Picture of author.
14 Works 337 Membros 7 Críticas

About the Author

John Iliffe was Professor of African History at the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of St. John's College.

Obras por John Iliffe


Conhecimento Comum

País (no mapa)
United Kingdom



This book was a superb overview of the history of Africa. For the great length of history and great geographic area that this book covers in only about 300 pages, Illife does a fantastic job of ensuring that the reader is familiar with the great events of African history, spending just the right amount of time on each topic and always sure to discuss the various economic, political, cultural, religious, etc. factors of each period and place. For those who know little (as I did) about the history of Africa and want to begin to learn more, this is definitely the book to start with.… (mais)
davidpwithun | 3 outras críticas | Nov 16, 2011 |
Ya hacía tiempo que tenía ganas de echarme a la cara una historia general de África, y parece que ésta es la única accesible por aquí. Y es francamente buena, digna de la que pasa por ser la mejor universidad del mundo en materia de historia. El autor tiene una tesis central, que utiliza para interpretar cada época de la historia africana: es la historia del crecimiento demográfico para conquistar una tierra hostil. Sólo en el siglo XX el crecimiento demográfico ha podido considerarse un problema, pero en las últimas páginas llega a la conclusión de que las sociedades africanas, que se han adaptado a todo lo que les ha venido encima desde siempre, también se adaptarán rápidamente a una situación nueva como es el fuerte crecimiento demográfico. En general, muestra cómo los africanos, con todas sus diferencias, se han visto afectados por múltiples situaciones muy difíciles (esclavismo, colonialismo, hambres y enfermedades) pero siempre han salido de los apuros gracias a su enorme capacidad de sufrimiento, es decir, a su dureza. Se enmarca dentro de algunos libros que llaman un poco a la calma en un momento en el que parece que África se está quedando atrás: África lleva su propio ritmo, y sobrevivirá a la situación actual como ha sobrevivido a otras no menos impactantes. Como siempre, las cosas no se ven igual desde su perspectiva que desde la nuestra. Lo que pasa es que no sabe uno si se trata de un discurso realista o de un discurso narcotizante. Veremos.… (mais)
caflores | 3 outras críticas | Sep 13, 2011 |
Africans: The History of a Continent. John Iliffe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 323. 1995.©

During the 1960s and 1970s, historians writing general histories of Africa highlighted state formation, African agency, or economic underdevelopment as issues central to understanding Africa's past. In the 1980s new topical foci emerged in African history revolving around culture and the environment. John Iliffe's Africans: The History of a Continent is the result of attentions to each of the aforementioned but is ordered by a skeleton of demographic issues; it is the first general attempt to trace and understand African history through the larger theme of population and demographic change. Central issues include environmental impacts on the growth and character of African populations and African responses to the challenges of their physical and historical contexts. Iliffe hopes to produce a coherent history of ordinary African peoples guided by internal processes and the rationale that, "Every rural history must have at its core a population history" (p.3). In the author's eyes, population change is the "thread that ties African history together"(p.5).

With the above over-arching organizational theme in mind, Iliffe identifies four central topical themes in African history, each of which pervades his text. The first of these is the peopling of the African continent. Iliffe portrays Africans as "colonizers" of vast frontiers who struggled against harsh environments, scarce and dispersed resources, and deadly diseases. According to the author, the stressful settlement of frontiers produced societies specialized in maximizing their numbers, extending their territories, and coping with suffering. All of this prepared Africans for future demographic challenges, such as the slave trade and the European "invasion."

The second theme is human coexistence with nature. Africans fully utilized their available resources in an effort to increase their numbers and thereby strengthen their communities. They usually achieved success by adapting to and controlling their environments rather than severely altering them. Iliffe provides the following example: Africans sought to protect themselves against famine through various strategies, "exploitation of multiple environments, diversified and drought-resistant crops, interplanting, granaries, livestock as a famine reserve, [and] the cultivation of social relations" (p.113). A creative use of nature and adaptation to nature allowed Africans to survive, although in underpopulated numbers.

The establishment of enduring societies is the third theme. These societies, Iliffe contends, took their form -- states or loosely-organized communities -- based on population densities, interaction with neighboring societies, and socio-political and socio-economic contextual factors. Iliffe illustrates these points with numerous examples ranging from the early states of West Africa to the pastoral communities of eastern and southern Africa. The author describes specific African cultures and their associated political structures. Further, he argues that the cultures of these variously-structured societies took distinctively African forms due to their partial isolation from and their partial integration with their larger Old World context (p.4).

The final theme -- the defense of African societies against foreign aggression -- centers on two historical phenomena, the slave trade and colonialism. Resistance, negotiation, and adaptation were the means by which Africans sought to defend their societies. Due to population growth checks or depletions in some areas resulting from the slave trade or colonial impingement, biological reproduction was paramount to community survival. Up to the remnants of colonialism in South Africa, populations continued to grow and adjust to various impediments to their livelihoods, largely through cultural mechanisms developed from earlier struggles for survival. Demographic growth finally becomes a pronounced engine for historical change, undergirding the fall of colonial regimes and the instability of independent African states. Iliffe concludes that Africans' chief contribution to world history is that they "colonised an especially hostile region of the world"(p.1). Their success is realized in substantial modern population growth.

Iliffe's integrative and dynamic approach incorporates the concerns of preceding scholars while achieving a textual balance. The historical perspective of the author is noticeably even-handed, particularly concerning colonialism. Iliffe writes, "To see colonialism as destroying tradition is to underestimate African resilience. To see it as merely an episode is to underestimate how much industrial civilization offered twentieth-century Africans" (p.212). Nearly equal treatment of geographical regions is provided, including a considerable discussion of North Africa during the pre-modern era. Time periods also receive relatively equal attention. Of note, the early history of Africa from the first evidence of food-producing to late iron-using communities is discussed in two brief chapters. This is made possible by Iliffe's continued reference to archaeology and, to a lesser extent, linguistics in these chapters. Finally, Africa's internal workings are tempered with references to its global context. In constructing Africans, Iliffe makes use of a range of recent literature on everything from art history to current affairs to create a complex text rich in historical and cultural examples.

There are few shortfalls in Iliffe's general history. For this reader, most are issues of emphasis or terminology. First, Iliffe generally characterizes African agency as reactionary rather than proactive. Much of what is meant to represent human volition in the work is simply adaptation to contexts or circumstances. Consequently, at some points (but by no means all) Africans appear to be in more of a biological than social struggle. Second, Iliffe occasionally reduces cultural and historical phenomena to products of environmental or demographic influence, rather than opting for alternative explanations. This is likely the product of both the author's organizing theme and the difficulty of capturing social explanations with scant historical evidence, especially beyond the more recent past. Third, Iliffe leaves causation open to question in certain instances. For example, in Chapter Five he writes, "Concern to build up populations and colonise land gave western Africa enduring family structures" (p.93). Were population growth and "colonization" the products or the causes of developing social structures? Finally, Iliffe's use of the term "colonisation" to describe the movement of African populations into uninhabited regions is suspect because, to the uninformed reader, it may be confused with European "colonization." Although the author does take some pains to differentiate between the two, the politically-charged nature of this term may be inescapable. He also uses "race" (pp.10-11), implying a linkage between "races" and linguistic groups, and "pagan" (pp.39, 90-91) in unwarranted manners. "Pagan" is especially odd since Iliffe elaborates on the complex beliefs inherent to animistic societies. When viewed in total these shortfalls are far from fatal.

Africans: The History of a Continent is a lucid work and is accessible to a wide range of readers. It is ordered chronologically in twelve chapters, each containing a historical topic, for example "Independent Africa." Maps aid the reader in locating pertinent sites and regions and a fourteen page appended bibliography of readings allows for the further investigation of select topics. This work represents a substantial achievement in the realm of general African histories.

Jonathan Walz
Department of Anthropology
University of Florida
… (mais)
1 vote
impy2101 | 3 outras críticas | Jan 2, 2010 |



You May Also Like


½ 3.6

Tabelas & Gráficos