in thefuture there willbesomeAfrican history to teach. But atpresent there is none, or very little: there is only the history ofEurope in Africa." Despite an avalanche ofscholarship over the lastfour decades, however, questions remain about how adequately the history ofAfrica is being handled by and integrated into thefield ofworld history and—as thesepages suggest —into the discipline ofhistory at the epistemological level. Atthe2003 meeting oftheAfrican StudiesAssociation, prominent Africanistsalongwith afew invitedworldhistoriansgatheredto discuss the relationship ofAfrican andworldhistorians. Opinions rangedfrom outright skepticism about the legitimacy ofthe enterprise ofworldhistory—suggesting that all too often worldhistorians resortto clichés thathomogenizeanddistortthe rich diversity oftheAfricanpast—to criticism ofAfricanistsforfailing to supply worldhistorians withprovisionalgeneralizationsgleanedfrom several decades ofspecializedscholarship. Beyond these concerns, however, lurkeda morefundamentalsetofquestions, articulmatedby Joseph C. Miller. Is it legitimate to interpret African history on the basis ofmodem, Western conceptualschemesandhistoriographical conventions? Moreover, how can we move toward more balancedtrans -regionalhistories that interpret theAtlantic, Mediterranean , orIndian Ocean experiencesas muchfromAfricanpremises asfromfamiliar modern Western ones? Such questions contain assumptionsandcarry implications thatchallengeus to revisithow we conceptualize historical inquiry itself. Ourforum on Africa in World History explores these matters. Millerprovides the springboardfor our conversation with his "Beyond Blacks, Bondage, and Blame: Why a Multi-Centric WorldHistory Needs Africa" which develops themespresentedin his 1999 American HistoricalAssociationpresidentialaddress. Eightscholars representinga variety ofperspectives respond, after which Miller offers concluding comments. Beyond Blacks, Bondage, and Blame: Why a Multi-centric World History Needs Africa Joseph C. Miller As Lauren Benton put itin a recentissue of this bulletin, "world history has not produced a significant volume ofmethodologically thoughtful discussions or theoretically influential studies." As a historian, I have to agree. As an Africanist, I have long thought that the particular "peoples without history" whom I contemplate offer the extreme examples ofthe exclusion that conventional untheorized standards ofworld history impose— less and more implicitly—on most of the world. Most world historians—with respect butnotapologies tomymanyfriendswho thus style themselves—seem also to mute, if not negate, central principles ofhistory's distinctive methodology. Those who adhere to a "civilizational " approach isolate the exceptional by relying on "continuity" and "origins" in ways thatneglecthistory's core emphasis onchange arising from contingency and complexity. Those who isolate single "causes"—or even several "causes"—of change violate history's distinctive reasoning from contexts, the particulars oftime and place. It is not that world historians have not made gains: only that they have reached the limits of gains achievable within the frameworkofan essentiallynationalist, particularist , exclusive, and progressive epistemology. In fact, Africans (like the vast majority ofthe world's people) have had, and have, distinctive ways of thinking of themselves, and their world(s), as well about as the greater world they share with us. These are worth knowing , notjust for their abstractvalue as human creations, but also for the very practical and revealing highlights that their alternatives cast on the modernWestern imaginings that make up our reality. The first generation oftrained historians interested in Africa—Blyden and others in Africa, and W E. B. Du Bois, Leo Hansberry, and colleagues ofAfrican descent in the U.S., trained before the FirstWorld War—played byEuropean rules. Theyconcentrated on the earliest, largest, most powerful, monumentbuilding "states" in Africa that they could identify. Their identification ofpharaonic f These thoughts emerge from manyyears oftrying to engage undergraduates with true alterity, and from recent experience in trying to explain to respected colleagues what I as a historian, who happens to work on Africa, share with my counterparts who still find it hard to distinguish what I do from "anthropology." Historically Speaking November/December 2004 Egypt(3rd-lstmillennium B.C.E.), or atleast Nubia, as "African," their delineation of "empires" in the sub-Saharan western sudan (10th-16th centuries CE.), and their admiration for the mysterious monumental stone ruins in southeastern Africa at Great Zimbabwe (13th-14th centuries CE.) survive today as the touchstones ofmost world history references to Africa before the fateful era ofthe Atlantic slave trade. KingTut preceded Alexander and Augustus, and Mansa Musa ofMaU (ca. 132Os) reigned before Elizabeth I or Phillip II. For most, this progressive vision of Africa's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 7-11
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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