The core of the book is Oliver's account of his research travels throughout tropical Africa from the 1940s to the 1980s; his efforts to train and foster African graduate students to teach in African universities; his role in establishing conferences and journals to bring together the work of historians and archaeologists from Europe and Africa; his encounters with political and religious leaders, scholars, soldiers, and storytellers; and the political and economic upheavals of the continent that he witnessed.
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(229mm x 152mm x 22mm)
Frank Cass Publishers
Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
The genial but almost overwhelmingly painstaking autobiography of a founding figure in the field of African history. In 1947 Oliver became the first lecturer in African history at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, and so an originator of the academic study of precolonial Africa. Oliver's records of his professional life over five decades have apparently been superhumanly detailed. Thus, while the anecdotes of his first cross-continent research trips create sharp snapshots of African life, the relentless inclusion of minutiae later on (extensive lists of graduate students and their research topics, or the precise layouts of Oliver residences in England) makes it almost impossible to read every word. Those unfamiliar with precolonial African history will find their heads spinning, albeit pleasantly, from Oliver's breathless summaries of the far-flung historical and methodological issues he and his colleagues encountered. But these do give a feel for what the discipline of African history is like - its complexity, vastness, and peculiar historiographic problems. And Oliver's real story is just this - the making of a discipline. It is one of the happier ironies of colonialism that an Africa-centered history of that continent should have been made possible by resources, institutions, and idealism to be found among its foreign rulers. It's exciting to read of an entire field's creation by a small group of dedicated and unusually curious scholars, and its rapid growth, fed by the abundant and challenging evidence ignored by their dismissively Eurocentric colleagues. The contemporary history-making of decolonization is gracefully absorbed into the narrative, as it seems to have been into Oliver's own appreciation of the continent. While testing the general reader's patience at times, this should prove an exhaustive resource for intellectual historians and a fitting foundation myth for future Africanists to look back to. (Kirkus Reviews)
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