The Peopling of Africa


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A Geographic Interpretation

James L. Newman

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Discovering the African past takes one on a journey back to the origins of humanity over four million years ago, which is where James L. Newman begins his account of the continent's peoples. He ends it at the onset of the colonial era in the late nineteenth century, noting that "Africa and Africans deserve to be known on their own terms, and to achieve this goal we need to improve our understanding of what took place before colonialism rewrote many of life's rules."

African identities constitute one of Newman's main themes, and thus he discusses the roles played by genetic background, language, occupation, and religion. Population distribution is the other main theme running through the book. As a geographer, the author uses regions, spaces, and places as his filters for viewing how Africans have responded through time to differing natural and human environmental circumstances. Drawing on the fields of biology, archaeology, linguistics, history, anthropology, and demography, as well as geography, Newman describes the richness and diversity of Africa's inhabitants, the technological changes that transformed their lives, how they formed polities from small groups of kin to states and empires, and how they were influenced by external forces, particularly the slave trade. Maps are an important part of the book, conveying information and helping readers interrelate local, regional, continental, and global contexts.

James L. Newman is professor of geography at Syracuse University.

A selection of the History Book Club and the Natural Science Book Club

"A fine book and an original synthesis. Readers will gain a deeper appreciation of both the continuity and the far-reaching changes that have contributed to the human geography and 'peopling' of precolonial Africa."—Charles Good, Virginia Polytechnic and State University

"This scholarly discussion will appeal to any who want a different interpretation of African migration patterns."—Bookwatch

"Historical geography at its best! James Newman's superb synthesis of Africa's formative millennia is proof that the geographic perspective yields uncommonly productive insights. The author provides chronological order and spatial context to explain how Africa's peoples came to live where they do."—H.J. de Blij, Ph.D., Geography editor for ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" and Scholar- Scientist at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

"This volume . . . offers a clear challenge to our complacent assumption that there is a coherence somewhere in the disheveled haystack of modern higher education."—Don Gifford, Cultural Polemics

"The Peopling of Africa represents praiseworthy scholarship. It is carefully synthesized and well-written."—Philip C. Howze, MultiCultural Review

"It is a well-written and beautiful book, illustrated throughout with maps and photographs, and a useful bibliographical essay. The achievement of presenting the diversity and vibrancy of apart from many previous interpretations of these challenging and controversial issues. . . . Readers of this journal will find this book greatly increases our understanding of the processes and patterns of the peopling of Africa and the diverse and dynamic natures of populations."—Tamasine Robins, African Affairs

"If you either claim or aspire to be an African scholar, you should read this book. Newman clearly fills a niche in African scholarship by focusing on the largely ignored period of African history before Europeans colonized the continent. While anthropologists and historians have brought together most of the pieces of the puzzle of African humanity, this work by a geographer puts them in a new context which illuminates "peopling" and helps explain it in rich complexity. . . . Clearly Newman has provided Africanists with a major service by presenting an interdisciplinary survey of Africa and Africans "before the Europeans wrote the rules of the game." The scholarship involved in this effort is commendable. This rich book should be required reading for Africanists in general."—Gary L. Gaile, Journal of Anthropological Research

"At the very least, this book reveals the tremendous richness, complexity and dynamism of Africa's cultural geography in the precolonial period. But more than this, James Newman has skillfully sifted through archaeological, ethnographic, linguistic and historical evidence to produce an impressive and sensitive 'essay' on a vast topic."—Tony Binns, Times Higher Education supplement

"There is much to praise in The Peopling of Africa besides the author's thorough regional coverage. Beautiful maps populate each chapter. They represent clearly Newman's narrative devices of migration, trade, and the growth of political scale. He uses historical linguistic evidence to tell a story of the spread of language communities during the first millennium A.D. This may stand as the book's most important achievement because too many of the other master narrators of early Africa avoid these ten centuries. . . . The clarity of his arguments will render the book agreeable to undergraduates."—David Schoenbrun, African History

"An excellent guide on African cultures evolves with an unusual geographic twist."—Midwest Book Review

"This fascinating book sacrifices a lot of politically correct sacred cows, especially the one that sees African heritage as entirely separate from the rest of human culture."—Aidan Campbell, Living Marxism

"A whirlwind tour of several hundred thousand years in two hundred pages. Intended for a more general readership, the book succeeds in synthesizing a vast array of scholarship in a manner which retains some of the complexities and engages the nonspecialist. It would make a good companion volume to African history survey courses or introductory human geography of Africa classes at the undergraduate level."—Garth Andrew Myers, African Studies Review

ISBN: 9780300072808
Publication Date: September 23, 1997
252 pages, 7 x 10
40 b/w illus.