Search This Blog

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Short Comparative Summary of Africa vs. Europe in World History

Summaries of points of view in "Africa in World History" by Gilbert and Reynolds, "The African Diaspora" by Manning, and "Worlds Together, Worlds Apart" by Tignor et al
Historians have many different views on what characterized past contact between continents, and what differentiated later European expansion from earlier global contact. For a while, European historians emphasized Europe's central role in developing out of and improving on older civilizations evolutionarily. Many reject this view under the label of euro-centrism or teleological emphasis on "modernity." Varying responses to these labels in our readings show how16th century Europe compared to the rest of the world and how Europeans affected Africa.

Gilbert and Reynolds emphasize Africa's centrality in world history in aggressive opposition to euro-centrism. At the beginning of their text, in selecting Africa as the beginning of human evolution, they emphasize the "crucial role of Africans in early world history,"i even though "Africans" per se certainly did not exist at that point in time. Throughout their teleological discussion of African history, they emphasize the "remarkable"ii "states" and "empires" Africans constructed and their similarity to European developments, claiming that "stateless" societies did not exist for very long in Africa. Africa becomes almost the anti-Europe so that, when Europeans begin to expand into Africa, the story becomes exclusively imperialistic, technologically advanced Europeans vs. "brave" Africans.iii

The title "Worlds Together, Worlds Apart" shows that Tignor et al. set out to discuss the networks of connection across the world and compare them to the modern phenomenon of globalization. Tignor et al. thus emphasize the civilizations that militarized most quickly, such as the Islamic, European empires, and large Chinese empires, with less emphasis on other Asian societies, Africa, and communities in the Americas. Africans and Amerindians become important primarily in their connections to imperial systems.iv Tignor et al see the world as formed by shifting ideas, so their history happens via abstracts, emphasizing modern conceptions of ideas, such as tolerance and diversity.v The Europeans in their narrative do not triumph purely by technology, but because of ideological circumstance and

Although the third author, Manning tries to stay away from generalizations of African culture by describing specific cultural achievements,viia look at his epilogue shows that he ultimately emphasizes Africans as a general, cultural whole separate from the rest the world.viii He emphasizes changing conceptualizations of race and Africanness over everything else, and ultimately claims that Atlantic-centered enslavement focused on Africa because "Africa did not undergo and economic boom" and because Africans adjusted well to the threat.ix His emphasis on people as actors, rather than abstracts, causes him to choose his language carefully (enslavement instead of slavery) and also leads to belief that European economic strategies of survival did not give them an advantage, per se, without requiring that they face certain strategic costs and set-backs--such as over-expansion, or enslavement of others. 
In HIAF 3091, historical processes such as the movement from hunter-gathering to agriculture, the marginalization of young males to maintain a collection of women as status symbols, the creation of the outsiders "the witch" and "the cannibals," and so on are addressed in terms of strategies for the communal ethos to maintain human survival. Manning explains human past in these processes, but tends to focus so much on development of race that his book ceases to be "history" and becomes ideological, cultural conjecture. Gilbert and Reynolds, and Tignor, see historical processes as cumulative and abstract, respectively, so while their works do reflect history, they reflect sociology or evolutionary anthropology more than history, per se.

iGilbert and Reynolds, 13
iiGilbert and Reynolds, 65
iiiGilbert and Reynolds, 271
ivTignor, 407
vFor example, in the discussion of the Ottoman Empire, where claims are made ad nauseum about how the Ottomans spread farther because they were more tolerant, overlooking the forced migration and enslavement of huge numbers of people in their search to apply modern constructs to ancient societies.
viTignor, 461, Tignor 499
viiManning, 21
viiiManning epilogue, 335
ixManning, 336

No comments:

Post a Comment