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Basil Davidson (1914–2010)

Author of African kingdoms

73+ Works 2,486 Members 18 Reviews 3 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: Basil Davidson [credit: Augusta Conchiglia]

Works by Basil Davidson

African kingdoms (1966) 469 copies
Africa in History (1968) 293 copies
The Lost Cities of Africa (1959) 229 copies
The African Slave Trade (1961) 207 copies
The African Past (1964) 60 copies
Which Way Africa? (1964) 44 copies
Story of Africa (1984) 41 copies
Old Africa rediscovered (1959) 35 copies
A guide to African history (1963) 33 copies
Report on Southern Africa (1952) 5 copies
Daybreak in China (1953) 4 copies
Behind the War in Eritrea (1980) 4 copies
Discovering Africa's Past (1978) 4 copies
The African Awakening (1955) 4 copies
Golden Horn 3 copies
Czarna matka 2 copies
Crossroads in Africa (1980) 2 copies
Historia de Africa (1992) 2 copies
Civiltà Africana (La) (1972) 1 copy
Peřeje 1 copy

Associated Works

Unity and Struggle: Speeches and Writings of Amilcar Cabral (1979) — Introduction, some editions — 60 copies
Tir a'Mhurain: Outer Hebrides (1962) — Commentary, some editions — 54 copies
Ghana: An African Portrait (1976) — Commentary — 29 copies


Common Knowledge



It took awhile for my full attention to be absorbed by this history. I gathered that because of the paucity of material evidence for the earliest periods of West African history prior to 1000 A.D, historians, or Davidson, are forced to make many generalizations or assumptions. At times it felt like I was reading a Renaissance map of an unknown world. As the "flesh" of history became more abundant, the text became more engrossing. The epic of Sundiata, the emergence of Mali, Mansa Musa, and then the rise of the Songhay Empire were fascinating subjects. As Islam built and gained a foothold in the cities, it brought a literary culture and connections with the wider world. It also brought conflict between the cities (the power centers of empires) and the countryside (the traditonal, non-Islamic and often exploited tributaries of the empires). In the 15th c. the trade relationships with Europeans started peaceably and equitably with the Portugese, but slowly and insidiously, became an unequal relationship dependent on guns and slaves. This, with the decline of the Songhay Empire in particular, led to a shift in power centers from the inland to the coast and temporarily led to a decline in the advance of Islam. By the nineteenth century, new states and small empires formed of varying strength. The Asante Empire was one of the stronger confederations. While the slave trade had been abolished, Davidson made it clear that the tide of the European onslaught of Africa was becoming increasingly irresistible. The reader is set-up to brace themselves for that fateful carving of Africa by the end of the century. That subject is for another book. I think one of the main lessons of this history, rather than being a mere historical narrative of cultures, states and empires is that West Africa built thriving civilizations that were already connected to the outside world. These civilizations responded to outside influences in ways that were uniquely African. The trans-Atlantic slave trade brought a pressure on West Africa, like nothing it had ever seen before. After the slave trade was abolished, West African peoples began to reorganize themselves in ways capable of responding creatively to the emerging industrial world. In particular, the Asante appeared very close to producing something like the modern nation state. This gives a "what could have been" feeling while knowing full well that nearly all bits of West African land were eventually colonized by the same people the used to enslave and transport millions of its inhabitants far away from its shores. Basil Davidson's history, though written nearly sixty years ago, inspires me to study further the fascinating history of this impressive continent. The many maps throughout helped me to place the names of people groups in context. The Relative Dating Guide at the back of the book was also very helpful to place the names of Empires and Kings in their proper context. My only complaint is that the history is sometimes too speculative and when there appears to be nothing more to say on a subject, Davidson, resorts to "must haves" or makes generalizations that, for the casual reader, appear to be based on a single fact.… (more)
riskedom | 1 other review | Dec 30, 2019 |
A one volume survey of an entire content’s history from the pre-history to the book’s publication covering the rise and fall of multiple states and empires, ethnicities, and cultures up to the last decade of the twentieth century is an ambitious project, and Davidson succeeds wonderfully in this summary overview. Starting with the scholarship of the previous three to four decades, he debunks the racist myth of Africa as a content of ignorant savages that needed to be saved from themselves by “civilized” intervention from the north. He also convincingly challenges the idea that the civilizations on the Mediterranean coast were significantly different from those of Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, the desertification of the Sahara was the cause of civilization from the south to push north towards the delta of the Nile in Egypt.

Necessarily brief histories of the kingdoms and empires of Kush, Axum, the Berbers, are followed by the growth of trade along the western and eastern shore of the continent, the rise and decline of Nubia, Ghana, Kanem-Bornu, Mali, Songhay, and the impact of Christianity in Ethiopia and Nubia, and the larger impact of Islam on the rest of the continent. The development of what Davidson terms Mature Iron Age culture and the increase in trade across the Sahara and transoceanic trade on the eastern and western shores of the continent with Arabia, India, China, and finally Europe sparked trading stations that grew into immigrant settlements that gradually became a prelude to imperial conquest by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and then by European empires in the 19th. This and the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were huge destabilizing impacts on native African society and civilization. From them followed depopulation and loss of land. Which resulted in whole populations fleeing from the encroachment and involuntary servitude imposed by the new white settlers. This, in turn, brought them into conflict with the people of the interior and with each other. Desperate people, deposed of land, freedom, and the historical basis of their culture combined with racism became the myth of ignorant savages that needed to be saved from themselves.

The struggle against colonialism, and its consequences from the late 19th century to its fall in the second half of the 20th century make up the balance of the book. The impact of two world wars, with Africans pressed into service by their colonial masters helped accelerate its demise but did little to heal the injuries that it inflicted on the continent’s population.
… (more)
MaowangVater | 1 other review | Jun 2, 2018 |
oirm42 | 3 other reviews | May 24, 2018 |
British historian Basil Davidson writes about the subject he loves best (history) and about the place he knows best (east Africa). In this book, he takes the reader from the dawn of man in Africa to the end of the 1800s. This is a benchmark work, easy to read and delightful to listen to Basil's voice as he tell his stories.
rcalbright | 1 other review | Sep 15, 2017 |



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Associated Authors

Leonard Krieger Consulting Editor
Roland Oliver Introduction
Jan G. Kinket Translator
Werner Forman Illustrator
Patrick McCreeth Cover designer
Robin Jacques Illustrator


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