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Biography in African History


This paper charts the rise and transformation of biography as a form of Africanist history writing. Biography in African history, as in other fields, has included attention to nationalist heroes as well as the lives of slaves, women, and other subalterns. Recently, some Africanist historians have embraced transnational life histories, particularly those situated in the “black Atlantic” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some themes, methods, and limitations of such biographies are discussed in relation to the author’s own project on a nineteenth century immigrant to West Africa.


Cet article décrit l’essor et la transformation de la biographie comme une forme d’écriture de l’histoire par les africanistes. La biographie dans l’histoire africaine, comme dans d’autres domaines, s’est concentrée sur les héros nationalistes ainsi que sur la vie des esclaves, des femmes et d’autres subalternes. Récemment, certains historiens africanistes ont choisi d’écrire des histoires de vie transnationales, en particulier celles situées dans “l’Atlantique noir” des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Cet article se penche sur certains thèmes ainsi que sur certaines méthodes et limites de ces biographies en relation avec le projet de l’auteur sur un immigrant du XIXe siècle en Afrique de l’Ouest.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Roquinaldo Ferreira , Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil during the Era of the Slave Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Stephanie Newell , The Forger’s Tale: The Search for Odeziaku (Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 2006).

João José Reis , Divining Slavery and Freedom: The Story of Domingos Sodré, an African Priest in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Rebecca J. Scott , and Jean M. Hébrard , Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Randy J Sparks ., Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives across the Atlantic World (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

Leslie H Townsend ., “Out of Silence: Writing Interactive Women’s Life Histories in Africa,” History in Africa 17 (1990), 351358.

Lindy Wilson , Bereket Habte Selassie , Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja and Ernest Harsch , African Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 2015).

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History in Africa
  • ISSN: 0361-5413
  • EISSN: 1558-2744
  • URL: /core/journals/history-in-africa
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