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Living History

ole timer Jan 31, 2015

  1. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

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    Sometimes we need myths, legends, heroes and heroines, and in the process we may…deify some people… That does not mean that all history is based on fiction. Very often, the historian works with facts but it's the question of interpretation that leads to different layers of truth."
    Dr Wilhelmina Donkoh, Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi, Ghana.

    "As a historian, you may be yourself oriented towards looking at a certain situation in a particular way, because you are you. You may be favourably disposed towards peasants or kings…you see history through the role of kings or see history through peasant movements."
    Professor Ali Mazrui, who lectures at Binghamton University, New York.

    What are the political uses of history? Who has been telling Africa's History? And, can a historian in Africa make a living? These are only a few of the many issues historians grapple with during the process of reconstructing past events in the continent
     
  2. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

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    Who Should Tell The Story of Africa?

    All people need to learn about their past and need to be able to participate in the creation of their own legacy. In the past, the story of Africa has been told and defined by others and these 'others' have been considered authorities on the subject. The representation of African events and characters by non-Africans has led, in many instances, to the creation of a negative portrayal of Africa.

    "It's not really our history from our point of view. It might be African history from an European point of view."
    Dr Wosene Yefru, Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee.

    While Europeans have amassed valuable written information, the down side is that their interpretation of history has brought with it cultural baggage, such as stereotyping, says Dr Wilhelmina Donkoh, who lectures at Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi, Ghana.

    SUITABLE METHODOLOGY?
    The history of Africa has tended to rely on written evidence. But Africans had their own particular system of recording past events, situations and traditions, before Europeans started writing about it. This was based on collecting oral testimonies.

    Most Western societies regarded this method untrustworthy as a means of gathering and preserving information. As a result, Non-African historians used written documentation to chart the history of the continent. If this was missing, it was assumed that nothing worth recording had happened.

    It was not until the 20th century, that there was a major revolution with regard to oral evidence for history. In the 1960's, oral history went through a process of validation and historians began to use it as a source.

    POLITICAL EXPLOITATION
    History has political uses. It can be employed by citizens and governments to create social cohesion as well as division. This means that in the making of history, there is scope for the distortion and manipulation of historical events. At certain points societies can choose to distort or misrepresent facts.

    "Most societies eulogise their heroes, idealise their founding fathers and romanticize their past. It might be incorrect or wrong but it has its political uses…

    In the US, the discovery that Thomas Jefferson had a black mistress and had children by her…Although known to some historians, it was a taboo subject…Two hundred years later, the country is ready to discuss the intimate life of one of its founding fathers."
    Professor Ali Mazrui, Binghamton University, New York.

    NO ABSOLUTE TRUTH
    The nature of history is such that it provides no absolute truths. Nevertheless, historians are responsible for interpreting facts and should endeavour to evaluate data objectively in order to determine the truth.

    Modern African historiography has experienced many turning points. Initially emphasis was placed on the ancient African empires and kingdoms and on the battles for independence. But since then, African historians have become more questioning about events in their continent.

    "African leaders failed to produce the social and economic benefits that were expected from independence…

    Historians have begun to write a more critical history, that does not only celebrate the achievements of political independence and political power but criticizes what to do with that power."
    Professor J.F. Ade Ajayi, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

    GRASSROOTS HISTORY
    Grassroots history examines society as a whole. It concentrates on the ruled, rather than the rulers.

    "You don't look for pyramid builders and sphinx builders, great monarchs and great architects, and those who beat Columbus across the Atlantic…

    You look at the history of the plough in Africa, the history of the blacksmith in African villages, the history of a particular marriage custom in African society and the functions it serves."
    Professor Mazrui, Binghamton University, New York.

    Today African historians are concerned about how to interest students in pursuing a career in the same field. Often students may not be aware of interesting job opportunities for them. This is a matter for concern for historians who do not want to witness a decline in commitment to the study of African history
     
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    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

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    Where Should Research Be Done?

    Most historians invited to discuss African history at the African Studies Association conference live and work in the United States. However most African specialists emphasise the need for Africa to be the primary source for research.

    Although the Internet, universities and libraries in the west provide access to information on the continent, Africa itself contains the archives and the oral informants essential to the reconstruction of history. Therefore, travelling to the continent is an imperative.

    "You cannot do African history from outside...Many of us travel there every summer to do our fieldwork. Many of our archives are there. Many of our oral informants cannot move to America. The epicentre of African history remains in the continent."
    Professor Atieno Adhiambo, Rice University, Houston, Texas.

    ISSUES IN FIELDWORK
    Equally, being based in Africa may not necessarily be an advantage - research work and establishing contact with oral informants may not be easily achieved.

    "There are also other constraints that work against us. We may be very close to our sources but funding is a problem, time is a problem…

    For historians in Africa, teaching loads are very high. In the USA teachers teach four hours a week. In Africa, there are eighteen hours of teaching a week and very little time for research."
    Dr Edmund Mazibuko, Rutgers University, New Jersey.

    PUBLISHING AND TEACHING IN AFRICA
    Historians working in Africa are faced with vast problems. Teaching and university resources are overstretched. Another constraint is the lack of publishing possibilities for historians based in Africa. In the west, the publishing business is broad, competitive and varied.

    "The problem is when you are based in Africa, it's even harder to get the breakthrough from over there, when all publishing houses are out here."
    Professor Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri.

    "If you go to lecture halls in most African countries, there are old articles, textbooks. And large class sizes are also a problem. Colleagues may be engaged in some research of some kind besides their teaching. But they don't go further, in terms of publishing articles.

    What I'd like to see for the future is if there could be more links between colleagues that are overseas and those that are in Africa…It would help our brothers in Africa in terms of publishing articles jointly with people here."
    Professor Edmund Mazibuko, Rutgers University, New Jersey.

    GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT
    African governments prefer to invest resources on projects that will ensure economic growth. History is not seen as a subject that enables people to obtain jobs. Neither is it seen as a potential avenue for the development of the nation. Therefore, funding is diverted to other fields, such as the sciences.

    The lack of resources affects historians who struggle to make their careers economically viable.

    "Considering the severe economic problems that African countries are experiencing now, the primary concern is how they're going to make a living. Unfortunately, that's why a lot of us are in the US and in Britain right now, because we realise that we cannot make a living as historians on the continent."
    Professor Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri.

    AFRICAN ARCHIVES
    Another point of concern is the condition of the archive centres in Africa. These are noticeably under-funded. Professor Arthur Abrahams offers a sorry example of what goes on at some of the archive centres he has visited in Sierra Leone.

    "There is no electricity and there are no photocopying machines. The documents are kept in poor conditions. Humidity is destroying most of these documents.

    So there are two options, you either sit there and spend all your time copying word for word, or you pay off some of the attendants to turn their eyes away and then rip off the documents and take them. So, actually, the size of the archive is shrinking all the time