Locating African history online: the "African History Extra" website
Mainstream discourses on African history have been shaped by frustrations; between its eurocentric foundations and afrocentric distractions, between indifferent western academia and Africanists struggling for a platform, and between popular reductive interpretations of the African past and researchers faced with a paucity of information.
These frustrations are a product of the incomplete mission to move Africa beyond the colonial library, where the mass of statistical information, books and observations were published and transmitted under the auspices of colonial authorities. More than half a century after the end of colonialism, just 3% of the papers published in four top history journals from 1997 to 2020 were about Africa. and only 10% were written by authors based in Africa (source), this created a vacuum of information about African history and the frustrations that come along with it.
But history provides a context for the modern world by allowing us to trace the origins of our current societal successes and failures; making it essential in informing our personal philosophies and world views. It's for this reason that the “vacuum of information” about African history is immediately filled with pseudo history and clichéd visual discourses in a vicious cycle that reinforces the interpretations of Africa's past found in the colonial library; reproducing discredited concepts about African achievements (or lack of) in governance, science and technology, writing, trade and economics, religion, architecture and art.
Fortunately, the days of monopolizing the publication and transmission of information are behind us, with the proliferation of online content creators translating scholarly publications for a public audience, history is no longer seen as an esoteric field where knowledge is handed down to the masses from lofty ivory towers
The majority of people learn about history from these online creators and less from their compulsory-level history classes in school, information about the wealth of Mansa Musa and the manuscripts of Timbuktu, about the Ethiopian Garima gospels and iconic Lalibela architecture, about the pyramids of Sudan and the walls of great Zimbabwe, has been popularized largely through the efforts of these online content creators using various platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and message boards. The emphasis on conciseness accented by colorful illustrations on the interactive platforms used by these online creators divorces their form of discourse from the dependency on the colonial library and offers a potent alternative to the frustrations that characterize the understanding of African history.
Like all new media however, online creators are faced with new challenges of which two are particular to them; the challenges of authenticity and obscurity. Despite (our) best efforts in disseminating and translating research written by professionals, the majority of online creators with large followings aren't specialists in the fields where they are focused and the specter of inauthenticity looms over their products, secondly some of their best products are buried under mountains of more popular content that suits the attention economy better which only serves to reinforce the perception of online creations as a minefield of shallow clickbait content.
The best solution to both challenges is a collaboration between online creators and specialists to create a more realistic marketplace of ideas, allowing for a symbiosis between the excellent but attention-grabbing content which internet audiences are accustomed to and the amplification of the rigorous research from specialists, it this symbiotic platform that I hope to create with the African history extra website.
In order to narrate the continent's neglected past, the African history extra website is envisioned as a free and interactive platform between content creators, specialists and enthusiasts of African history. It will include a taglist section on all topics regarding Africa's past such as economic history, political history, writing history, science and technology history, war history, architecture history, textiles history, art history and other miscellaneous topics. Besides this taglist, the the website will also have chronological maps of African history from the formation of complex societies during the Neolithic era, down to the eve of colonialism, divided by millennia or by century (e.g., an overview of Africa's ancient states and Neolithic cultures in the 3rd millennium BC or the history of African states during the 12th century AD) and would give a detailed introduction to the reader on African history through each period, allowing them to systematically track developments in Africa's past. The main page will feature the story-format articles which I've been publishing on my substack blog as well as news of recent discoveries about African history, book reviews and book promotions. The majority of articles in the taglist section and maps section will be composed by guest writers (preferably specialists) as well as the book reviews and promotions.
Above all else, my hope is that all African history content is free for all who wish to access it, including researchers, students and the general public, it's for this reason that I'm crowdsourcing this website's creation and maintenance through your generous donations and your support and I'm grateful to have received an overwhelmingly positive response. While carrying out a market survey for the cost of building such a website, I used the pages of World History Encyclopedia, BBC's history extra and smart history, most web-designers I approached quoted an average price of $2,000 (the actual sites mentioned above are likely thrice that) but building a similar one with worldpress may cost just over half of this figure. I'm about a quarter of the way through with the contributions I have received via my Paypal account and from my Patreon subscribers over the last 3-4 months.
Please continue to donate and participate in this project, send any thoughts or advice through my Gmail (firstname.lastname@example.org), share this page and lets build a platform together that will highlight Africa's great contributions to world history.
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