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GlobAfrica: Reconnecting Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa and the World prior to European Imperialism

GlobAfrica is a four-year Research programme funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) that aims to rethink the global integration of Africa before the European Imperialism from a historical perspective.

Presentation of GlobAfrica

Conducted by the USR 3336 which gathers both IFRA Nigeria, and the French Institute for Research in South Africa (IFAS), GLOBAFRICA is an ambitious history programme for rethinking Africa’s long term integration into the rest of the World. This multidisciplinary project intends to establish new tools to give a balanced vision of connections between Africa and the other continents before the slave trade and colonialism, in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. This vision is as remote from the simplistic view of an isolated Africa as from the excessive reification of still fairly unknown connections. Phenomena such as dynamics of populations, demographic and epidemiological crises as well as increasing social complexity and State or cultural formations, are tackled from the angle of intercontinental exchanges. As such, the project will focus on the relations between oceanic and Saharan interfaces on the one hand, and inland political and social configurations on the other. Up to what point, from which period must we consider the African continent as being integrated into the rest of the world? Examining the intensity and actual forms of exchanges will be conducted on the basis of special detailed cases in the said project.

Objectives

The project is focused on four research axes:

1. Analysis of the economic, political and cultural relations between the Swahili Coast and the political formations of Eastern and Southern Africa from the 11th to the 17th centuries. While we know that this region saw the emergence, at the interface between Indian Ocean networks and the African continent, followed by the spreading of Swahili culture, we know much less about the way it was linked to political and cultural bodies as important as the monarchies of the Great Lakes in the East or the Great Zimbabwe in the South. In this light, the idea is to realign the study of this littoral society by turning the perspective around and observing it from inland.

2. The study of the spreading and impact of the bubonic plague in Sub-Saharan Africa, is taken here as evidence of the continent’s integration into global exchanges before the 15th century. For if Africa experienced a demographic crisis and deep transformations of its socio-political organisation, in the 14th century, in relation to the black plague, our current knowledge on the way this continent took part in a global system that was restructuring fully from the 15th century onwards, will have to be reconsidered radically.

3. Finally, the third case will need to specify the role of exogenous plants in the arrival of new human settlements in the Great Lakes Region, with new economic, social and cultural organisations, by following cultural diversity and comparing this geochronology with historical and archaeological knowledge.

IFRA Nigeria hosts the second axe of the project. In particular the sub-axe coordinated by Dr Gérard Chouin (Dept. of History,William & Mary-St Andrews University, USA) which focuses on “Disurbanisation, mutation and trade in West Sahelian and Guinean Africa”.

Method

From a theoretical point of view, GLOBAFRICA seeks to go beyond the sole commercial pattern of exchanges through a new multidisciplinary approach, by combining a reading and detailed examination of ancient written sources, a study of existing archaeological collections (or collections under elaboration), and input from the hard sciences (paleo-botany, genetics and chemistry). Making our tools more complex in order to grasp “connections” with new elements, such as material culture and environmental elements, or new evidence such as epidemics, all demolishing the idea of isolation. By shifting the focus on inland societies and their interactions with the continent’s interfaces, GLOBAFRICA will also make it possible to go beyond the major Euro-, Indo- and Islamo-centred narratives of external stimuli, which are all too often the elements through which African historical dynamics are explained, so as to change them for a balanced vision and periodisation specific to “African globalisation”.

For more information: http://globafrica.hypotheses.org/

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