The importance of biography in African historical studies 
Klaas Van Walraven (African Studies Centre)
Jan-Bart Gewald (Leiden University)
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Klaas Van Walraven (African Studies Centre)
Jan-Bart Gewald (Leiden University)
Start time:
29 June, 2017 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

There is increasing awareness of the importance of biographical research in African historical studies. This panel therefore explores, through presentations of papers of biographies of African individual(s), the possibilities that the biographical method offers in the study of African history.

Long Abstract

Contextualised biographical research provides insights into the wider historical context in which the person under study lived. Conversely, it can demonstrate the influence that the historical context exercised on the persona. Biographical research offers a unique opportunity to get an understanding of how ontologies have emerged in Africa as a product of interaction between context and individuals. Such focus allows insight in the process of meaning giving to domains as the political, religious or social in different African historical contexts and contemporary realities. This pertains to the role of the individual and individuals taken together, whose shared characteristics can be studied through the biographical method (prosopography).

These approaches enable us to reconsider what makes people significant or remarkable in African history: people are not only remarkable for what they have achieved, for how they have influenced history (traditional biography), they may also be remarkable for how their being, views and acts have been shaped by the interface between structure and agency. Such biographies enable an insight in the interface between the individual and the time in which s/he lived, and will enhance understanding of how the historical context made people to what they were.

The panel invites papers on the biography of individuals and that of specific groups tied together through shared characteristics.


Dr. Klaas van Walraven, Senior Researcher African Studies Centre, Leiden University; Chair AEGIS CRG 'African History'; walraven@ascleiden.nl.

Prof. dr. Jan-Bart Gewald, Chair CRG African History of the African Studies Centre, University of Leiden; gewald@ascleiden.nl.

Accepted papers: