Konkomba (Bekpokpam) history, culture, religion, economy
Dagomba history, culture, religion, economy
Gonja history, culture, religion, economy; Salaga and Kafaba
Asante history, culture, religion, economy, judicial process, "human sacrifice"
Languages, principally Twi (Asante and Fanti)Trade: across the Sahara, Hausa trade, the kola trade and Asante trade with the Fanti and the Europeans
The technology of warfare in Asante and Dagbon
African traditional religion
Gold mining in Asante and gold in Asante culture
The role of women in West Africa and in the Slave Trade
Architecture and society in Yendi, Kafaba, Salaga, Kumase and Elmina.
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Joseph C. Miller, History and Africa /Africa and History
JOSEPH C. MILLER,
President, American Historical Association (University of Virginia)
Address, American Historical Association,
DC, 8 January 1999
My story begins at the end of the nineteenth century against the familiar background of the birth of the modern discipline of history, in transition between theological-philosophical speculation on the human condition and a sometimes comparably absolute faith in the evidence of human progress to be discovered in empirical data. Both tendencies specifically excluded most of Africa from their parallel meta-narrative of human achievement and divine favor that in Christian Europe they celebrated. They did so through the deterministic rationale of race that was utterly pervasive in western culture at the time, with support from climatic and other determinisms, and from presumed geographical isolation from primal centers of ancient Mediterranean civilization at the base of Europe's own historical success. These historians attempted to distinguish their secular and "scientific" inquiries from more doctrinaire tests of validity by inductive strategies focused on the monumental construction, literacy, and militarized political expansiveness taken to constitute human achievement at the end of the nineteenth century. By these high and mighty standards, Africans had only "unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe".
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The irony of this founding generation's historical efforts, in a discipline still then defined almost exclusively by methods of documentary criticism, and thus by sources recognized by their literate form, was that writings about Africa were largely those of Europeans. They were the perceptions of naive outsiders. Further, the documents for Africa were still often more than tinged by racist agendas. Modern Europeans' writings were also compromised by uses being made of them in the existing fields of colonial and imperial history to lionize Europe's civilizing mission around the globe. Documents of any sort thus seemed inherently suspect, and even these by European standards were rare for the greatest part of Africa's past.
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As I have also undertaken to suggest this evening, thus bringing Africans within the orbit of historical thinking reminds historians in any field of what is most historical about how we all have come to think,. To begin with a truism, historians must engage their subjects, assuming some commonality, some accessibility. But taken to extremes engagement with self becomes exclusionary of others. The progressive form of the discipline at turn of the century embraced its European inventors' own putative ancestors as subjects so intensively, on grounds of race, that it excluded Africans from the scope of their historical inquiry. As racism ebbed after World War II, inclusive mid-century liberal humanism prompted the search for ways to engage Africans through social science. But its European-based, capitalist, modern generalizations risked swinging the pendulum of engagement too far in the opposite direction. For want of viable African evidence independent of these quasi-historians' own experiences, they risked removing Africans from the particular, distant times and places that history must reconstruct on their own terms. Veering away from immoderation of the side of exclusion, they skirted ahistorical excess on the side of inclusion.
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In my confidence that lessons evident in doing history in Africa matter to historians specialized in fields far removed from it in geography or culture, I am not the first president of this Association to acknowledge -- at least implicitly -- the stimulative opportunity that the American Historical Association distinctively offers us all. Historians have achieved impressively productive diversity as our discipline has matured, and in doing so we have also tended to divide our intellectual energies along the paths of specialization that have led to such productivity, settling comfortably into the supportive environments of the many specialized historical societies to which most of us also contribute. Among these many opportunities, only the AHA provides a forum that cultivates awareness of the full historical context in which everyone whom we study in fact lived. The opportunity we have in the AHA to deepen our understanding by engaging our differences has always been present here, and the AHA has updated its distinctive strength in recent years by undertaking to "globalize regional histories", in the phrase of just one recent initiative, by the inclusive scope of the current American Historical Review, and by collaborating in sophisticated historical thinking on global scales, by the broad and comparative structure of our annual meeting programs, and simply by bringing us all together in a single, confined intellectual space. [Looking around the regional fields, the "Atlantic context" and "internationalization" of North American history and the global aspects of modern European history are becoming more apparent every year. It is revealing to Europeanist to consider Christian Europe's position on the periphery of the Islamic world for a full millennium, and the Indo-centric and Afro-Eur-Asian dynamics around the Mediterranean long before the age of Philip V of Spain, all thrive on balancing, without abandoning, rhythms inherent in each against pulses of change in the others.] The subjectivity essential to history comes alive in this interplay of juxtaposed externalities; we realize ourselves most fully in close but respectful contact with others unlike "us".
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