Posts Tagged ‘history’

“Disciplinary boundaries” are often rigorously policed in the United States. Historians talk to historians. Political scientists to political scientists. And so on. Academics generally write in the jargons of their disciplines or, worse, their “sub-disciplines.” With a plethora of academic journals catering to the increasing specialization, academics now write more and more to smaller groups of readers interested and familiar with their topics. Basically, it is getting harder for historians to talk to media studies scholars to political scientists.

In turn, the pages and columns of popular journals catering to intellectuals (e.g. The New York Review of Books and London Review of Books) are dominated by a small group of recycled writers.

But enough complaining.

That’s why we have the Internet and blogs.

Take the academic Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, whose work has focused mostly on Southern Africa, particularly Zimbabwe. Fellow academics know him better for his book with a long time, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe.

For a while now I’ve been a fan of his blog, Easily Distracted, which covers “… Culture, Politics, Academia and Other Shiny Objects.” He has been blogging since 2000 on a no-frills site.

Though he writes about historiography (for the uninitiated, that’s the study of the way we do, or write, history), he tackles a range of topics, including a lot of posts on politics, culture, intellectual culture, television, in accessible language, mixing disciplines and engaging with the popular, with much of it, crucially for my obsessions, related in one way or the other to the continent.

I like this blog. (Blogs I Like, no. 1 is Scarlett Lion.)


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making a killing

Nobody wants to talk about Apartheid. No one supported Apartheid. No one worked for Apartheid. Nobody should pay for Apartheid. At sometime everybody did resistance work. No one broke the law. Workers weren’t exploited. Everybody loved Nelson Mandela even when he was in jail for 27 years. The poverty, inequality and violence are now all the African National Congress’s fault. Well, a judge in New York City (yes, not in South Africa) has started chipping away at that myth. Somebody made profits. Somebody made a killing:

A United States judge has ruled that lawsuits can go ahead against several companies accused of helping South Africa’s apartheid-era government. [IBM, Daimler, Ford, General Motors and Rheinmetall Group, the German parent of an armaments maker are now] expected to face demands for damages from thousands of apartheid’s victims. They argue that the firms supplied equipment used by the South African security forces to suppress dissent.

Politics may still overtake the law here, but it is a good start.

Read the story on the BBC website.

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Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a “whites only” victory. Many who fought Nazi Germany during World War II did so to defeat the vicious racism that left millions of Jews dead. Yet the BBC’s Document programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers – who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces – were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Allied advance into the French capital.

The BBC has just discovered what everyone in Africa has known all along.

HT: Dan Moshenberg

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A new exhibition in New York City on the Italian-born, French “explorer,” Pietro Savorgnan di Brazza as a ‘good’ colonialist in contrast to Henry Stanley, because Brazza worked for the French. In 2009.


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“… You have probably never heard of Josiah Magama Tongogara, but he is Zimbabwe’s Che Guevara, a liberation icon with streets named after him in almost every town in the country. Tall, bearded and charismatic, it was he who, as commander of the guerrilla army Zanla, towered over the Lancaster House conference that led to Zimbabwe’s independence and the end of white minority rule. Many expected him to be the first president of the free Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe, head of Zanla’s political wing, Zanu, as prime minister. But six days after the Lancaster House agreement was signed, Mugabe, on the Voice of Zimbabwe radio station, conveyed “an extremely sad message” to ‘all the fighting people of Zimbabwe’: the 41-year-old Tongogara was dead, killed in a car accident in Mozambique on Christmas Day 1979. Two questions have haunted Zimbabwe ever since. How different would the nation have been had Tongogara lived? And did Mugabe have him murdered?…”

Mark Olden in The New Statesman.

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In my day job, I teach university-level courses in African Studies. Occasionally I have to teach introductory courses that aim to cover the continent’s long and diverse history. One problem lecturers often have in teaching courses that include Africa’s pre-colonial past — a period when Africa’s interaction with Asian societies was more intense than it was with Europe and preceding the arrival of white traders, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and colonialism — is the lack of access to primary written sources. The best we often do is the tale of the 12th century Malian king Sundiata, or the 18th century recollections of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano (which has attracted its fair share of detractors but still retains its potency), or the secondary accounts of the life of the North African traveler, Hassan al-Wazzan also known as Leo Africanus, who inspired this blog (see for example Amin Maalouf or Natalie Zemon Davis’ books on the life of Leo Africanus). That brings me to the news that South Africa’s government funded a project to digitize thousands of books and manuscripts recovered in Timbuktu in Mali. The materials — estimated number: 30,000 — will be available for on the internet by scholars and students. For much of the period before whites arrived on the continent, Timbuktu served as a “crossroads in Mali for trade in gold, salt and slaves along the southern edge of the Sahara.” The first batch of the rare manuscripts have been digitized and made available online to scholars and students. At least 300 are expected to be available online by the end of 2008. The documents are mostly in Arabic — they’ll be translated into Western languages — and cover “… the sciences of astronomy, mathematics and botany; literary arts; Islamic religious practices and thought; proverbs; legal opinions; and historical accounts.” Full New York Times story here.

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