- Africa [Not] in World History: A Review from the South (Part 1)
The first and only time that the World History Association met in Africa was in June 2005, when the annual conference was held at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Opened in 1995, Al Akhawayn University is located in the Middle Atlas Mountains in a town that is primarily a health resort for wealthy tourists from Europe. In its own [End Page 103]publicity, the university claims that it “redefines the classic American liberal arts educational experience on an architecturally stunning modern campus amidst the beauty of Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains.” 1Approximately two hundred delegates attended the conference, which had “the high patronage of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI.” They ranged from those at leading universities in the United States to those who taught mainly at adult education colleges and high schools. There was also a scattering of delegates from outside the United States, most notably some from Morocco. As far as the discussion went, some wanted to move toward a more inclusive type of history that would incorporate more regions of the globe, while others wanted to place greater stress on the linkages and relationships between different areas in ways that could include a world systems type of approach.
The siting of the meeting in Morocco provided an ideal opportunity and space to engage with the important themes of “Africa in World History” and “The Mediterranean in World History.” Unlike big area studies and U.S. disciplinary-specific meetings, this one did not have people politicking over jobs and publications, and delegates instead actually attended the sessions. As a result there were some lively and interesting debates. One of the most crucial of these, and what became a crisis point in the conference, was the roundtable session entitled “New Directions in World History.” Four speakers from the U.S. academy gave their views on where world history as a category was going. Jerry Bentley evoked a canon of world history, much of it now seeking to establish meanings, connections, and frameworks. Ross Dunn referred to the teaching of world history in schools, where it was bound up with American political culture, and insisted that world history had to be engaged with as a political struggle in schools. Eric Martin was concerned, like Bentley, to draw upon the concept of world history as the search for the connections between local and global. In summarizing the discussions Patrick Manning felt that world history had been presented in a duality of either/or and insisted that it could carry out both the need to be expansive in terms of content and also open up larger frameworks of interpretation.
The presentations and the discussions that followed unleashed a series of much broader question about world history and its centeredness in the United States. As one delegate observed, this was a conference being held in Africa, and not one African delegate was being asked to offer input on new directions in world history from his or her perspective. Despite constant attempts to traverse linkages and relationships in [End Page 104]its field of study, world history...