problems and issues in african historiography pdf

Problems and issues in african historiography pdf

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Africanist History and the History of Africa

Lyn Schumaker


Africanist History and the History of Africa

Temps et histoires du Maghre Does Colonialism Explain Everythi Colonialism in North Africa, because of its violence and the huge transformations it caused within its societies, shaped a historical vision of the North African past that obscured other, far more deeply rooted processes. The first section of the paper analyzes the outlines of colonial history; it examines the limitations of the spatial framework and the timeline markers used within this field of research.

The second section examines the new vistas of research opened through serious consideration of the legacy and persistent effects of early modern history in North Africa. It explores these new perspectives in terms of time and space and interpretations of North African primary sources. In September an imam of Zitouna, a member of a professorial association mashyakha aiming to reinstate an educational program proper to the Grand Mosque of Tunis, called for nothing less than this.

It would be mistaken to see this project as arising only in the wake of the political projects undertaken after the Tunisian Revolution. If anything, what the imam valued was counter-history. Is it the official history dictated by the Tunisian state of Bourguiba and Ben Ali? Is it another history, one at the intersection of the national state and academic knowledge, discussed in Tunisian universities even under authoritarian regimes?

That which the revolution has permitted is not simply putting into competition different histories, as these have always been discussed in a more or less subterranean manner; rather, the revolution has led to officially recognizing the principle of competing histories due to the principle of the freedom of expression. While leaving to the side the first of these matters, it is the second issue that we would like to focus on: what are the modalities to revise or rewrite the historical interpretations of North Africa?

What are the inherent difficulties of such a project? Due to the fact that research on the colonial period tends to monopolize the attention of scholars and that the ensemble of the colonial period continues to influence the historic problems of the region statebuilding and centralization, modernization, etc.

More precisely, we are interested in exploring whether taking into account scholarship, and in particular French scholarship, on the modern period of the Maghrib can reconsider this colonial frame. Does being Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian or Libyan imply a recognition of the legacy of an Ottoman and then colonial past, or do these terms refer to a culture perceived to be endogenous and authentic McDougall, ?

These efforts to think about the pre-colonial are hardly new. Through a symmetrical process, it should put into question, and at the same time, give life to anterior periods, which need to be both rejected and prolonged. We also examine the major propositions advanced by such a historiography in order to overcome the impasses that colonial historians themselves have detected in their own methodologies and analytical choices.

These limits, according to us, are a consequence of the very success of this field: by making colonial history the reigning domain of North African historiography, inscribing the objects of this history within a larger context became increasingly difficult. Indeed, these societies were born in the wake of long-term historical dynamics.

Putting these dynamics in perspective can lead to bringing out other intelligibilities and other temporalities of North African history. An even more important issue is at stake: the explanatory devices that have up to now been maintained and which are profoundly linked to this periodization could be overturned Cooper ; Bertrand Conversely, these detours would bring to the fore the force of the local and the rights which were attached to it. This questioning assumes a programmatic dimension.

In so doing, we aim to renew our approach to historical sources from North Africa in the colonial period. Yet to better understand the methodological limitations that historians of the colonial period have themselves sought to overcome, it is necessary to understand why this particular field of study became central to Maghrib historiography and how its imperious character has been eroded after the time of national independence.

We argue that the centrality of colonial history in Maghrib historiography is due to at least three conjoined factors: firstly, the political outcome of national independence struggles; secondly, the traumatic character of colonial times for entire sections of North African societies; and thirdly, the accumulation of national and international knowledge on this period.

While the relative weight of each of these factors has varied over time, the centrality of the colonial period for North African historiography has not wavered. But the disillusions raised by these nationalist regimes lessened, at least for the subjects of these states, the attraction or legitimation that could be brought to bear by these histories as well as historical research on the origins of the respective nation-states.

In Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian society today, the main issue of debate concerns the moment of independence for their respective nation-states and the impact that this had on such matters as authoritarianism, education, the status of women, etc. Yet the connection between the legitimacy of the regime or government and attachment to the nation is still not deeply questioned in any North African country: in spite of the occasional debate, the cult of the flag and of great historical figures remain constitutive elements of politics, as the events in post-revolutionary Tunisia show only too well.

The attention of historians has been captured by the Algerian War of Independence or the Algerian War or the Algerian Revolution and, in a symmetrical manner, the French military conquest from the s on the coast to the start of the twentieth century in the Saharan interior. Both events brought in their wake deep violence and, in the course of time, fluctuating relationships between memory and history, and in so doing have structured the foundations of a general architecture of North African historiography.

Spanish historians have looked to Morocco and the Rif War. Italian historians have focused on the period of violent conquests and reconquests of Libya. In France and in other European and North American academic circles, the history of North Africa is organized around the case study of Algeria and the violence which took place there. This field was constructed under the influence of academics trained in European institutions. The choice of a certain level of analysis by a historian depends upon the object analyzed and how the actors studied understood the frames in their own right.

But by keeping oneself to a single period and to the domains found and refashioned by colonial administrators, whose archives furnished the sole fount of knowledge, it is hardly surprising that this has led to a reproduction of the language and categories of the colonial. As a result, this has made the colonial the unique horizon of valid historical research. Under this optic Algeria became an exemplary case study. The other societies of North Africa were then only understood through it, becoming reduced to smaller Algeria s or other-Algeria s.

But only a few works in the field have concretely followed these calls and the manner in which comparative studies can be undertaken has not been adequately theorized. In one case the periods of conquest have been reduced to moments of muddling through that preceded and announced the emergence of a stable and reformist colonial regime. In the other case national independence across the region appears as the inevitable end point of an unstoppable historical process.

As helpful as these different historical approaches have been, they have revealed new instabilities. As an outcome of these approaches, the European populations in North Africa in the 19 th century have been better historically contextualized, with studies revealing the profound social and imperial backdrop of Europeans at the time of military conquest.

However, when it comes to the North African population or societies of this time, this historicizing has been much less bold. Others, taking a more sociological approach, have evaluated the foundations of local cultures whose attachment to high literary culture was deprecated by both colonization and Muslim reformism Colonna ; Chachoua These works put themselves within a resolutely endogenous history at quite some remove from the colonial field of study.

In this sense, they do not risk becoming intellectually imprisoned in the categories brought on by colonial sources as they transcend the idea of a simple cultural transfer from France and Europe more generally to North Africa.

One of the last methodological approaches recently explored has been considering the coexistence and competition between different regimes of historicity. This has led to distinguishing, alongside dominant regimes, others which, despite being in the background, were just as active Branche They all limit themselves to the chronological frame of the colonial period and, even more importantly, they rarely raise the linked question of decompartmentalizing national territories.

It is revealing that the majority of the most interesting scholarly works undertaken today are formulated through the lens of Algeria, without any consideration for the North African frame of analysis. Furthermore, if the approach of endogenous dynamics raises the question of North African sources in the hope of capturing other visions than those promulgated by colonial administrators, it is nonetheless the case that this approach rarely gives rise to scholarship resituating the corpus of North African archives in a longer history of literacy and writing in the Maghrib.

In other words, all of these various analytical frameworks barely take into account what preceded the colonial period. The institutions produced in medieval or modern times are rarely discussed, regardless of whether they were founded by the kingdoms succeeding the Almohad Empire or by the provincial governments under Ottoman rule for nearly four centuries, from in Algiers to in Tripoli.

Under this tabula rasa framework, whatever happens in a colonized society is for the most part thought of as something new, or, at the most, as a kind of acculturation or addition.

Everything — the language of administration, the sense given to history, administrative rationality — seems to have the flavor of novelty. And in so doing it appears as if the result of military conquests meant that North African societies passed from one world to another. Historians of the colonial period have not always considered the impact of these changes. Thus they were not able to avoid the dangers of forgetting or de-legitimating the colonial past which had quietly taken place along with these prior reformulations and therefore a blind spot in contemporary analysis arose.

One possible — but not the only one — methodological approach avoiding these problems would be taking into account the modern period and also the medieval legacy which is incrusted, constantly maneuvered, reinterpreted, and molded within it.

To that end, we will consider the effects on the colonial of three perspectives — time, territory, and the archive. But what about all that colonization could never have touched, or influenced only indirectly, or even not at all, from geographic fringes and recesses, obliterated social strata, to secret or marginal behaviors?

Among these domains of continuity J. These customs and fields of action allowed for the creation of strategies which became visible in the course of changes in lineage and households.

In North Africa as well as in other regions of the Ottoman and Muslim world, the household constituted one of the privileged frames for constructing political authority. It is also a revealing prism for understanding economic and social practices, from the constitution to the preservation of patrimony.

The practices and norms renewed in the colonial period are sometimes the result of an older wellspring common to both modern North African and European societies. These renewals were produced at a level of interaction at times removed from the colonial frame, either below or at the margins of it — one need only think here of the numerous interactions between North African societies and the Italian, Spanish, and French communitities installed in North Africa before colonialism, some of them dating from the 16 th century.

These exchanges took place in the fields of technology and architecture. They also influenced ideas of charity and social distinction, as well as shared languages the diffusion of Italian and the use of a degraded lingua franca into sabir in the early moments of colonization [Dakhlia ] , labor practices the establishment of contracts through the 19 th century , and urban leisure activities Planel ; Clancy-Smith ; Corriou And so the changes in the relationship between the state and its subjects from the s were not initiated by colonial powers but by North African authorities under the pressure of traders and local political intermediaries, both Ottoman and European.

The relationship between states and subjects were reshaped with the introduction of a more constrictive fiscal policy, the installation of military service, and attempts to homogenize legislation and judicial procedures.

In Morrocco, Tunis and Tripoli, these reforms were accentuated by colonial administrations in a drastic manner in order to pay back the debts of protectorates placed under financial dominion and in order to enlist societies which were evasive about military service or only submitted to arms after negotiation, in both cities and in the countryside.

In this sense, at least for the Tunisian and Moroccan protectorates, the policies of colonial administrators were partly guided by the dynamics of these military and fiscal reforms targeting a prior state of affairs and which also were influenced by the interests of local, Ottoman, French, and British elites. The experiences of political authorities are of special interest here. How were the past and present of provincial Ottoman powers and the Moroccan sultan reformulated by Spanish, Italian and French colonial powers in North Africa?

The anterior forms of state authority in North Africa have been disregarded. A fortiori , the impact of any precedent political experience, whether colonial or imperial, Iberian or Ottoman, has been minimized.

Two recent studies inserting the event of colonization within a temporal configuration attentive to these experiences have led to innovative explicative schemas. For his part Thomas Dodman has shown to what degree the French colonial project in Algeria and the establishment of French-style cities and villages were a means of remedying a malady of the period, diagnosed by contemporaneous doctors under the term nostalgia.

Reconstituting metropolitan territorial signs church bells, village squares, town halls was not only a means of satisfying this nostalgia but also converted a weakness into a dynamic of colonization Dodman This year is also, from the point of view of combined temporalities, a crossroads, a period of military, financial and intellectual mobilizations within the Maghreb that have been scarcely understood.

In North Africa this understanding of reform was correlated to colonization projects and formed an integral part of the colonial posture. All of these debates did not play out as an opposition between the ancients and the moderns but rather between divergent interests held by contemporaneous North Africans and Europeans, according to the coalitions of interests that divided Europeans just as much as they divided North Africans.

It would be mistaken to think that Europeans of the 19 th century were somehow much closer to us in their thoughts and practices than North Africans of that period. This administrative apparatus stood upon a chain of information transmission that was full of incoherences and gaps Stoler ; Sibeud In this sense, if more varied dynamics than previously thought penetrated North Africa throughout the 19 th century, its inhabitants shared communal sensibilities that cannot be reduced to an epoch before and an epoch after colonization.

This would do more than simply recognize the insertion of the colonial period after a series of chronological phases but would better understand its emergence in different contexts. This should be done without giving the colonial moment any precedence, even if — due to its traumatic, administrative, and archival weight — it has obscured the past and made our ability to retrace it difficult. Colonial history and North African history are not antagonistic or opposing faces of the same coin.

On the one hand, the local, and, on the other, the regional and the imperial — but also the transregional — were all significant parts in the construction of space in the colonial period. These local customs have a long history, especially as unavoidable entry points into thinking about Maghrib social spaces whose configurations they have contributed into creating.

Not taking into account the power of such customs deprives one the possibility to fully understand transformation processes that were as silent as they were profound when these customs were questioned and disqualified in favor of organizations more favorable to colonization.

Lyn Schumaker

E-mail: murybarbosa gmail. This article presents an analysis of the African perspective in the project General History of Africa Unesco. It examines the institutional history of the project and the writing of history in this collection of eight volumes. This article synthesizes the reflections of a theoretical-methodological analysis of the writing of the collection General History of Africa GHA. A work in eight volumes - with an average of around pages per volume-written by three hundred and fifty international specialists in the history of Africa.


The Making of Contemporary Africa pp Cite as. Africans have been conceptualising their lives and social relationships historically since the advent of agriculture and stockherding gave importance to questions of origin, genealogy and property long centuries ago. As state mechanisms and class contradictions evolved in many parts of the continent, historical interpretation became increasingly formalised in the hands of specialists. Informal traditions frequently survived in a masked form reflecting subversive interpretations and societal conflicts. The issues that mattered to such historians, the lineage of kings, the point of origins of peoples, the coming of an ecological disaster or a political defeat, belonged to a problematic that stemmed from prevailing material and social conditions.

Temps et histoires du Maghre Does Colonialism Explain Everythi Colonialism in North Africa, because of its violence and the huge transformations it caused within its societies, shaped a historical vision of the North African past that obscured other, far more deeply rooted processes. The first section of the paper analyzes the outlines of colonial history; it examines the limitations of the spatial framework and the timeline markers used within this field of research.

The urban history of Africa is as ancient, varied, and as complex as that of other continents, and the study of this history shares many of the theoretical, conceptual, and methodological challenges of urban history generally. The historiography of cities in Africa has debated what constitutes a city, how urbanization can be apprehended in the archaeological record and in documentary sources, why cities emerged, and how historic cities have related to states. Religion, trade, and the concentration of power were major factors in the rise of cities across the continent. The largest and most well-studied cities were often the capitals of important states. The great impact colonization had on African urbanization is a major topic of research, including in the study of postcolonial cities

African Studies Center



  • Jennifer H. 17.11.2020 at 11:00

    To browse Academia.

  • Kyra S. 22.11.2020 at 23:29

    field of colonial African historiography within the past decade. The clear that African states face problems and challenges significantly different from those in.


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