Monthly Archives: October 2015

Future Research Project by Members of the Centre

Central Africa and the Making of the Global Nineteenth Century

This project will investigate central Africa as a focal point for the making of the modern world. Capitalising on the emergent methods of the digital humanities and global history, it will examine central Africa’s principal axes of global interconnection and the influences that flowed through them before the imposition of formal European control from the 1880s. The project will supplement existing studies of the long-distance slave and commodity trades by investigating the formative impact of central Africa’s consumer demand on international economies, alongside local political responses to globalization.

A central pillar of the project will be the creation of a database of central Africa’s long-distance trade: ‘Sinews of Globalization’, covering the area stretching from the Limpopo and Orange rivers in the south, up to the northern Congo basin.


Figure 1. Africa, showing region to be covered by ‘Sinews of Globalization’.

The raw data for ‘Sinews of Globalization’ will be extracted from nineteenth century publications, in particular the accounts and travelogues of explorers, hunters, missionaries and administrators. In general terms, the purpose of this database is to integrate these diverse records, allowing the user to search down to the level of individual records, but also use the accumulated data to look for connections and patterns that would otherwise be less than obvious. (An example of how data can be extracted from the source material can be found here: Support document – Concepts for the database (1)). A suitable search interface will permit users to search by record type, date range, sources, geographical region etc. More important to the database, and its accessibility, is the ability to represent the data on a map using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

Some of the database’s potential applications are illustrated by the following ‘mock-ups’.

MAP 1. (click on image to enlarge)


Map 1 is intended to show how portions of the journeys of Serpa Pinto, David Livingstone and Verney Lovett Cameron might be represented by the ‘Sinews of Globalization’ GIS implementation. Many of the basic features shown here, such as the pan and zoom controls and the map location indicator, are self-explanatory. The panel on the left shows an expandable list view and key of the available ‘Overlays’ corresponding to the date range 1851-1879 and selected map area.

Map 2. (click on image to enlarge)


Map 2 shows a series of trade routes in the same region, those classified as ‘Major Routes’ in the ‘Overlays’ panel on the left. Many of the features and selections are similar to those shown in Map 1, but the alteration of the date range and selection of overlay is reflected on the maps, and in the ‘Results’ box in the upper right. In this ‘mock-up’, the user has selected the route highlighted in red.

Map 3. (click on image to enlarge)


Map 3, the most complex of the series, displays some data precisely as is done in Map 2. However, in this instance, further ‘Overlays’ have been added, showing both ‘Trade Goods’ (ivory, firearms and cloth in this case), and ‘Instances of Trade’ (represented by scaled wheels/pie charts). A simple ‘Base Map’ has been selected for ease of comprehension, and the data relating to unselected trade routes returned by the search criteria are greyed-out for clarity.

Review: The Bird of the Valley and other African Stories as told by Hugh Tracey and Forest Music: Northern Belgian Congo, 1952

AHRC-funded PhD student John Kegel is impressed by the work of ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey

In the 1950’s Hugh Tracey (1903-1977), who grew up in Southern Rhodesia, travelled across sub-Saharan Africa, usually with a caravan filled with recording equipment. His goal during these wanderings was to record African music for posterity and in this he succeeded magnificently. Ranging from the drum groups of the Court of the Mwami in Rwanda to Bulawayo Jazz, Hugh Tracey managed to collect a wide array of music and African stories which are now readily available on CD or on-line.

Of the two CDs reviewed here ‘The Bird of the Valley’ was downloaded from the internet, whereas ‘Forest Music’ is from the recently re-mastered set of Hugh Tracey CDs released by SWP records. In Bird of the Valley Tracey reads a number of short stories – about five minutes each – of the Karanga people of present-day Zimbabwe translated into English. He turns out to be not only an ethno-musicologist, but also a wonderful story-teller, who easily leads the listener into Africa. Most stories echo the warnings of childhood: don’t follow strangers (“The Sisters and the Lion Men”) and don’t lie (“Rabbit and Tortoise”). Others are more philosophical, but all carry a message that gives a unique insight into Karangan culture and mind-set.

The album front cover‘Forest Music’ might be difficult for the non-professional western ear to adapt to at first, but those who persevere will be richly rewarded by its striking music. The CD is primarily made up of drum and vocal pieces, sung by both women and men, for different occasions, including celebrations. However, for me, the pièce de résistance is the last track, “Talking Drums of the Upper Congo”. Here, Hugh Tracey explains how drums are used to communicate across large distances between the Lokele villages of the Upper Congo. The setting is incredible: we hear the wind rustling in the background as the Rev. W.H. Ford translates a message from English into drum language, which is then played by a Lokele drummer. Although most of the music was recorded outside, environmental factors do not influence the music in a negative way, which is a tribute to the skills of both Hugh Tracey sixty years ago and Michael Baird of SWP records today.

Music is one of the most emotionally and culturally expressive mediums of communication and I cannot sufficiently recommend the music recorded by Hugh Tracey to any historian interested in Africa.


Hugh Tracey shows his collection of African instruments:

The SWP website: 

Occasional Seminar: 16 October 2015

Professor Fransjohan Pretorius (University of Pretoria), ‘Jan Smuts in the Boer War: The beginning of his sanguine years’


On 16 October 2015 Professor Fransjohan Pretorius (University of Pretoria) will present a paper entitled ‘Jan Smuts on the Boer War: The beginning of his sanguine years’. The presentation forms part of the Centre for the History of Colonialisms’ occasional seminar programme and will take place at 5pm in Rutherford College, seminar room 5.

All are welcome to attend.

Forthcoming Presentation by a Centre Member at the University of Birmingham


Book Cover 2

On 14 October 2015, the Centre for the History of Colonialisms’ director, Giacomo Macola, will deliver one of the ‘Africa Talks’ seminars (full programme details) to the Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham.

His paper – ‘Firearms in Nineteenth-Century Central Africa: A Revisionist History’ – presents the main conclusion of his forthcoming monograph: The Gun in Central Africa: A History of Technology and Politics (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2016). Marrying the insights of Africanist historiography with those of consumption and science and technology studies, the paper adopts a culturally sensitive perspective that encompasses both the practical and the symbolic attributes of firearms. Informed by the view that the power of objects extends beyond their immediate service functions, the paper presents Africans as agents of technological re-innovation who understood guns in terms of their changing social structures and political interests.

Colonial Violence and the pacification of the Sierra Leone Protectorate

Bai Bureh, one of the rebel leaders in the 1898 Hut Tax War

In September 2015, Christine Whyte participated in a workshop on colonial violence at Queen Mary University, London organised by Dr Kim Wagner. Her paper,  ‘”A very carnival of slaughter” Charles Braithwaite Wallis and the counter-insurgency campaign in Sierra Leone’ analysed the form and nature of colonial violence in the so-called Hut Tax War of 1898 in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone. It closely examined the memoir and ‘bush-fighting guide’ of colonial commander, Charles Braithwaite Wallis for insight into why the repression of the revolt took a particularly brutal turn in the summer of 1898.

The workshop, ‘Cultures of Colonial Violence and Warfare’ broadly addressed the question: ‘What was ‘colonial’ about colonial violence and counter-insurgency?’ brought together scholars working on various aspects of colonial violence, from the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 to murders in colonial Indochina.

Dissertation Prize

The Centre for the History of Colonialisms is delighted to announce a new prize for the best third-year undergraduate dissertation in imperial and/or non-western history.

To be considered for the prize candidates must submit their dissertation by 12.00 on Friday 19 June 2015.

More information about the prize and how to submit your entry can be found in the Prizes section of the website.