Africans Must (Will) Have Their Say: History, World History, and the ASCAC African World History Project

History is not merely the recorded past. It is the living memory of human groups attempting to make sense of the present. While this may not be “scientific” it represents perhaps the most important intellectual tasks for which a human group can devote itself. Yet we live in an age of the tyranny of presentism, where memories are reduced to entertainment , but also linked to an arts/culture complex rife with a standard of cultural and political neutralization , and inane representations that merely extend the normative stench of white supremacy in art.  For African people, this is not only unwelcome, it is dangerous. The question then becomes: How have particular genealogies of African thinkers and scholars addressed the persistent human problem of recording memory, and more specifically how have they done so with the advent of European modernity?

The Praxis of History

All human groups develop narratives to explain and interpret their collective memories. In the Western academic-philosophic knowledge complex, this activity has been given the name, history, which comes from the Greek term, istoria, meaning, “learning or knowing by inquiry.”[1] Historiographers of history, the intellectual historians who trace the beginnings of the academic practice, have consistently articulated the constitutive sources of Western historiographical inquiry.[2] Out of these various inquiries, historians have put together attempts to develop “world histories” based upon Western philosophical means of approaching knowledge.[3] Traditionally, these histories have often placed emphasis on the European understanding and rendering of knowledge of the past. As a consequence of European involvement in imperial conquests, Western understandings of the past, tethered to their localized and specific worldviews, have been imposed upon other human groups.[4] These groups, colonized by Europe and further deracinated by her imperial and neo-colonial pursuits, have often resisted the dominant narrative, by articulating their respective memories via the disciplinary lens of history, in effect creating as many “histories” as there are groups.[5] Africans, throughout the world, represent one such group.

There have been many attempts to re-direct African history toward an assumptive posture that is not only located or centered in the lived experiences of African themselves, but is enlivened by the ways in which they know and make sense of their realities. Fundamentally, the latter has been the preserve of thinkers involved in the long-range project of disengaging the West’s interpretive lens through which understandings of African history have been traditionally proffered. Though the roots of this project stem forth from generations of thinkers and scholars  (the most thorough discussion of the project, the Temple University dissertation of Greg Kimathi Carr (1998) still commands attention), this project has been most prominently linked to the 1969 walkout of the African thinkers associated with the African Studies Association.[6] These African scholars would form the African Heritage Studies Association, out of which the development of African interpretations of history would spring forth in the latter half of the twentieth century. This period also saw the publication of the widely cited eight volume-United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-commissioned General History of Africa, which came as a result of the need to reinterpret African historiography and question the dominance of Africanist historical perspectives.[7] A decade later, the preliminary volume of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations’ (ASCAC) African World History Project rested upon a different approach than that of the UNESCO volume. Editor Jacob Carruthers’ and the ASCAC scholars were interested in understanding world history, but not by inquiry created and utilized in the West. The African World History Project is centrally a project that looks at utilizing ways in which  practitioners of African “deep thought” (philosophy) throughout time and space have endeavored to understand the past and then taking these ways of knowing and applying them to the current scholarly landscape, or in Carruthers’ words to “evoke the Weheme Mesu (African renaissance).”[8]

The Evolution of African “Stand-Alone” Historiography

By the 1960s, African historiography had gone through successive periods of retrenchment and improvisations resulting in the increased hunger for historical logic among African people.[9] The decade prior had saw the emergence of Cheikh Anta Diop, whose Nations Negres et Culture (1954)[10] was part of the important 1954 moment in African historiography.[11] John Henrik Clarke, a young member of the Harlem History Club, provided both the theoretical and physical link between the work of Diop and the earlier generations of thinkers as well as the work of generations to come. Clarke, who was introduced to Diop after reading the transcripts of the Black Writers Conference of 1959, not only established a relationship with the Senegalese intellectual, he began to link the work to a Pan-African reclamation of African history.[12] The logical conclusion was what would occur in Montreal in 1969. Clarke, along with a coterie of thinkers both of African descent and direct continental heritage, protested the European interpretation of African history by walking out of the Eleventh Annual Convention of the African Studies Association. Part of the impulse grounding this conflict, was the disavowal of the African attempt to historicize his/her past themselves. In an article published in Africa Today, earlier that year, Clarke castigates the African Studies Association for de-linking the earlier intellectual genealogy of African thinkers concerned with African history.[13] Many of these thinkers represented the earlier tradition, including the work of Alexander Crummell, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Linked to this reasoning was the use of the African Studies Association, and the area studies discipline of African Studies, as a concomitant tool of oppression and neo-colonization.[14] For Clarke and other thinkers, the development of the African Heritage Studies Association was the logical solution. This organization, far more effective than a Black caucus within the African Studies Association was envisaged to re-order the African world on African terms.[15] It studied African history on African terms, beginning with the earliest civilizations as opposed to understanding Africa solely though “spheres of colonial influence.”[16] This intervention was a continuation of the struggles which characterized Africana historiography to this point. The exacerbation of the conflict showed however that despite Western historiography’s inclusion of African-based content, it was clear that proper perspectives of that content were still needed. Thus, the African Heritage Studies Association became the improvisation of that step.

            During the same period, the work of Cheikh Anta Diop attracted major attention. Though Diop had attended the conferences of the African Studies Association and continued to work heavily in the area of African history, his work had been largely marginalized up until the early 1970s.[17] It was at a UNESCO convention in 1974[18] that Diop was able to challenge the accepted convention in Western historical spaces as to the racial and cultural peopling of classical Africa. Diop’s work was centrally about connecting Africans throughout the continent and throughout the world to their historical legacies in classical African civilizations. Through scientific analysis, Diop was able to physically connect West African peoples to those of ancient Africa.[19] Famously, his protégé, Theophile Obenga would make the cultural connection through the examination of languages of Africans in contemporary dialects to that of classical African language.[20] This moment catapulted into the scientific community, what Africans in varying ways already knew, which was the cultural legacy of classical Africa (Nile Valley civilizations) to the rest of Africa. Obenga, Diop, and other African thinkers such as Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Boubou Hama,  and Amadou Hampate Ba would lend the energies to the previously mentioned General History of Africa.[21] These volumes were however mostly approached within the bounds of Africanist historiography, exemplified by the work of the African Studies Association. And as stated earlier, it was through the vision of John Henrik Clarke and the African Heritage Studies of Association that the work being done by Diop and others was introduced to the historians of African descent in America.[22]

            In Chicago, the work of thinkers involved in the Association of African Historians (AAH) resulted in the development of the journal, The Afrocentric World Review. Diop influenced many of these thinkers along similar lines. Jacob Carruthers and Anderson Thompson, among many others would begin to crystallize notions of African history from African perspectives along with Clarke, who along with John G. Jackson, Chancellor Williams, and Yosef ben-Jochannan emerged as they key historical thinkers in the African-based community and street academies.[23] By 1975, it is Carruthers who follows the work and admonition of Cheikh Anta Diop which is to study the language of the ancient Egyptians.[24] For Diop, this provided the necessary links for understanding how cultural continuity manifested itself among Africans continentally as well as in the wider Diaspora. Carruthers would return and found the organization, the Kemetic Institute, which committed itself to this type of intellectual work.

            As African historiography began to materialize based on these foundations, it attracted not only historians but intellectuals in all areas. The intention was not to contribute to the discipline of history, but it was to contribute to the Pan-African search of memory. The Inaugural Ancient Egyptian Studies Conference in February of 1984 was an example of this commitment and renewed search for the memory of an ancient African past. This conference brought together many of the aforementioned thinkers and out of this meeting, the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations was born.[25] The founding members included the aforementioned Clarke and Carruthers, as well as Maulana Karenga, Leonard Jeffries, Yosef ben-Jochannan, and Asa Hilliard. The work of this organization was to develop “study groups to the work of reclaiming African memory and creating a methodology and outline for writing an African World History.”[26] Its membership and foundation was the African community, though many of the founders were associated with academy. The organization was able to extend itself to many communities in the United States as well as the outside world, all the while, establishing study groups led by local leaders and based on the investigation of classical and Pan-African history and culture.[27] Two early publications demonstrate the prodigious work poured into the ASCAC method of understanding African history. Kemet and the African Worldview (1986)[28] and Reconstructing Kemetic Culture (1990)[29] were early attempts to collectively frame the African experience and its links to ancient Kemet. This was only the beginning.

The Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and World History

            The work to develop an African world history was predicated on the fundamental difference between African historiographical traditions and those which would emerge amid the legacies of the Western disciplinary practice of history. The call for an examination of the classical African past was the direct impetus to the call for the development of an African world history by the aforementioned Chicago thinkers. The work of Anderson Thompson, whose “The Development of an Afrikan Historiography” was published in 1975, coupled with the continued production of Cheikh Anta Diop and the preliminary work surrounding the UNESCO General History of Africa were the springboards to these conversations.[30] Thompson’s work represented as well as defined the fundamental split between African-descended thinkers concerned with the study of the past. Similar to Harold Cruse’s delineation of the two strands of African thought in some ways, yet distinct  in others, Thompson’s work opened the door to an African interpretation of the past unfettered by European philosophical framings.[31] Thompson’s explanation of Sambo/Negro historiography and its epistemological foundation in a European historiography, characterized by the framing of events within the interests of European world domination, delineates the position of the African historiographers as distinct from normative historiography.[32]  For the Chicago school, the UNESCO General History of Africa, though an important step lacked the proper interpretive lens necessary for a useful understanding of the past, as it corresponded to normative historiography. This was made clear in Jacob Carruthers’ “Memorandum on an African World History Project” delivered in January of 1982.[33] In this short memorandum, Carruthers echoes the work of the Chicago school, as well as the new guard of African-centered historians, further defining the intellectual commitments of European historiography. For Carruthers, perhaps the most important member of the intellectual genealogy of European historiography was Ibn Khaldun.[34] It was the work of Khaldun that catalyzed what Carruthers terms, “nomad historiography,” an important (defining) characteristic of European historical logic. This methodological approach to historiography understood the rise and fall of civilizations as the result of power struggles between dominant, warring (nomadic) societies versus peaceful, complacent (sedentary) societies. Though they preceded Khaldun, Carruthers briefly shows the prevalence of similar ways of understanding the past in the works of the fathers of Western historical inquiry, Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius, and later in the works of John Gibbon and Montesquieu.[35]

            Sixteen years later, the planning of the “preliminary volume on methodology” would take place in Detroit, Michigan.[36] This meeting of the African World History Project Committee included Thompson and Carruthers, but also the aforementioned protégé of Diop, Theophile Obenga, who had been working with the association but also as a professor at Temple University. Also present were an important group of apprentice scholars and the leadership of ASCAC in the personage of Nzinga Heru. At this meeting, the assumptions of Thompson’s earlier work were recalled. The group decided that in order to meet the dictates of an African-centered view of world history, that some central ideas had to be met:

Time and Space

Thompson consistently called for an African world history that challenged the conventions of time and space, as it was these ideas that often removed Africans from their foundational memories. The project sought to answer to what extent can an African world history be rendered utilizing the time and space conventions of classical African culture?[37]

Philosophy of History

Carruthers forcefully suggested the adoption of a “philosophy of history” tied to African ways of knowing. The key, operational concept was the whm msw, which simultaneously oriented African historical thought to a concept of reclamation and rebirth while importing a useful methodological standard (culled from Kemetic deep thought) to the discussion.[38] Theophile Obenga challenged the committee to go beyond the normative historiographical practice by framing African world history on African philosophical terms, the latter having living roots in the collective memories of African people.[39] As such, it was not to be promoted as a “universal history.”[40]

Language

Linked to the preceding ideas of time and space and philosophy of history was the need to develop approaches to understanding and applying African languages to the discussion of African world history. Part of the impetus was the oft-quoted edict of “allowing the ancestors to speak”, but also of the added need for developing a clear lens from which to view deep thought in the African past from a terminological standpoint.[41] The study of language was also key to clarifying conceptual issues at the heart of the study of African world history and Kemetic studies in particular.[42]

Genealogy

Lastly, the committee members asserted the importance of understanding the genealogy of thinkers of African descent who had preceded them in similar efforts. Part of the work of the group was to develop an African Library series along these lines. The extent to which foundationalist thought preceded the current generation in the development of African historiography was to be measured and extended in the creation of an African world history.[43]

            With Carruthers as the main editor, the committee was able to produce 1997’s The Preliminary Challenge, the initial volume of ASCAC’s African World History Project. The collection featured the works of Thompson, Carruthers, and Obenga, and the work of the organization’s apprentice scholars, with a foreword by John Henrik Clarke. Thompson’s revised 1975 essay helped to frame the discussion. “Developing an African Historiography” reasserts the call for African scholars to “come home” and develop ways of interpreting historical memory outside the norms (academic silos) of the West.[44] This thought is followed by Obenga’s contribution, “Who Am I: Interpretation in African Historiography” which echoes his sentiments mentioned above of being able to develop African historiography on the terms of African philosophy—showing also the importance of language in that process. Utilizing African philosophical ideas, Obenga states that “historical continuity, historical consciousness, and cultural unity” become intelligible.[45] Next is the contribution of Carruthers. His “An African Historiography for the 21st Century” examines the African process of recording memory throughout the records of the people of Ancient Kemet. His work concludes that if African world history is to be produced by Africans it must acknowledge the importance and operationalization of the whm msw. This idea is the corollary to the Kemetic conception of renaissance, and it translates to “repetition of the births.”[46] Carruthers shows the utility of this concept in the classical African past and its use in reclamation of cultural as well as national identity during times of disruption. This idea is premised on re-establishing memory, and for Carruthers, it should permeate historical methodologies claiming to be centered upon African perspectives.[47]

            The next section includes the work of Vulindela Wobogo and Rekhety Wimby Jones who both attempt to take on the challenge of time and space as articulated by Anderson Thompson (as well as Carruthers) in the comments reviewed above. Their work argues for the continued pursuit of a periodization that is based on the primary evidence that reveals the Kemetic orientation to time.[48] After contributions from ASCAC founding members Asa Hilliard and Leonard Jeffries[49], the apprentice scholars tackle the remaining concerns of the African World History project committee. Adisa Ajamu and Mario Beatty analyze the importance of language and terminologies in the continued development of African historiography. Ajamu’s “From Tef Tef to Medew Nefer” offers a theoretical argument as to saliency of accessing ancestral memory of Africa through the use of language, showing how Western historiography had ruptured that memory.[50] The study of mdw ntr and its links to worldview is also a theme in Beatty’s “Maat: The Cultural and Intellectual Allegiance of a Concept.” This work shows that understanding African culture and history must go beyond the conventional ways of translating words and seek to translate how those words speak to the underlying ideas (deep thought). Utilizing the example of the Kemetic term, ma’at, Beatty is able to show that certain ideas central to classical African historiography (memory) are completely “alien” to Western civilization, and thus cannot be effectively translated into English or Western languages.[51] Lastly the contributions of Valethia Watkins and Greg Carr show the issues related to the development of intellectual genealogy, the last issue listed above. Watkins’ “Womanism and Black Feminism” shows how gendered constructions of history (feminist/womanist inquiry) often impose unnecessary strictures to accessing the history of Africana liberationist philosophies, post-maafa.[52]  The latter is then traced throughout the African world, by Carr, whose “The African-Centered Philosophy of History” shows how it was developed via the construction of African-centered philosophies of history.[53]

            The in-depth discussion of these ideas will be the focus of Volume 1, entitled, African Historiography, which is forthcoming. The transitions of key members of this project including Carruthers and Hilliard, have left the editorship in the hands of the apprentice scholars mentioned above, Greg Carr and Mario Beatty.[54] Carr’s contribution to the forthcoming volume, “Inscribing African World History: Intergenerational Repetition and Improvisation of Ancestral Instructions,” recalibrates the central assumptions of the ASCAC view of world history.[55] It re-asks the questions as to the approaches of African world history discussed previously, and develops ways of “inscribing history” that simultaneously employs a rigorous, yet accessible methodology.[56] For Carr, the work of recovering national memories and writing about them must be reckoned with the ways Africans have always “re-membered” shaped by long-view ways of knowing as well as Western-imposed episodic challenges.[57] This methodology requires an engagement with how Africans have understood knowledge of the past, given the challenges of Western historiography, which have been outlined for generations. It is a methodology that forms the basis of the African historiographical approach as outlined here and its logical extension to the present with the work of ASCAC.

Conclusion: Our Work Is Yet To Be Done

In closing his landmark essay, “When Can We Talk of an African Renaissance,” Cheikh Anta Diop provides a simple declaration that should not only inspire but manifest the contribution of the current generation of African scribes. As it was in 1948 it is now, with regard to this tradition: “our work is yet to be done.”[58] But it must flow from the fundamental premise that the ways in which Africans have historically thought about the world and how that idea has been transformed to contemporary landscapes can be the only interpretive lens to understand and produce African world history.


[1].             Online Etymology Dictionary, "History,”

[2].             See inter alia, the work of Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), and the more recent works of Peter Lambert and Phillip Schofield, Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practices of a Discipline (London: Routledge, 2004) and Donald R. Kelley, Faces of History: Historical Inquiry From Herodotus to Herder (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). Kelley’s work views inquiry into the past spanning, the whole of humanity, prior to Herodotus’ intervention as belonging to a category of “mythhistory”. History as it is known today in both popular and academic settings belongs to a different and purely Western intellectual genealogy. See Ibid, 1-47.

[3].             World history, is usually linked to the Enlightenment thought of thinkers such as Giambattista Vico, Johann Gottfried Herder, and John Gibbon whose historical treatises are based upon norms implicit in Western-oriented and Greco-Roman foundations. See Louis Dupre, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), 187-228. As a subdiscipline within history, practitioners of world history link themselves to a more global subject matter, but the tools of analysis and methodological extracting of meaning come from the same origin, Western historical inquiry. The theoretical and philosophical work in world history is voluminous. A useful starting point is the contributions of Marnie Hughes-Warrington, ed., Palgrave Advances in World History (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

[4].             The dominant world historical studies bare this fact prominently. See inter alia the work of William McNeil, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), Fernand Braudel’s three volume, Civilization and Capitalism (London: Collins, 1981-1984) and the massive twelve volume work of  Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (12 vols.)(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1934-1961).  Recent critical work has challenged the view of a “culturally bounded” world history as scholars have begun the process of attempting to de-emphasize the centrality of Europe in their work. Ashis Nandy summarizes the position in his forceful opening paragraph, to the seminal article, “History’s Forgotten Doubles,” he states: “However odd this might sound to readers of a collection on world history, millions of people still live outside “history.” They do have theories of the past; they do believe that the past is important and shapes the present and the future, but they also recognize, confront, and live with a past different from that constructed by historians and historical consciousness. They haven have a different way of arriving at that past.” See Ashis Nandy, “History’s Forgotten Doubles,” History and Theory 34 (May 1995): 44. 

[5].             The development of intelligentsias from these colonized classes have often articulated the needs of their cultural and racial groups by simultaneously re-attaching their memories via disciplinary work in history and tapping into the cultural resources of these groups to do so. The latter is an ongoing process. Wilson Jeremiah Moses and Cedric Robinson, inter alia, have written on the activities of these individuals in the worldwide African context. Moses focuses on the construction of historical narratives, while Robinson details how this class emerges and engages the dominant structure of American (Western) history. The contributions of the thinkers discussed in their work will be discussed infra. See Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 181-184; 189-194.

[6].             See John Henrik Clarke, “The African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA): Some Notes on the Conflict with the African Studies association (ASA) and the Fight to Reclaim African History,” Issue: a Journal of Opinion 6 (Summer-Autumn, 1976).

[7].             (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981-1993)

[8].             Jacob H. Carruthers, “An African Historiography for the 21st Century,” in African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, ed. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris (Los Angeles: Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, 1997), 68.

[9].             With the emergence, after the death of Carter G. Woodson in 1950, of John Hope Franklin and other thinkers who had been more directly trained in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (Lorenzo Johnston Greene, Charles Wesley, and Rayford Logan), the view of African history morphed into one that was more concretely centered on the American experience. The association would continue in this direction contributing more energies to understanding the historical experiences in slavery to the present, a clear break from the African American historians concerned with their origins in Africa. The balance of the work considered Black history at this time (1940s-1960s), was based on these and similar formulations. The text that set this agenda was Franklin’s 1947 work From Slavery to Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1947). In this reworked methodology, the African past is of limited importance. This is important to note here, for the intellectual genealogy that would begin to promote, an “Afro-American” history (and Black women’s history and African diaspora history, much later) would develop simultaneously with the work of African-descended historiographers who were concerned with developing studies of the continental African past as the foundation for the reclamation of African memory. On this genealogy, see the now seminal article of John Hope Franklin, “On the Evolution of Scholarship in Afro-American History,” in The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Darlene Clark Hine (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), 13-22. Along with the other works of that volume on this particular genealogy, see, August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana, IL: Illinois University Press, 1986) and Pero Dagbovie, African American History Reconsidered (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010). Anderson Thompson, a member of the “Chicago school” to be discussed infra has categorized elements of this work as belonging either to a tradition of “entertainment historiography” or “Negro historiography,” characterized by a European viewpoint of the Black past catalyzed by “the Negro question” type inquiry, a charge that could also be levied against the work of continental African historians during this same era.  See Anderson Thompson, “Developing an African Historiography,” in The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, eds. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 20-23.

[10].          (Paris: Presence Africaine, 1954).

[11].          Also in 1954, the work of George G.M. James, Stolen Legacy and J.C. Degraft Johnson, African Glory were published.  According to Carr, “Nineteen fifty-four marks a singularly significant year in the converge of historical thinkers of African descent from whom the pursuit of a higher method of historical reconstruction in the service of African intellectual, cultural, and political liberation was and still is a primary concern.” See Carr, “The African-Centered Philosophy of History,” 298.

[12].          Ibid, 310-311. See also John Henrik Clarke, “Cheikh Anta Diop and the New Concept of African History,” in Great African Thinkers, ed. Ivan Van Sertima (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1986), 110-117.

[13].          He states: “The glaring defect in all of the American African Studies programs is the total, insulting neglect of the role that black Americans played in keeping alive an interest in African history when no university in the United States had any respectful interest in the subject. Any honest approach to African Studies in the United States must begin with at least a brief history of the interest that black Americans have shown in this subject and the desire to reclaim their African heritage.” John Henrik Clarke, “African Studies in the United States, an Afro-American View,” Africa Today (April-May 1969): 10. The work of Kwame Alford connects the genealogy of African historiography to the study of Africa through the aforementioned work of William Leo Hansberry. See Kwame Wes Alford, “The Early Intellectual Growth and Development of William Leo Hansberry and the Birth of African Studies,” Journal of Black Studies 30 (January 2000): 269-293.

[14].          Africanist historians have been exposed as conservative ideologues unconcerned with Africa’s issues. Their work, according to Mario Azevedo has been focused upon “Europe in Africa, narratives about African kings and chiefs, of wars and empires of great mean and their deeds, of nationalists and trade union leaders, and perhaps of some oppressed segment of society simply to vindicate the past rather than the account of the masses or the internal dynamics and workings of African societies.” Further their work is characterized by “micro-histories” as opposed to continental-wide understandings of Africa. Key Africanists have also been colonial administrators. See Mario Azevedo, “African Studies and the State of the Art,” in Africana Studies: A Survey of Africa and the African Diaspora (Durham: Carolina Academic Press), 10.  The discipline of anthropology along with history has been criticized for seeking to understand Africa in an attempt to “facilitate colonization,” Ibid, 11. Similarly Kwesi Otabil in distinguishing Black Studies and African Studies, labels the latter, “a Euro-American creation, a neo-tarzanist caricature made to the measure of professed academic tolerance.” See Kwesi Otabil, The Agonistic Imperative: The Rational Burden of African Centeredness (Bristol, IN: Wyndham Hall Press, 1994), 3.  John Henrik Clarke suggests as an alternative name for African Studies, “American Studies of the Effects of European Expansion-1442- 1969,” Clarke, “African Studies in the United States,” 10.

[15].          Part of the demands of the Black Caucus, later the African Heritage Studies Association, was the “reconstruction of African history and cultural studies along, along Afrocentric lines,” or in other words in line with genealogy African historiography as outlined above. The caucus also viewed as important, an organizational commitment to a Pan-African union and perspective on history. For a full listing of the objectives on the organization see John Henrik Clarke, “The African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA),” 7.

[16].          Ibid, 8.

[17].          Ibid, 11. See also the volume edited by Ivan Van Sertima, Great African Thinkers: Cheikh Anta Diop (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1986).

[18].          The 1974 UNESCO symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meoroitic Script was aimed at reviewing the “knowledge at present available about the ethnic origins and anthropological relationships of populations and about the cultural ties between Egypt and the rest of Africa.” See “Introduction” in The Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meoroitic Script: Proceedings of the Symposium held in Cairo from 28 January to 3 February 1974, eds. Cheikh Anta Diop, Jean Leclant, Theophile Obenga, and Jean Vercoutter (London: Karnak House, 1997), 11.

[19].          This work appeared in the second volume of the UNESCO General History of Africa, Cheikh Anta Diop, “The Origins of the Ancient Egyptians,” in Ancient African Civilizations, ed. Gamal Mohktar (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981), 27-82.

[20].          See Theophile Obenga, “The Genetic Linguistic Relationship Between Egyptian (Ancient Egyptian and Coptic) and Modern Negro-African Languages,” in The Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script, 65-71.

[21].          Ki-Zerbo, Ba, Hama, and Obenga offered seminal examinations of African historiographical methodologies as accessed from the African ways of knowing. For them, these ways of interpreting reality were central to the development of African history based upon African cultural norms.  See their contributions in Joseph Ki-Zerbo, ed. Methodology and African Prehistory (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981).

[22].          Third World Press and Lawrence Hill Books would publish translations from the French of Diop’s main works from the late 1970s-early 1980s. These translations proved pivotal in introducing the world to Diop. Many of these works included a foreword from Clarke.

[23].          On the AAH, their link to the older generations as well as the importance of Diop and Obenga’s work to this group, see Greg E. Kimathi Carr, “African Philosophy of History in the Contemporary Era: Its Antecedents and Methodological Implications for the African Contribution to World History,” (PhD diss., Temple University, 1998), 394-418. 

[24].          Jacob Carruthers, Intellectual Warfare (Chicago: Third World Press, 1999), 222.

[25].          Nzinga Ratibisha Heru, “ASCAC Historical Profile” in Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations: Study Guide: “Building for Eternity” Book 1 (Atlanta, GA: ASCAC Foundation, 2011), 6.

[26].          Ibid.

[27].          Currently the association has five regions throughout the United States as well as a number of affiliated organizational contacts throughout the African world including, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.

[28].          Ed., Jacob Carruthers and Maulana Karenga, (Los Angeles, CA: University of Sankore Press, 1986).

[29].          Ed., Maulana Karenga (Los Angeles, CA: University of Sankore Press, 1990).

[30].          See the notes prepared by Greg Kimathi Carr and Valethia Watkins, “Appendix 1: Inaugural Meeting” in The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, ed. Jacob Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 329. Inspired also by the work of John Henrik Clarke and Yosef ben-Jochannan the early energy surround the project came as a result of the “cultural mélange, limited conceptual scope, and lack of ideological focus” of UNESCO’s General History of Africa. Ibid, 330. For the original version of Thompson’s article, see Anderson Thompson, “Developing of an Afrikan Historiography,” Black Books Bulletin 3 (Spring 1975): 4-13.

[31].          Harold Cruse’s infamous The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual  delineates thinkers as belonging to ideological camps ranging from nationalist to integrationist, the former being “the rejected strain” following Theodore Draper’s description. See Harold Cruse,  The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York: Morrow, 1967), 4. Other thinkers have advanced similar notions with regard to African (primarily American, though it can be applied to other locations) ideological thought. See Cedric Robinson, Black Movements in America (New York: Routledge, 1997), 95-96 and Michael Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1998), 291-292.  Carruthers’ formulation of foundationalist thought is nationalist, but in a different vein. Carr and Watkins record: “The desire to clarify the overboard use of such terms as nationalist and to create more salient and functional distinctions in African social thought and practice and led Dr. Carruthers to conceptualize the term foundationalist. This term identifies those African thinkers and/or activists who work in the tradition of the rescue and reconstruction of African history and culture premised upon a reclamation of classical Africa as an operational epistemological concept.” (emphasis in original) See Carr and Watkins, “Appendix 1: Inaugural Meeting,” 335-336.

[32].          African native elites play an important role in the development of Sambo/Negro historiography, their work is often subsumed into European (world) history and is promoted as the official narrative: “Thus, in the absence of an African viewpoint vis-à-vis white supremacy, Black History has been a compilation of the old, white contrived formula of written dialogue, with an unseen white authority debating the question of Negro inferiority with the black historian and question the Negro’s fitness for admission into Western Civilization. Such excuses and sympathies have led to the creation and perpetuation of the black experience in America as a series of “white and black together” slave narratives and chronicles palmed off as Black History.” Anderson Thompson, “Developing an African Historiography,” 23. Though thinkers from Vincent Harding to Amos N. Wilson have argued for history that goes beyond this accepted narrative and exposes the true character of our experiences since the maafa, foundationalist historiography similarly calls for “an African analysis, growing out of the continent and framework of Africa and her one billion scattered children” and contextualized in a long-view outlook of history. See Ibid, 28. For Harding’s and Wilson’s discussions, see Vincent Harding, Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for the New Land (Atlanta, GA: Institute of the Black World, 1970) and Amos N. Wilson, The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness: Eurocentric History, Psychiatry and the Politics of White Supremacy (Brooklyn, NY: Afrikan World InfoSystems, 1993), 13.

[33].          Jacob H. Carruthers, “A Memorandum on an African World History Project,” in The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, eds. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 356-361.

[34].          Ibn Khaldun was an Arabic thinker writing in the 14th century. As Carruthers shows, he is not generally credited with provided the frame for historical thinking adopted by the Enlightenment historians and intellectuals. He states: “European historiography, which has of course been incorporated into the framework of Egyptology as well as African and world history generally is largely based upon the ideas of Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth century Arab historian, who is given little credit by his European benefactors.” Ibid, 357.

[35].          Ibid. According to William McNeill, the Enlightenment historians, which include Gibbon, Montesquieu, as well as Vico, Voltaire, and Herder developed understandings of world history first through their understandings of Christian providential imaginings, before importing into the Christian narrative the importance of human will and actions. He continues showing how this idea was translated into the national legends, specifically in America, of freedom, which effectively replaced the notion of the divine, in post-Enlightenment historiography. Stated differently, historical actors were acting toward the will of a notion of collective freedom. This, as Cedric Robinson, among others, has shown had at its antithesis a Eurocentric vision of anti-freedom, or the subjugation of the other. The Western practice of history was approached upon these terms. See William McNeill, “The Changing Shape of World History,” History and Theory 34 (May 1995): 11. For Robinson’s discussion see Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism, 186-187.

[36].          The plan was for “this preliminary collection of essays on issues related to historiography and methodology will come in advance of volume one, in which the subject will be treated in-depth.” Carr and Watkins, “Appendix 1: Inaugural Meeting,” 329.

[37].          Ibid, 339-340; 341-345. Part of this conversation was sparked by Vulindela Wobogo’s article to be discussed infra. See note 48.

[38].          Ibid, 338.

[39].          Ibid, 333-334.

[40].          The group agreed that in “contrast the objective of the AWHP is to (re)create a history which will lead African people to a restoration. The ASCAC goal differs as well from the Hegelian mission of defining a “universal” theory of history which applies to all peoples alike.” Ibid, 339.

[41].          Ibid, 347-348.

[42].          Ibid. Examples discussed included whm msw, ma’at, and sp tpy.

[43].          Obenga summarizes the point: “There must be a construction of the genealogy of African historiography. I the process of building a world historiography, African centered thinkers must research, categorize, and extract epistemological lesson from those Africans who have preceded them in this effort.” Ibid, 333.

[44].          Anderson Thompson, “Developing an African Historiography,” 26.

[45].          Theophile Obenga, “Who Am I?: Interpretation in African Historiography” in The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, eds. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 36.

[46].          Jacob Carruthers, “An African Historiography for the 21st Century,” 56.

[47].          Ibid, 64-68.

[48].          Vulindela Wobogo, “Critical Issues in Nile Valley Studies,” in The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, eds. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 73-102 and Rekhety Wimby Jones, “The Calendar Project” in Ibid, 103-121. Both articles link historiography to reckoning of time and space and suggest based upon their research a reframing of time based on reference points in ancient Kemet. Jones, in particular, emphasizes the  human  relationship to important (often, cosmic) events, which characterize Kemetic and other African orientations to time. See Ibid, 106.

[49].          While Hilliard examines the importance of the Kemetic knowledge center of Waset, Jeffries explores the implications of Cheikh Anta Diop’s study, Civilization or Barbarism (1991). See Asa G. Hilliard, III, “Waset: The Eye of Ra and the Adobe of Maat: The Pinnacle Of Black Leadership in the Ancient World,” In The African World History Project: The Preliminary Challenge, eds. Jacob H. Carruthers and Leon C. Harris, 127-158 and Leonard Jeffries, “Civilization or Barbarism: The Legacy of Cheikh Anta Diop,” in Ibid, 159-175. These articles were not prepared specifically for this volume, though they are related to the general impetus toward a world history.

[50].          Adisa Ajamu, “From Tef Tef to Mdw Ntr: The Importance of Utilizing African Languages, Terminologies, and Concepts in the Rescue, Restoration, Reconstruction, and Reconnection of African Ancestral Memory,” in Ibid, 179-210.

[51].          Mario Beatty, “Maat: The Cultural and Intellectual Allegiance of a Concept,” in Ibid, 211-244.

[52].          Valethia Watkins, “Womanism and Black Feminism: Issues in the Manipulation of African Historiography,” in Ibid, 245-284.

[53].          See Greg Carr, “The African-Centered Philosophy of History” as well as the extension of the idea in Greg Carr, “African Philosophy of History in the Contemporary Era: Its Antecedents and Methodological Implications for the African Contribution to World History.”

[54].          Carruthers’ contribution to this volume will be posthumously published.

[55].          Greg E. Kimathi Carr, “Inscribing African World History,” in The African World History Project, Volume I: African Historiography, eds. Asa G. Hilliard, Mario Beatty, and Greg Carr (Los Angeles: Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (forthcoming).

[56].          The essay seeks “to articulate a general theory and principle of writing and reciting about the past [historiography] which identifies rigors and enduring ground rules that are at once accessible to the widest contingent of African people, thereby providing method and technique for the identification, recovery and extension of what Jacob H. Carruthers [Maa Kherw] has called ‘national memory.’” Ibid, 10. These ground rules are culled from classical African wisdom texts as well as African cultural logic and have been employed in Carr’s efforts with the Philadelphia Freedom Schools and are: 1) Be Present, 2) Read and Write, and 3) Speak to “After”.

[57].          The disruption of these ways of knowing have often rendered their existence unintelligible in the face of Western imposition of different time-space orientations that have often obscured them. Carr traces their remembrance through the intellectual work of Dizzy Gillespie, among other representatives in this essay. Part of the challenge has been the posturing of native elites, which has been discussed infra. Carr asserts: “Several episodic horizontal challenges to African existence have resulted in the daily repetition and improvisation of the grammars and vocabularies of White Supremacy that threaten to drown out the underlying continuities which attend the ongoing repetition and improvisation of grammars and vocabularies of African meaning-making which must be used to inscribe and institutionalize (speak to after) African world history.” (emphasis mine). Ibid, 20.

[58].          Cheikh Anta Diop, “When Can We Talk of an African Renaissance,” in Towards the African Renaissance: Essays and Speeches (London: Karnak House, 1996),  45.

4 thoughts on “Africans Must (Will) Have Their Say: History, World History, and the ASCAC African World History Project

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