Liberia is located on the continent’s west coast on the Atlantic. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the north, and Côte d’Ivoire to the east and northeast. Officially known as the Republic of Liberia, the state was founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society (ACS) as a colony for American free blacks who elected to immigrate to Africa in search of freedom, believing that full equality as citizens was unattainable in racist American society. Liberia’s colonial history lasted until 26 July 1847, when the colony obtained its independence from the ACS, becoming Africa’s first independent republic. Independence, however, did not preclude the state from being a quasi-colony of the United States for much of its early history. Under the political and economic dominance of the Americo-Liberians, as the descendants of the black American émigrés were known, Liberia existed as virtually an informal colony of the United States. America’s influence on Liberia was primarily economic, with its heavy investment in rubber production in the country from the 1920s. In the post–World War II period, Liberia embarked on modernization, benefiting greatly from America’s wartime investment. Economic underdevelopment has, however, characterized modern Liberia. The state enjoyed relative political stability till the late 1970s, but on 12 April 1980 a bloody military coup d’état terminated age-long Americo-Liberian rule and ushered in a period of military rule. Meanwhile, Liberia witnessed a devastating two-part civil war, initially from 1989 to 1996 and then from 1999 to 2003. Liberia entered a new democratic phase in 1997 following a presidential election won by an erstwhile rebel leader in the civil war, Charles Taylor. However, Taylor was forced to resign from office in August 2003, necessitating an interim national government. Following fresh elections in 2005 won by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, she was inaugurated on 16 January 2006 as the nation’s twenty-fourth president. With her election, she became the first woman in modern Africa elected to head a nation. She was reelected for another five-year term in 2011.
As the earliest sovereign state in Africa, Liberia has a long history, which makes it one of the most studied African states. There are several works that provide a general survey of Liberia’s history. Dunn-Marcos, et al. 2005 is a general overview; Ashmun 1826 and Cassell 1970 analyze the earliest history of the republic; Buell 1947 examines the history of the first century; and Boley 1983 takes the discourse to the capitulation of the First Republic. More contemporary overviews of the history are presented in Dunn and Tarr 1988 and Pham 2004. CountryWatch provides up-to-date general information about Liberia.
Ashmun, Jehudi. History of the American Colony in Liberia, 1821–1823. Washington, DC: Way & Gideon, 1826.
This is the earliest written history of Liberia as a colony under the ACS, written by one of its earliest leaders. It describes the events of the early colonial period and the difficulties faced by the settlers. It also contains Ashmun’s letters sent back home to the United States. Text available online.
Boley, George E. Saigbe. Liberia: The Rise and Fall of the First Republic. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.
Written by a major actor in the political history of Liberia, this book offers an overview of the country’s history up to the Tolbert years in the 1970s.
Buell, Raymond Leslie. Liberia: A Century of Survival, 1847–1947. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947.
A brief history of Liberia by an American, the critical analysis covers the first one hundred years of its history. It examines the country’s prospects for development and the need for a new approach that included bridging the gap between the Americo-Liberian governing elite and the indigenous people. It also calls for a more committed American involvement in the state.
Cassell, Christian Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York: Fountainhead, 1970.
This is a useful history of Liberia from the period of the arrival of the American black settlers in 1822 to the time of the presidency of William David Coleman in 1900.
This piece provides concise, up-to-date political, economic, social, and environmental information on Liberia.
Dunn, D. Elwood, and S. Byron Tarr. Liberia: A National Polity in Transition. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1988.
This study covers a wide range of issues relating to the development of modern Liberia. It provides a historical background to Liberia and examines the society, the politics of the first republic, military interregnum, the economy, and foreign relations.
Dunn-Marcos, Robin, Konia T. Kollehlon, Bernard Ngovo, and Emily Russ. Liberians: An Introduction to Their History and Culture. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics, 2005.
This slim volume is a general overview of the history of Liberia and the culture of its people.
Pham, John-Peter. Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State. New York: Reed, 2004.
This is an overview of Liberia’s history from its foundation, with a particular focus on its politics and the events that lead to its civil war and its emergence as a virtual failed state.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arab Spring
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Archaeology of West 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
- Cinema and Television
- 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
- Conflict Management and Resolution
- 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
- Disease and African Society
- 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
- Farah, Nuruddin
- 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
- Hausa Language and Literature
- 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
- Law and the Study of Sub-Saharan Africa
- Law, Islamic
- 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
- Obama and Kenya
- 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
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Religion and Politics in Contemporary Africa
- Sexualities in Africa
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Soyinka, Wole
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- 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