Books: Non-Fiction

Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

Book — Non-fiction. By Howard W. French. 2021. 521 pages.
This sweeping history reveals a long-concealed history of trivialization and, more often, elision in depictions of African history throughout the last five hundred years.
Time Periods: Colonization: 1492 - 1764, 19th Century, 20th Century
Themes: Economics, Imperialism, US Foreign Policy, World History/Global Studies

book cover showing map of Africa with historical figures and eventsTraditional accounts of the making of the modern world afford a place of primacy to European history. The history of Africa, by contrast, has long been relegated to the remote outskirts of our global story. What if, instead, we put Africa and Africans at the very center of our thinking about the origins of modernity?

In a sweeping narrative spanning more than six centuries, Howard W. French does just that, for Born in Blackness reframes the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in the West, and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe’s dehumanizing engagement with the “dark” continent.

Creating a historical narrative that begins with the commencement of commercial relations between Portugal and Africa in the fifteenth century and ends with the onset of World War II, Born in Blackness interweaves precise historical detail with poignant, personal reportage. In so doing, it dramatically retrieves the lives of major African historical figures, from the unimaginably rich medieval emperors who traded with the Near East and beyond, to the Kongo sovereigns who heroically battled seventeenth-century European powers, to the ex-slaves who liberated Haitians from bondage and profoundly altered the course of American history.

Born in Blackness reveals a long-concealed history of trivialization and, more often, elision in depictions of African history throughout the last five hundred years. As French shows, the achievements of sovereign African nations and their now-far-flung peoples have time and again been etiolated and deliberately erased from modern history. As the West ascended, their stories — siloed and piecemeal — were swept into secluded corners, thus setting the stage for the hagiographic “rise of the West” theories that have endured to this day. [Adapted from publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9781631495823 | Liveright Publishing Corporation

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