In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

November/December 2004 · Historically Speaking 17 tance for the long-term reorganization of societyin Europe and, I believe, also in West Africa. Both societies had to learn to accommodate the initial shockofthe immorality of trade and ofthe "material gains that individuals made from such transactions that violated the fundamental sharing premise of Africa's communal ethos." In general, it seems to me that Miller slights the Muslim presence in Africa. Plunging toward the folklevel, where the majority most certainly existed, he relies on inference and imagination to construct his version of "witchcraft," neglecting the imported missionary faiths that were already present and played a more constructive role over the long run than "the self-defeating attempt to restore the integrity ofa body politic ... by purging it ofits own human vitality." Again, many other desperate peoples invented local cults and practices that proved to be vain and self-defeating. Cargo cults in the South Pacific and ghost dances among American Indians are best known. Miller's West African "witchcraft" is another case, previously unknown to me, but all the more plausible because it conforms so closely to human responses among others in parallel situations. My reaction to Miller's essay therefore boils down to two suggestions. First, his portrait ofWest Africa's painful encounter with the rest of the world after 1600 or so would become more interestingand persuasive ifhe were to compare what happened there explicitlywith similar older and contemporarypatterns elsewhere. Second, I also feel that by dismissing "a revolution in the consumption ofthings" as just another ploy on the part of Western historians to denigrate Africans he is making a mistake. The arrival ofAmerican food crops and the role ofAfrican diseases in safeguarding African societies against more rapid disintegration were of major importance for those concerned. Maize and peanuts are notuniversal inAfrica, buttheyare significant food crops today and probably became so in the 18th century. Guns, too, changed war and politics in far-reaching ways by giving a new advantage to those who got possession of them. And, as I said before, religious ideas with concomitantnotions oflaw, property, and justice imported from afar played no small partin changingAfrican society , dating back to initial encounters with Christianity in northeast Africa in the 2nd century and with Islam in the 7th century. All human contact and communication inaugurates a two-way process by provoking borrowing on both sides, with subsequent adaptations, misunderstandings, actions, and reactions. By emphasizing African distinctiveness —local forms ofsocial solidarity and power through accumulating a following, and the role of "witchcraft"—Miller describes part, but only part, of the encounter. New crops altered lives also by expanding food supplies, and new ideas borrowed and modified from those outsiders surely changed lives as well. I could notagree morewithMiller's partingobservation : "Conventionalhistoryfails to address fully the fact that people throughout history have reacted to long-term broad processes of which they were only dimly aware." That means that written sources seldom offer explicit evidence ofwhatworld historians most want. Consequently, they must rely on an acute and informed imagination to discern the "long-term broad processes" they seek. Miller's essay is a magnificent example of such historical imagination in action. My complaint rests on its partiafity. He needs to fly higher, look at Africa as a whole (from Cape of Good Hope to the Mediterranean coastline), consider relations among diverse peoples within that continent and their varied encounters with Islam and peoples ofthe Indian Ocean coastlines as well as with Europe, and, finally, also go back in time, i.e., become a real world historian for whom the painful episode of transatlantic slavery is not the sole—or at least not the overriding—center ofhis attention. Onlyby doing so will he really live up to his title by going "Beyond Blacks, Bondage, and Blame." William H. McNeill is the RobertA. Milliken Distinguished Service ProfessorEmeritus at the University ofChicago. Finding Africa in World History David Northrup Joseph Miller's essay contains much to agree with, many points to ponder, and some bits to scratch one's head about. One can enthusiastically endorse the central thesis thathistorians need to move beyond externallygenerated and Eurocentric perspectives that treat sub-Saharan Africans in terms...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 17-19
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.