The Routes of Medieval Africa: 11th-17th Centuries

Closing conference of the ANR Globafrica research project

Globafrica is a research programme intitated in 2014 and funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR). It aims at rethinking the global integration of Africa from a historical perspective before European Imperialism. It is hosted and run by the CNRS research unit USR 3336 which gathers IFRA-Nairobi, IFRA-Nigeria and IFAS-Recherche.

5-7 March 2019

Institut des Mondes Africains | Grand Amphitéâtre | 9 rue Mahler, Paris, 75004, France

> Programme

Over the last three years, historians and archaeologists have sought to bring to light the relationships between the interior of the African continent and other parts of the world during the medieval period, beyond the familiar interfaces of the Sahara in the north and the Indian Ocean coast in the east. To this end, they have focused on a certain number of facts that can inform us of the connections established between Africa and the rest of the world between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries. We can divide them into four main groups:

  1. trade and prestige goods;
  2. epidemics, and particularly the second pandemic of plague;
  3. exogenous plants, especially from the Americas;
  4. written materials, particularly those using the Arabic script.

The first objective of this symposium is to release the main results of each of these case studies carried out in the four corners of the continent, in the Zimbabwe Plateau, the Yoruba country and the Great Lakes. The shared release of these studies will allow us to release a preliminary synthesis on the medieval ‘connections’ of sub-saharan Africa with the World during the first half of the second millennium.

Beyond this initial synthesis, this symposium will take stock of the theoretical ambition of this programme, relative to the disciplinary tools available to us today, in order to disclose, to distinguish and above all to ponder the historical connections established. If the plants, epidemics, commercial goods or written materials are proof of often-forgotten connections, they inform us only indirectly on the intensity and consequences of these economic, political and cultural connections for the societies of Southern, Eastern or Western Africa. Starting from this observation, the historians, archaeologists, linguists, and philologists involved in this release will reflect on multidisciplinary models that go beyond the observation of a connection and switch towards a more integrative concept of “route,” understood, in the broader sense, as a connection in progress.

In this respect, the third and final objective of this symposium will be stimulate further reflection on the routes that crisscrossed medieval Africa, and the practices, mobilities and representations that they created Starting from our case-studies of circulation paths, whose social contours are made increasingly clear as a result of this programme, we aim at developing a shared, broad and comparative archaeological protocol to capture the medieval routes of Africa in their materiality and diachrony.. As this programme comes to an end, we think it is urgent to move from the mere accumulation of factual data about medieval Africa’s intercontinental connections to a rigorous characterisation of the flows, visible or not, through which these connections operated.

> More information on the Globafrica research project