Problems associated with African history. Orality as a source

Essay, 2010

6 Pages, Grade: 80.0%

Abstract or Introduction

“History,” according to E.H. Carr, “cannot be written unless the historian can achieve some kind of contact with those about whom he is writing”. Throughout the pursuit of history, we search for a link between the past and the present, and that, almost definitively, arrives in the form of written sources.

However, how should we approach history when written sources elude us, and all we have to rely on (for the most part) are oral sources and tradition? A nature that certainly defines the so-called ‘acephalous’ societies of pre-colonial Africa, and to a lesser extent contemporary Africa. Orality is not seen in modern scholarship, admittedly dominated by Western and Europeanized thought, as a viable or reliable source for constructing history. Yet, does this orality consign Africa to the peripheries of history, to the wastelands of historical thought and theory? Is Africa, as Hugh Trevor-Roper once claimed “unhistoric”?

This essay will examine whether oral sources are a sufficient foundation for the history of a continent, and whether their innate weaknesses and flaws as a source indeed render them, as previously believed, inadequate for such a venture. Of paramount importance in this essay is to assess whether a history of Africa can survive within the ideas of what History is and should be, ideas ultimately Western, indeed European, in their conception. Or can we separate Africa from Europe, both in terms of colonial impact and historical theory, and create a purely Africanist history? Hence, by the end of this essay, I hope to have displayed that oral sources have value within themselves as a source for history, and that the constraints of European history need not necessarily apply to Africa. Perhaps then, Africa can be resurrected from the “graveyard of academic publishing”.


Problems associated with African history. Orality as a source
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problems, african, orality
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James Pinnock (Author), 2010, Problems associated with African history. Orality as a source, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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