My name is Meghan. I’m pursuing a doctorate in West African History so I can be a part of the amazing historical effort to create written history for a continent of people that have been forcibly deprived of their history. I’m working on that mission while I apply for graduate school by sharing what I have learned about African history with anyone who will tune in. I want to bridge the gap and help us fill in some of the missing pieces of our global understanding.
My research focuses on Senegambia and the Jolof kingdom. In college I got the opportunity to research Senegambia in the National Archives of Senegal through the Undergraduate Research Grant I won. The following year I completed an undergraduate honors thesis that won summa cum laude entitled “The Missing Piece: Uncovering Women’s Effects on Senegambia from 1400 to 1800” at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
My research focused on women’s responses to the dramatic changes that occurred during this period including: the expansion of the Jolof kingdom, the beginning of European relations and trade, the collapse of the Jolof kingdom, the upsurge of the Atlantic Slave trade, and the consolidation of European power in Senegambia. What I discovered through trying to build a record of women’s lives in each caste throughout this period was that women were, contrary to the current historical record, largely responsible for maintaining Senegambia’s relative stability throughout this tumultuous precolonial period.
Women mattered. In the same vein, the history of African women and Africa matters. The sheer amount of historical events we cannot truly understand without JUST the region of West Africa is astounding. Middle Eastern development, trade, knowledge all was influenced by trade across the Sahara a supposedly “impassable” obstacle to connecting Sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world. European exploration, the Atlantic Slave trade, colonization of India, global independence movements, philosophy, European colonization, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, etc. all cannot be understood fully without exploring African history.
The very origins of humanity rest in Africa and the precolonial history of Africa informs our understanding of humanity. It’s the longest inhabited continent leading to an astounding amount of diversity as humans evolved and emigrated. The continent has 54 countries with 1.216 billion people. There are more than 521 languages in Nigeria alone.
However, you can insist Africa had kingdoms and development and complexity until you’re blue in the face. You can celebrate Nelson Mandela till people literally cannot take another quote about diversity, nonviolent resistance, or rainbows. But until you can prove these histories to people by demonstrating how history was perverted, telling the true stories, and demonstrating the complexities of historical meaning and perceptions these proclamations are empty words.
Now let me be clear: I’m a facilitator, a teacher, a student, a researcher, a writer, and a damn good historian. What I am NOT is some freaking savior of Africa. Africa doesn’t need saving. Africans have always saved themselves; the West tends to just interfere to their own advantage. I am simply a qualified ally supporting work that began decades before I was born. I stand on the shoulder of giants.
And more than reading this blog we must read Africans. Read their fiction, their blogs, their books, their memoirs. Gain access to their perspective. Listen to the tremendous chorus of voices that so often gets blocked out by stereotypical images of crying black children with distended abdomens and flies on their faces.
Please, take the time to hear the true stories of the Bright Continent. I promise it will be worth it.