Books on the history of Africa in antiquity
August 12, 2020 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in accessible books written for the lay reader on the history of Africa during the period contemporaneous with classical antiquity, especially the parts of the continent that are not generally considered part North Africa. Broader overviews and regional histories alike would be great. Thanks!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend Michael A. Gomez, African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa (Princeton University Press, 2018).
posted by Ahmad Khani at 7:15 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

For a holistic, literally from the ground up history, I highly recommend Africa, a Biography of the Continent.
posted by ReginaHart at 7:23 PM on August 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not a book but Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s six-hour PBS series Africa's Great Civilizations was good.
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can go to the motherlode and read The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop published in 1974. A Senegalese scholar born in 1923, Diop studied in Paris and had several degrees in sciences as well as humanities.

Diop's work is still controversial but succeeded in shifting scholarship towards a more Afrocentric, less racist position; consider that the popular culture depiction of white pharoahs ruling black peoples was common at the time of printing and is impossible now. Without Diop (unacknowledged) there is no Black Athena and no Martin Bernal, no realistic acknowledgement of the cultural, linguistic and hegemonic links across the whole continent.*

"Diop argued above all that European archaeologists before and after the decolonization had understated and continued to understate the extent and possibility of Black civilizations" (wikipedia)

* As a general reader I came across a connection made by Robert Graves in The Greek Myths linking the story of Cadmus' descendants - Garamantians - with Koromantse village in Ghana. He did not do this randomly but by taking seriously the geographical info present in the recorded myth. Until I came across Diop many years later Graves was the only writer I had ever found to have the imagination to realise that cultural connections across the Sahara in ancient times are much more likely than not. It's a bit like reading old scifi where the writers can imagine anything possible in the universe but not that female gendered people might be educated, earning money, and not in the kitchen.
posted by glasseyes at 7:18 AM on August 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Link to Black Athena
posted by glasseyes at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2020

Ehret (2002) Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800 is a great region-by-region and era-by-era look at the continent prior to the date in the title. It is essentially a textbook, so is not the most thrilling read, but is one of the most comprehensive single sources on the subject.

I would distinctly NOT recommend anything by Diop. His books are interesting from a historiographical perspective, but are rightly criticized as works of history. Outside of that, Diop has nothing to say about Africa outside of the Nile for the time period you are interested in.
posted by Panjandrum at 3:05 AM on August 17, 2020

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