Africa in world history

Frederick Cooper

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    World history began in Africa. Most theories of human origins point to the emergence of our species in Africa, some 100,000 to 250,000 years ago and its dispersal from there. If one goes back far enough, we are all Africans. The depth of Africa’s past became an argument for its liberation in the twentieth century. When W. E. B. Dubois published The World and Africa in 1946, he placed Africa in the long sweep of world history. He described how Africans had mastered their environment and the creativity of political processes, going back to Egypt from 5000 bc onward, passing through Ethiopia, to the great African empires from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries, and the powerful states on the eve of colonial conquest. The history of Africa’s peoples was not that of communities developing their own cultures in isolation, but of engagement with people, commodities, and ideas from across and beyond the continent. It was a story of Africa’s contributions to humanity. Some of these themes had been articulated long before by African and African-American intellectuals, religious leaders, and political activists, going back to the days of North American slavery. Making the connection to Africa - and asserting the continent’s place in world civilization - was one way for slaves or freed blacks to refuse to consign themselves to being chattel and nothing more. Many referred to themselves as Ethiopian, not because many slaves came from that part of Africa, but because, as Christians, they knew the stories of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and were inserting themselves into a grand narrative of Christian history. Some Africans and African Americans asserted that Egyptian civilization was rooted in Africa and hence that European civilization came out of Africa. For intellectuals like Cheikh Anta Diop in the 1950s, the claim that Africa had a place in the world’s past was part of their demand for political liberation in the present.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages29
    ISBN (Electronic)9781139196079
    ISBN (Print)9781107000209
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Arts and Humanities


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