In many ways, Medieval West African history is a creature born out of the colonial experience. For instance, the great ‘empires’ of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were historiographical constructs first ‘rebranded’ by French colonial officers and commissioned scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They fused together a variety of fragmentary and often elusive written, oral, and archaeological sources into an apparently seamless narrative which has been remarkably enduring. These narratives were little challenged or deconstructed in the early postcolonial period. Rather, African scholars adopted, amplified, and rendered them even more respectable by embedding them deeper into the field of oral traditions. The function of Medieval history changed from its role as a backdrop for imperial propaganda, to a historical trope for nationalistic agendas and the emerging, newly hatched African nations. Since the 1960s and 1970s, not much has changed in the ways we cursorily discuss, write about, and teach Medieval African history, and we continue to recycle a number of entrenched vignettes, whose origins can often be traced to early colonial science. By the late 1990s, when scholars began exposing the roots of such a normalized history, African history as a field had already begun suffering from overwhelming presentism. As a consequence, studies in Medieval African history have since been relegated to the remotest margins of historical scholarship, with little or no leverage to impose a serious review of uncritically accepted and long-established premises.
This panel brings together scholars resolved to re-engage with long-accepted facts and chronologies and to return Medieval West Africa to the forefront of African Studies, thereby promoting a systematic and deep re-evaluation of its structuring narratives.
We would like to receive proposed titles and short abstract as soon as possible. We are looking for one extra presenter only. Please send proposals to [email protected]