- The African Diaspora: A History through Culture by Patrick Manning
No topic pervades historical African studies more than the forced and free dispersal of Africans across the world. In The African Diaspora: A History through Culture, Patrick Manning—an advocate of global history—composes a rich and compelling narrative of the social experiences of Africans abroad since 1400 c.e. This volume covers key topics in Africans’ history. These topics include, but are not limited to, early connections among African regions and between Africa and the external world, the enslavement of Africans, black emancipation, African citizenship in host lands, and the greater social equalities for diasporans that have arisen in recent decades. Employing lucid prose and thematic clarity, Manning further considers the diverse roles of Africans in the diaspora and Africans’ cultural influences on the increasingly urban and interconnected societies of modern times. By placing Africans at the center of the dynamic human story, Manning advances a historical vision pioneered by W. E. B. Du Bois and Joseph E. Harris, among others.
During the last ten years, stellar works of a different type than The African Diaspora have impacted scholars’ thinking about diaspora and the characteristics, role, and influences of Africa-derived communities. For instance, in The Practice of Diaspora (2003), Brent Hayes Edwards makes a convincing case for pan-African transnationalism among intellectuals living in New York and Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. In a lively text that, in part, addresses emergent black alliances and trends in urban spaces, Edwards motivates readers to explore further Africans’ place in making the modern world. A no less brilliant exegesis, Specters of the Atlantic (2005) by Ian Baucom, employs the Zong, a misidentified slave ship, to trace the implications of the ship’s tragic story for understanding abolitionist thought and the changing registers and forms of commerce in the Atlantic more than two hundred years ago. These [End Page 434] works reveal that an impoverished galley of characters and events often has hindered us from seeing Africans’ roles and global history. Their works enable pasts rooted in human connections and social change and, moreover, suggest that a variegated history that integrates Africans is nurtured by considering spaces of cultural confluence and tension.
In The African Diaspora, Patrick Manning produces a text that demonstrates how historians writing for a broad audience might treat the global African diaspora with focus, clarity, and subtlety. He brings together a wealth of information that engages not just the centers of African experience abroad, but also the spaces in between grand or ideal types: in the web strands, rather than the nodes, of networks; in the hinterlands of capital cities and port towns; and at the fringes of cultural mosaics. The accounts of Edwards and Baucom, it appears, are characteristic stories of Africans’ pasts in that they demonstrate African influences, through diaspora, on global culture and economy. Such cases, when articulated by scholars, are unsettling to accepted histories. Manning’s narrative, a straightforward, detailed, overview account of the global African diaspora, finds strength in the connections, social dynamics, and community renewals that inform its telling. But, beyond specifics, The African Diaspora presents a “common heritage” (p. 30) of diverse but shared experiences that undergirds black practices, voices, and feelings. Diaspora, as a concept, enables an understanding of this grand history of community.
A thematic- and question-oriented introduction, five chronologically ordered chapters, and an epilogue compose The African Diaspora. Its primary themes include connections of “mutual identification,” the evolving discourse on race, economic changes to the livelihoods of diasporans, contours of family life at home and abroad, and the influences of African popular culture the world over. “Culture” is central to Manning’s text. By it, Manning means both “macroculture,” in terms of what he calls “Black culture,” and “microculture,” which he separates into various categories, such as “material culture,” for heuristic purposes (p. 21). Directed at advanced undergraduates, scholars of the African diaspora, and the informed public, the volume offers useful, if somewhat outdated, bibliographies at the...