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  • Cited by 21
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
June 2020
Print publication year:
Online ISBN:
African Studies (149)

Book description

The southern African savannah landscape has been framed as an 'Arid Eden' in recent literature, as one of Africa's most sought after exotic tourism destinations by twenty-first century travellers, as a 'last frontier' by early twentieth-century travellers and as an ancient ancestral land by Namibia's Herero communities. In this 150-year history of the region, Michael Bollig looks at how this 'Arid Eden' came into being, how this 'last frontier' was construed, and how local pastoralists relate to the landscape. Putting the intricate and changing relations between humans, arid savannah grasslands and its co-evolving animal inhabitants at the centre of his analysis, this history of material relations, of power struggles between commercial hunters and wildlife, between wealthy cattle patrons and foraging clients, between established homesteads and recent migrants, conservationists and pastoralists. Finally, Bollig highlights how futures are being aspired to and planned for between the increasing challenges of climate change, global demands for cheap ores and quests for biodiversity conservation.


'At last the hauntingly beautiful arid landscape of northern Namibia has the historical analysis that it merits. Bollig, an anthropologist with long experience of the region, brings to life the long-term interaction of humanity, wildlife and the environment in a rich narrative that speaks to our age of global change.'

Jane Carruthers - University of South Africa

'Michael Bollig is one of the world’s most distinguished experts on the environmental ‘entanglements’ of African societies. Adopting a ‘new materialist’ approach to understanding human, livestock and wildlife impacts on the African Savannah in Namibia, Bollig examines how its environmental infrastructure reflects a historical dialectic of pastoralism, foraging, and hunting from colonialism to capitalism. This monumental work explores three possible futures for African drylands - conservation, mining or indigenous autonomy - which will determine whether Savannah environments can sustain Africa’s indigenous peoples and their remarkable reservoir of biodiversity.'

John Galaty - McGill University

'Erudite and compelling … Who else but Michael Bollig can weave together archival materials, satellite data and cultural analysis in a comprehensive work that appeals to historians, anthropologists, economists, ecologists and basically everyone interested in the interplay of people, policy and an arid environment. This book contains lessons for everyone.'

Steven Van Wolputte - University of Leuven

‘Shaping the African Savannah is immensely stimulating, and not only for those who love reading everything about Namibia. It is a book that will appeal to the anthropologically-inclined, of course, but also to (environmental) historians, ecologists and geographers alike.’

Michael Bollig Source: Journal of Namibian Studies

‘… richly detailed … Recommended.’

C. Higgs Source: Choice

‘Shaping the African Savannah succeeds in making the global local and examines the Kaokoveld’s environmental past, present, and future with nuance and sophistication. Much of the strength of this work lies in the detail and sensitivity with which Bollig approaches processes at the granular level and yet creates a story of environmental history and globalization that remains accessible to the majority of readers.’

Cathy Skidmore-Hess Source: African Studies Quarterly

‘The book offers a valuable comparative perspective to historians who focus on pastoralism and arid environments. It is also useful to scholars of conservation and wildlife management, as well as those researching the influence of international actors on indigenous systems of land tenure and resource management … this is a rich study, finely textured and rooted in a deep familiarity with the people and local environment.’

Meredith McKittrick Source: Agricultural History

‘In this important new book, Michael Bollig provides an environmental history of the Kaoko region in North-Western Namibia while contributing to wider debates on colonialism, conservation, and land-use in Africa … this is just one of the many issues that Bollig’s book compels us to revisit and reconsider.’

Eduard Gargallo Source: Human Ecology

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