Southern Africa to c. 1850
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0003
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0003
This article focuses on the history of the region that now comprises South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and adjacent areas of Botswana and Mozambique. The era covered dates from the first establishment of pastoralist and farming societies in this region about two thousand years ago to the beginnings of the period that saw the shaping of its modern-day societies. This era straddles the conventional divide between “history,” as understood through written sources, and what is still too often called “prehistory,” as served predominantly through archaeological and ethnographic sources. The authors of this bibliography seek to work across this divide and also across the conventional divide between the “precolonial” and “colonial” periods, and, in doing so, to unpack deep-seated stereotypes about both. Since the collapse of apartheid in the early 1990s, long-established “colonial” views of South Africa’s history have become largely discredited, but they have left a residue of ideas and assumptions about the centrality of “tribes” and “tribal histories”that remains deeply sedimented in both public and academic discourses. Critical examination of the era before the mid-19th century has in effect come to be the preserve of three groups of scholars. One consists of the country’s several dozen archaeologists; a second comprises the small handful of academic historians who have studied the history of African societies in the late 18th and the 19th centuries; a third is made up of historians who have researched the history of the Cape Colony in its preindustrial age; that is, from the 1650s to the 1860s. For the most part, these scholars worked in separate enclaves and produced ideas about the past that scarcely overlapped. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, their concerns and perspectives began to converge slightly, to the accompaniment of often vigorous debates about concepts, sources, and methods. The two prime concerns of this article are to point readers toward the current state of knowledge in these three fields and to highlight the nature of the debates that scholars of the preindustrial past continue to engage in. At a time when racial profiling remains important in much of South African political, social, and intellectual life, the historical point needs to be made that the great majority of these scholars are still white. Only very recently have black students in South Africa begun studying archaeology in any numbers, and most of the country’s black historians still focus their research on the period of colonialism and resistance to it. The authors’ thanks go to the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town, and to the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Many general histories of South Africa have been written over the years, and new ones appear with some frequency. Until the very late 20th century, most of them devoted no more than a single cursory chapter to the period before the coming of European colonists in the 1650s. As popular writings on the archaeology of South Africa make the earlier history of African societies more accessible, so general histories are beginning to pay more attention to it. Giliomee and Mbenga 2007 is a recent and readable, if not particularly probing, example. Hall 1987 is an older work that manages to make archaeological evidence understandable to a general readership, as does Mitchell 2006, a brief and more recent survey. Hamilton, et al. 2010, an academic overview, breaks new ground in giving detailed attention to the precolonial as well as the colonial past. Mitchell 2002 is a more specialized survey that delineates recent lines of academic thinking in archaeology. For coverage of colonial times to the mid-19th century, Elphick and Giliomee 1989 still serves as an authoritative introduction. Etherington 2001 takes up critiques of the mfecane and Zulu-centric history to present a lively reexamination of the history of the interior and eastern regions of South Africa in the first half of the 19th century.
Elphick, Richard, and Hermann Giliomee, eds. The Shaping of South African Society, 1652–1840. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, 1989.
Series of closely linked narrative essays that focus on the history of the Cape Colony and its expansion. An older work, but still an authoritative introduction. First published in 1979.
Etherington, Norman. The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa, 1815–1854. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001.
A novel account of a key period in the shaping of modern South African society. Engages critically with orthodoxies about the so-called mfecane and the “great trek.”
Giliomee, Hermann, and Bernard Mbenga, eds. New History of South Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2007.
An illustrated history whose first four chapters (of a total of fifteen) cover the era to the mid-19th century. Written mainly by historians, they summarize evidence from archaeology and from documentary sources to provide an accessible if not always entirely up-to-date introduction to the period.
Hall, Martin. The Changing Past: Farmers, Kings, and Traders in Southern Africa, 200–1860. Cape Town: David Philip, 1987.
The first of its kind: a highly readable narrative history based mainly on archaeological evidence. An older work, but an often stimulating introduction to the period covered.
Hamilton, Carolyn, Bernard Mbenga, and Robert Ross, eds. The Cambridge History of South Africa. Vol. 1, From Early Times to 1885. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Seeks to present an authoritative reassessment of South African history, aimed in the first instance at an academic readership. Chapters 2 to 6, written by two archaeologists and three historians, cover the period from the beginnings of food production early in the first millennium CE to the mid-19th century.
Mitchell, Peter. The Archaeology of Southern Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
A comprehensive and authoritative synthesis. Chapters 8 to 13 (of a total of fourteen) provide a very useful, if densely written, guide to the archaeological literature on the history of southern Africa over the last two millennia.
Mitchell, Peter. “Rediscovering Africa.” In Origins: The Story of the Emergence of Humanity in Africa. Edited by Geoffrey Blundell, 118–165. Cape Town: Double Storey, 2006.
An outline of southern Africa’s history before the industrial era, written for a popular readership. Draws strongly on archaeological evidence.
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- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Sao Tomé and Príncipe
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey