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|Development Of African Historigraphy 1900-1975 by bokunrawo(m): 3:59pm On May 25, 2015|
Historiography refers to both the study of the methodology of historians and the development of history as a discipline and also to a body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have studied that topic using particular sources; techniques and theoretical approaches .There are four stages in the development of the study of African history. But for the purpose of this paper we are going to concern ourselves with the period of 1900-1960 (the colonial period).
Development of African Historiography: 1900-1960
During the period of 1900-1960, African historiography was majorly Eurocentric i.e African history was written by interested European amateurs who nevertheless made contributions to the political realities, philosophical assumption and methodological approaches of the time. African historiography at that time was majorly fine tuned in line with the Eurocentric views of African history for example Professor Huge Trevor-Roper , a Professor of modern history at Oxford University, who attested to the motion that Africa has no history said these:
“Undergraduates, seduced, as always, by the changing breath of journalistic fashion, demand that they should be taught the history of black Africa. Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America.” (David: 2010)
Furthermore Lander observed that the ‘… European regional or local history is understood as universal History. According to this perspective, Europe serves as the model or reference for every other history, representing the apex of humanity’s progress from the “primitive” to the “modern” (Lander: 2), and as Trevor-Roper himself had affirmed “'historical problems were always, and only, problems -of individual behavior and individual eccentricity…” (Carr: 28) something Curtin dubbed as “Historical Parochialism” (Curtin: 57). Apparent from this ethnocentric romance, G.F Hegel With gross disregard, wrote off Africa in these despicable words:
“Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained — for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World — shut up… the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night.. ..Whether any internal movement had taken place, or if so, of what character, we do not know (Hegel 109)
Generations of European writers began to zero their intellectual focus on the above premise leveled by Hegel; a total Cultural chauvinism which served as another reason for such orientation. The accreditation of human societies as ‘Civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ based on possession of ‘literacy’ intensified the racial-pervasive nature of European Historiography, as A.P Newton posit ‘History begins when men begins to write’.
To mention some more: Navy commander Andrew H. Foote, after a visit to Africa, fed his experience to the American ears as:
“…Cruelty and oppression were everywhere…nowhere has there been any real civilization. It is singular that these people should have rested in this unalloyed barbarism for thousands of years, and that there should have been no native-born advancement and no flowing in upon its darkness of any glimmering of light from the progress and high illumination of the outside world” (Uya : 23)
Another pertinacious trend in colonial (basically Eurocentric) historiography is the Hermitic Hypothesis, which presupposes that whatever good that can be found in Africa came from without, an opinion that advanced the notion that Africans are ‘incapable of initiating change’, except of cause, assisted by an alien race - in this case the Semites of the Middle East. G.F Hegel authored that:
“Historical movements in it…[Africa]… — that is in its northern part — belong to the Asiatic or European World. Carthage displayed there an important transitionary phase of civilization; but, as a Phoenician colony, it belongs to Asia. Egypt will be considered in reference to the passage of the human mind from its Eastern to its Western phase, but it does not belong to the African Spirit. What we properly understand by Africa, is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature, and which had to be presented here only as on the threshold of the World’s History.” ( 116).
Reacting to this Euro-advanced view, A.E Afigbo, in his elaborate discourse on Colonial historiography, stated clearly that:
‘’The use of Hamitic, or white, supremacy as the explanation for the transition of African society from savagery through barbarism to the threshold of civilization was the result of Europe’s strong commitment, at the time, to the factor of race as the single most important, if not indeed the only important factor in historical development… when European penetrated the interior of Africa in the nineteenth century, two conditions which they met there made the rise of the Hamitic hypothesis only natural. First, even in the heart of the land of the Negroes, there existed societal conditions which clearly showed that the Negro had left the stage of savagery and in some cases was about to break out of barbarism into civilization…”(Afigbo:47)
Against all these odd, one can admittedly say with Edward Blyden that “Africa is no vast island. Africa has been connected, both as a source and nourisher, with some of the most potent influences which have affected for the good history of the world” (Arukwe : 57), and as Paul Valery would say, ‘the real nature of history is to play a part in history itself’.
With the above Euro- tilted bias of African history, there became an exigent need for a correctional effort by the new emerging class of African Historians, specifically in the Late 1950s and early 1960s, to present a defense of an Existing ‘African History’ from a true African perspective (Afro-centric point of view). This era saw the emergence of scholars like, Philip D. Curtin, Basil Davidson, S.O Biobaku, Kenneth O. Dike, J.F.A Ajayi, J.C. Anene, T.N Tamuno, J.A Akinjogbin and E.A Ayandele amongst other numerous professional historians. These scholars delved into the task of debunking Western populist notions, by attempting a rebirth of the African past in an appropriate image. For Kapteijns (1977) the new movement could be examined from two principal perspectives, he writes;
In the answers African historians gave to the question of “Why African history?” two aspects can be distinguished, one negative, and the other positive. First, the answer were ‘negative’ as far as they were a reaction to, and a denial of the validity of the prevailing climate of opinion in the West during the colonial period (and after); and as far as they tried to restore the balance by rehabilitating African history, secondly, the answers ‘positive’ in the sense that they were defining a clear and new function for African historical writing, outlining a programe for making the past usable and relevant to modern Africans.” (‘23’).
Just as stated above by Kapteijn, most part of what these scholars began to write was what we can technically conclude to being ‘defensive history’. Alagoa and Ajayi traditionally let out this fact when they commented that the history that they wrote was:
“to correct the distortions and to bridge the gap created by the colonial experience in the African historical tradition… to provide a sense of continuity, and to explain to each person and each people where they fit into the scheme of things… [to explore]… the continuity of African history especially of black Africans to their present predicament” (134).
What became to the African historian a quintessential tool for achieving his fit in the reconstruction of the African past was the previously dispelled ‘Oral tradition’, “…for the African historian who set out to write this history from an African perspective – particularly when dealing with the pre-colonial period – oral sources were indispensable…” (Kapteijns : 47), and One of the vanguard-historians in this new discipline was Jan Vansina, who is still reputed to this day as an indisputable authority in that field.
Quite oddly enough, there were African historians who were contemporaries of the afore-mentioned Afrocentric-scholars, who stood aloof in their works and teachings from the fervor of the time, clinging rather to the belief that; most of the expressed views of the earlier mentioned Eurocentric writers were largely justified. Often coming under sharp criticism by nationalistic historians
From much of what contemporaneous African historical writings presented, the West and its doctrine of Eurocentrism, seems much to the pleasurable delight of this ‘warrior historians’, to be ‘humbled and quieted’, but as Curtin had rightly stated, many in that continent still remembered that there was an ‘Africa without a history’ and as Afrocentric writers still battle in wit to turn the tides and reproduce an image of a continent ‘nourished by its own rich and unique civilization’, there is an exigent need to strike a fair balance of Objectivity – a History (a solution centered History) that will focus on the prospect of redeeming the future, rather than the glorification and magnifications of tiny ‘bits’ from the distant past.
Afigbo A.E, The Poverty of African Historiography: Afrografika Publishers,
………“ Fact and Myth in Nigerian Historiography: Nigeria Magazine, Festac
Edition, 122 123 (1977) pp. 81-98.
……… “ Anthropology and colonial Administration in Southern Nigeria
1891-1939: Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 8, 1 (1975) p. 19-36.
Ajayi J.F.A, Alagoa E.J. Black Africa: The Historian’s Perspective: (N.P) New York,
Arukwe Nnanna o. Since Equiano: History and Challenges of African Socio-political Thought:
University of Nnsuka Nigeria Press. 2009
Carr Edward H. What is History?: Cambridge University Press. 1961.
Curtin Philip D. Image of Africa: (N.P), Madison Wisconsin, 1964.
……… Recent Trend in African Historiography and Their Contributions to
History in General: (N.P), 1988.
Hegel Friedrich G.W: The Philosophy of History, Batoche Books Street South
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 3L1,Canada. 2001.
Lander Edgardo. Eurocentrism, Modern Knowledges, and the “Natural” Order of
Global Capital: Nepantla: Views from South 3.2, Duke University Press. 200
Lidwien Kapteijns. African Historigraphy Written by Africans, 1955-1973; The
Nigerian Case: Leiden Afrika-Studiecentrum. 1977.
Uya Okon.Blacks in Diaspora: Cambridge University Press. 1961.
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