AMfecaneRICA, 1650-1850: What can Historians of Native America Learn from Southern Africanists?

Monday, 10 April, 2017 - 15:00

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For the period that we might loosely call "late pre-industrial" in both Southern Africa and North America: What was the relationship between colonialism and profound indigenous developments--new social formations, family arrangements, scales of war, relationships with the environment, and forms of exploitation--that arose beyond the direct reach of imperial or settler power? Did the Atlantic slave trade (which reached well into the Indian Ocean), or the Atlantic trade more generally, bear strongly on relationships within and among indigenous polities distant from the colonial ports? Is it proper to speak of indigeneity as a relation to settlers (or empires), or is it better to "reorient" the field to center the interior places of the continent, keeping the colonizers at the periphery? These have been, and remain, fighting questions in Southern Africa, and so too are they in North America. Who knew? This paper, yet to be written (as of November, 2016), seeks to put historians of Native North America in conversation with South Africanists. It will not be yet another historiographical exploration of the "mfecane" debate; there are already a dozen of those and, for those who thought the conflict settled, more will come. It will instead juxtapose some of the major themes and methodologies of the two fields, which have very different scholarly genealogies and only minor cross-fertilization, and see where the sparks fly.


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