RIP Terence Ranger

Airport Farewell at Deportation of Professor Terence Ranger in 1962: Left to right: T. O. Ranger, Shelagh, Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Robert Mugabe, and John Reed (Photo courtesy of David Wiley, African Studies Center, Michigan State University)


2015 began with the sad news of the passing of Terence Ranger (85) – one of the most reputed scholars of Zimbabwean and African history.

Ranger’s is perhaps best-known for the volume on «The Invention of Tradition» (1983) which he co-edited with Eric Hobsbawn (another towering figure in academia). Ranger’s essay in the book: «The Invention of tradition in colonial Africa» generated and intense academic debate – and Ranger himself revisited these arguments a decade later.

Ranger began his career as lecturer of Medieval and Modern History in the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1957. In 1962, following the country’s unilateral declaration of independence, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia and he established himself in newly independent Tanzania, where he directed the  University of Dar es Salaam’s History Department. There he assembled a stellar academic line-up that included John Iliffe and Walter Rodney.

In many ways, the origins of the modern African history scolarship can be traced back to those ‘Dar es Salaam school’ days and to Terence Ranger.

One of the many things for which he will be remembered.


PS You can read a very extensive and extremely interesting inverview with Ranger done by Diana Jeater in 2009 here.

8º Congreso Ibérico de Estudios Africanos – call for papers

Para todos aquellos que trabajamos de forma académica en temas relacionados con África en esta parte del mundo, este año tiene una cita ineludible con la celebración del 8º Congreso Ibérico de Estudios Africanos en Madrid del 14 al 16 de junio de 2012. El congreso, titulado «Bajo el Árbol de la Palabra» contará con un total de 49 paneles, entre ellos uno co-organizado por quien aqui escribe.

Hasta el próximo 31 de enero de 2012 está abiero el llamamiento a paneles, y tod@s aquellos interesad@s deberán enviar una propuesta con un máximo de 400 palabras, asociada a algún panel (cada panel puede tener más de una sesión) y presentarse a través del formulario de la página web.

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8th Iberian Congress of African Studies – call for papers

For those of us working academically on Africa in this part of the world, this year has an unmissable date with the celegration of the 8th Iberian Conference of African Studies, «Under the Palaver Tree», in Madrid on June 14-16, 2012.
The call for papers is now open until January 31, 2012. Authors are invited to submit abstracts of no more than 400 words to any of the 49 panels – one of which is co-organised by yours truly. Abstracts for accepted papers will be available on the website on March 15. Full papers should be submitted before May 15.

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Using Google Ngram to (un-scientifically) determine the changes in popularity of African countries, leaders and related concepts

Sometime last week I came across the latest fancy online tool from Google Labs – the Google Books Ngram Viewer. At first I thought it was just an advanced pastime, perhaps with the potential for interesting uses, but did not think of how to put it use. Then, over the weekend I came across this zunguzung post, which uses Ngram to recreate the history of race in the 20th century (really worth having a look!). It was then that I thought of doing a similar thing – albeit in a much more simplified and less detailed version – with some «Africa» and «African studies» related topics.
Here are some examples:

First, and although not really unique to Africa, I though of comparing some of terms used in academia to speak of different societies. This is the result:
“Primitive peoples” was (luckily) never extremely popular and declined from the early 1920s-1930s; as for “ethnic groups”, its popularity “boom” took place in the 1960s. The now derided word “tribe” however remains the most popular one, although it has experienced a clear decline (perhaps its popularity is due to its uses in other contexts – such as “urban tribes” or Roman history.

Then I tried a much more specific comparison using the two ideologies I analysed and compared on my Masters thesis: “African Socialism” and “ubuntu”
The result is largely what I expected – although the “African Socialism” boom is greater than I thought, and its “spiky” decline is interesting. A bigger surprise was the small “boom” of “ubuntu” at the turn of the 20th century – much earlier than the uses I have come across – which relate to the post-apartheid context (where “ubuntu” popularity markedly increases). Can someone enlighten me on this early appearance?

Finally, I went for two “popularity contests”: among Anglophone African nations,
In which South Africa clearly leads the pack, with Nigeria and Kenya going neck-and-neck during the early part of the century, after which Nigeria took off.

And one for political leaders:
Here again, the results were largely what I expected. Nkrumah was the unchallenged “most popular” political leader during the 1960s, 1970s and first half of the 1980s; after which Mandela’s rise eclipses all other figures.

Ngram then, provides a curious – although not scientific – way of exploring how words, people, places and concepts became more or less popular across decades.
So, have you come up with more exciting comparisons? If so, please post the link to it on the comment section. And if not, have a go at it, it is entertaining and may throw some surprises…

The Africa Portal and the Humanitarian Response Index 2010

A number of things have got on the way of my posting lately, so this has been quiet for a while now… While at the moment I have nothing really interesting to say, I’ve thought that, in order not to keep in silence for too long, I’d share two interesting initiatives I have come accross recently:
First the Africa Portal:

an online knowledge resource for policy-related issues on Africa. An undertaking by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Makerere University (MAK), and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the Africa Portal offers open access to a suite of features including an online library collection; a resource for opinion and analysis; an experts directory; an international events calendar; and a mobile technology component—all aimed to equip users with research and information on Africa’s current policy issues.

A more than welcome resource for all those interested on African politics.
Second, the Humanitarian Response Index 2010, launched by Dara.
Now in its fourth edition, this year’s report’s main finding is that:

the increasing politicization and militarization of humanitarian aid which compromises effective assistance to vulnerable populations and endangers humanitarian workers.

An extremely worrying trend seen in places likes Somalia, Sudan or Pakistan. Full report here.