In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Madagascar

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Geography and Environment
  • Economy
  • Politics and Government
  • Religion
  • Language
  • Literature
  • Arts
  • Music and Performance

African Studies Madagascar
Jane Hooper
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0176


The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is known for the uniqueness of its flora and fauna, but the island’s inhabitants are also diverse. Little is conclusively known about the settlement of the island in the first centuries CE, although most scholars believe that people arrived from East Africa and Southeast Asia in multiple waves and formed permanent settlements on different parts of the island by the 9th century. This mixture of African and Asian influences has left a lasting impression on the island’s populations. Coastal inhabitants on Madagascar were active participants in premodern Indian Ocean trade networks by around 1150. By the time Europeans arrived during the 16th century, the people living in the north of the island regularly supplied food, slaves, and valuable raw materials to vessels from East African and Comorian port cities, as well as from the more distant ports of the northern Indian Ocean. The leaders of a variety of political states and confederations dominated the export trade from the west and east coasts of Madagascar. By the 19th century, a strong centralized kingdom developed in Madagascar’s interior and dominated much of the island’s export trade until the French colonized the island in 1896. Following decades of challenges to the French colonial rule and bloody uprisings, the Malagasy gained political independence in 1960. Since independence, the island’s government has had difficulty in maintaining political stability as well as furthering economic development. The immediate postcolonial period was marked by a lengthy phase of single-party rule until 1992. The 1990s and 2000s were turbulent decades for politics on the island. Didier Ratsiraka was elected president in 1997 but stepped down in 2002 following an extremely divisive election. In 2009, the two-term democratically elected president, Marc Ravolomanana, left office under intense popular and military pressure. Leadership of the country was given to the mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina. This transfer of power was considered a coup d’état by many Western governments that, in turn, restricted aid to the island. Presidential elections were held in 2013, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina won what many international observers described as free and fair elections. See also the Oxford Bibliographies articles Swahili City States of the East African Coast, Comoro Islands, Indian Ocean Trade, and Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades.

General Overviews

Only recently has an accessible and thorough English-language history of the island been published. Randrianja and Ellis 2009 is based on new archaeological and historical research and effectively renders earlier overviews of the history of the island obsolete. At times, Madagascar falls out of discussions of African or Indian Ocean history, although Alpers 2013 makes a good case for the place of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world. Allen and Covell 2005 and Bradt and Brown 1993 are worth examining for a list of scholarship about the island, although neither should be seen as comprehensive. The best overview of the older literature on the island, particularly from the 19th century, is Grandidier 1905–1957. The essays in Goodman and Benstead 2003 examine the island from an ecological perspective and provide a good background for any scholar interested in the interactions between humans and their environment on the island. Scales 2014 is an up-to-date treatment by a number of prominent scholars examining the key issue of conservation in Madagascar today.

  • Allen, Philip M., and Maureen Covell. Historical Dictionary of Madagascar. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2005.

    This short reference book provides an overview of the history of Madagascar, although less thorough than Randrianja and Ellis 2009.

  • Alpers, Edward A. The Indian Ocean in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Although most of the essays are not strictly focused on the history of Madagascar, this collection firmly places Madagascar in the Indian Ocean world and connects the island with developments in nearby coastal East Africa.

  • Bradt, Hilary, and Mervyn Brown. Madagascar. World Bibliographical Series. Oxford: Clio, 1993.

    The annotations in this bibliography are helpful for researchers, although the list of sources is far from complete and focuses on published material.

  • Goodman, Steven M., and Jonathan P. Benstead, eds. The Natural History of Madagascar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    This interdisciplinary collection of essays examines everything from the climate and geology of the island to debates over the premodern extinction of mega-fauna on Madagascar.

  • Grandidier, Guillaume. Bibliographie de Madagascar. 3 vols. Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1905–1957.

    Grandidier provides a fairly comprehensive list of mostly French-language publications dealing with Madagascar, with a focus on the 19th century in particular. For more on the older sources, see Grandidier, et al. 1903–1920, cited under Primary Sources: Collections.

  • Ranaivoson, Dominique. Madagascar: Dictionnaire des personnalités historiques. Antananarivo, Madagascar: Tsipika, 2005.

    This book provides a brief biography of several hundred individuals who were influential in the history of Madagascar, including names from origin histories and Malagasy important in postcolonial political developments, although the annotations frequently lack information about the original source material.

  • Randrianja, Solofo, and Stephen Ellis. Madagascar: A Short History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

    This book, cowritten by historians specializing in Madagascar in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, is both accessible and thorough. The writers rely on recent scholarship to examine the early settlement of the island, the first centralized states, the Merina Empire, the colonial period, and the postcolonial period. Appropriate for nonspecialists and undergraduates.

  • Scales, Ivan R., ed. Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar. London: Routledge, 2014.

    This edited collection contains essays by a number of prominent scholars, many of whom are mentioned in this article, and combines historical, anthropological, and ecological approaches for understanding the challenges that face Madagascar today.

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