In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section African Military History and Historiography

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Historiography and Methodology
  • Colonial Armies and Police
  • Africa and World War I
  • Africa and World War II
  • The Wars of African Independence

Military History African Military History and Historiography
Alicia C. Decker, Giacomo Macola
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0250


African military history is currently experiencing something of a boom—a phase of exponential growth marked not only by the foundation of a dedicated new journal (Journal of African Military History) and book series (War and Militarism in African History, Ohio University Press), but also by increasing theoretical and methodological reflection. Two main factors account for this flurry of scholarly interest. Firstly, it must be frankly recognized that the analytical advances that underpinned the broader field of Africanist historiography since the 1960s have only recently begun to make their impact felt on the study of African warfare, which has long struggled to shed the legacies of Eurocentric scholarship. The comparatively late “decolonization” of the subdiscipline explains why much African military history is to be found in works not explicitly advertised as such. These latter studies—or at least the most influential among them—are included in this bibliography so as to provide readers with a sense of the complex (and not necessarily linear) development of the field. No less important is the incontestable fact that armed conflict and other forms of violence continue to represent key aspects of the social experience of large sections of the continent’s population. An increasing awareness of the deep, in some cases precolonial, roots of many of these conflicts has meant that historians have been prompted to bring their skills to bear on some of the most pressing problems faced by the continent. This said, the field still suffers from some limitations. African authors—as this bibliography bears out—are still not as widely represented as they should be, and it is also the case that the postcolonial period remains better served in terms of scholarship than earlier periods. This accounts for the decision to subdivide the relevant section of this bibliography, War and Militarism in Postcolonial Africa, into separate thematic subheadings. The other sections, conversely, only comprise one main heading, or limit themselves to distinguishing between Overviews and Regional/Local Studies.

Textbooks and Anthologies

Textbooks covering the entire span of African military history are few and not always reliable (for an especially contentious perspective, see Lugan 2013). Reid 2012 and Stapleton’s three-volume overview (Stapleton 2013a, Stapleton 2013b, Stapleton 2013c) stand out for their scholarly rigor. An important anthology is Lamphear 2007.

  • Lamphear, John, ed. African Military History. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

    This collection of previously published articles on precolonial Africa is introduced by a lucid historiographical essay by Lamphear. Accompanying the introduction is a sprawling bibliography of more than 300 sources.

  • Lugan, Bernard. Les guerres d’Afrique: Des origines à nos jours. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2013.

    DOI: 10.14375/NP.9782268075310

    Broad synthesis by a hugely prolific—but also hugely controversial—French author. Professional historians have often accused Lugan of colonial sympathies and of essentializing aspects of African history.

  • Reid, Richard J. Warfare in Africa History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139043090

    This deeply researched, continent-wide survey is especially concerned with long-term continuities in conflict and the role of warfare in state building.

  • Stapleton, Timothy J. A Military History of Africa. Vol. 1, The Pre-Colonial Period: From Ancient Egypt to the Zulu Kingdom. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International, 2013a.

    Comprehensive survey of African military history that begins with precolonial warfare in North Africa and ends with the conquest of Southern Africa around 1870. This volume includes a brief introduction and five geographically organized chapters. Useful as a reference text or as an accessible historical overview.

  • Stapleton, Timothy J. A Military History of Africa. Vol. 2, The Colonial Period: From the Scramble for Africa to the Algerian Independence War. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International, 2013b.

    Comprehensive survey of African military history that begins with the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (c. 1870–1914), moves through both world wars, and concludes with an analysis of warfare, the military, and decolonization from 1945 to 1963. Includes a brief introductory essay. Useful as a reference text or as an accessible historical overview.

  • Stapleton, Timothy J. A Military History of Africa. Vol. 3, The Era of Independence: From the Congo Crisis to Africa’s World War. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International, 2013c.

    Comprehensive survey of African military history covering the period from 1963 to 2013. Each of the five chapters focuses on a different geographical region with each chapter broken down into several different conflicts. This volume also provides a brief introductory chapter that highlights some of the major themes in African military history in the postcolonial era. Useful as a reference text or as an accessible historical overview.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.