History Seminar: What was the Scramble for Africa?

Brief: 

ABSTRACT: This paper seeks to position the ‘Scramble’ for Africa in the context of the continent’s transformative, global nineteenth century. While imperial historiography develops apace, Africa-facing analyses of the continent’s partition and the processes which led to it are increasingly rare. European expansion into Africa was unquestionably characterized by an aggressive dynamism, and millions of Africans experienced profound crisis in the process of the establishment of colonial rule. Yet Africa’s revolutionary nineteenth century was both driven by, and culminated in, complex processes of co-option on the part of both Africans and Europeans. The paper proposes that a more Africa-centred assessment of the ‘Scramble’ is possible, which aims to contextualize the partition of the continent as part of an ongoing, endogenously shaped but often exogenously connected, transformation in political, economic and social organization and behaviour. While no single overarching ‘theory’ can be rendered applicable to the entire continent, dynamics and processes for change can be identified which recur across Africa – including political and military reform and economic innovation. These point toward the possibilities for reframing Africa’s development in the late precolonial period, and enable us to challenge the hegemony long enjoyed by scholars of European empires.

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