- A Journal of Debates, Methods, and Source Analysis – Editors' Introduction
Our journal has carried the subtitle "A Journal of Method" with pride for more than four decades. The singular "method" represented well the journal's mission, as the English word "method" comes from the Ancient Greek meta (indicating a development) + hodos (way). That is, of course, a sentiment widely supported by historians of Africa, as the continent and its population, as well as research into it and its historical sources, face the constant threat of marginalization.
Yet as editors our experience has been that the term "method" has its shortcomings. Epistemologically, thinking in terms of a developmental process is a sign of modernism, and it implicitly glorifies processes associated with the imposition of particular ideas and knowledge systems. And these are – and have always been! – exactly the kind of processes that contributors to History in Africa have attempted to uncover, to lay bare, and to challenge. Alongside this ideological critique the editors experienced that in colloquial conversation many colleagues believed the journal to be on "methods", plural, thus having a narrow scope with a strong focus on sociology. That assumption made those colleagues believe that History in Africa lay outside their interests as professional historian, to the detriment of the journal and its goal of engaging a wide audience.
In order to communicate the journal's agenda more accurately as well as to improve the journal's position among its audience of researchers and students of the history of Africa, we therefore decided to rephrase the journal's subtitle. From now on it will be History in Africa – A Journal of Debates, Methods, and Source Analysis. The new name comes with the following mission statement: [End Page 1]
History in Africa is an international, peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes original research and review essays on methodological and historiographical matters pertaining to African history. It has been at the forefront of critical discussion of these topics for more than four decades. It seeks submissions that suggest new methodological approaches, provide insights into source materials, and reflect critically on themes in existing literatures or emerging fields of inquiry. History in Africa is a venue for rigorous analysis of both established and emerging research practices as well as of the resulting scholarly production about the African past.
The publication of this long-planned redefinition of the journal's mission statement coincides with the passing of Jan Vansina, the man who dedicated his professional life to the professionalization and methodical deepening of the study of Africa's history. Working most of his life at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he was one of the powers behind the journal's creation and success through his numerous contributions to the journal and, behind the scenes, through peer reviews and strategic advice.1 For this volume of HiA Michele Wagner has written an informative obituary of Jan Vansina; next year's issue will contain numerous contributions that connect with Vansina's work.
This year's volume offers a range of studies that represent HiA's mission to be a venue for rigorous historical analysis. We offer them in three sections: Critical Historiography, New Insights into Source Materials, and Archival Reports.
The section Critical Historiography begins with Lisa Lindsay's analysis of the themes, methods, and limitations of biography, a literary genre that historians of Africa have often employed for historical analysis. Lindsay charts the rise and transformation of biography as a form of Africanist history writing, from nationalist heroes to slaves, women, and other subalterns in Africa and the diaspora. Tom McCaskie discusses a contemporary publication on plants collected in the kingdom of Asante in 1817 by Henry Tedlie. McCaskie analyzes plant-collecting as an aspect both of European global expansion, from exploration to colonialism and beyond, and of the sovereign scientific orthodoxy that became established alongside it. John Tabhiti Willis raises a methodological debate by juxtaposing his own observations and interpretations as a twenty-first-century ethnographer with those of nineteenth-century Christian missionaries in order to rethink interpretations of the practice of gender in pre-colonial Yoruba culture. Brian Yates...