What is an African historian?
Negotiating scholarly personae in UNESCO’s General History of Africa
in How to be a historian
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This chapter studies scholarly personae through the prism of UNESCO’s General History of Africa. It focuses on the establishment of the sub-discipline of African history. Scholars employing the persona concept have mostly adopted micro or meso perspectives of historical scholarship. African historians engaged in the General History of Africa, by contrast, invite us to adopt a macro perspective, given that they dissociated themselves from ‘the’ Western historian, no less, in its multiple, Eurocentric, incarnations. What could it mean for the study of scholarly personae to move to such a macro level and scrutinize a moment in the history of historiography that purposefully sought to combat existing models of ‘good scholarship’ from a decolonizing perspective? The chapter illustrates how the paradox of having ‘double consciousness’, or working with different perspectives, informed the scholarship of those historians working on the General History. In light of the antagonistic character of African historiography in this period, it seems to have been easier to construct a shared vision of a persona non grata than a shared ideal-typical model of scholarship.

Editor: Herman Paul
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