Synopses & Reviews
Tracing the development of Africa's peoples from their origins over four million years ago to the onset of the colonial era in the late nineteenth century, James Newman discusses the roles played by language, technology, occupation, and religion in forming identities and how population distribution has been shaped by varying natural and human circumstances.
A well-written and beautiful book, illustrated throughout with maps and photographs, and a useful bibliographical essay. The achievement of presenting the diversity and vibrancy of differing regions and thorough examination of this topic of such scanty data set it apart from many previous interpretations of these challenging and controversial issues.... This book greatly increases our understanding of the processes and patterns of the peopling of Africa and the diverse and dynamic natures of populations". -- Tamasine Robins, African Affairs
"If you either claim or aspire to be an African scholar, you should read this book. Newman clearly fills a niche in African scholarship by focusing on the largely ignored period of African history before Europeans colonized the continent. While anthropologists and historians have brought together most of the pieces of the puzzle of African humanity, this work by a geographer puts them in a new context which illuminates 'peopling' and helps explain it in rich complexity". -- Gary L. Gaile, Journal of Anthropological Research
Discovering the African past takes one on a journey back to the origins of humanity over four million years ago, which is where James L. Newman begins his account of the continent's peoples. He ends it at the onset of the colonial era in the late nineteenth century, noting that Africa and Africans deserve to be known on their own terms, and to achieve this goal we need to improve our understanding of what took place before colonialism rewrote many of life's rules.African identities constitute one of Newman's main themes, and thus he discusses the roles played by genetic background, language, occupation, and religion. Population distribution is the other main theme running through the book. As a geographer, the author uses regions, spaces, and places as his filters for viewing how Africans have responded through time to differing natural and human environmental circumstances. Drawing on the fields of biology, archaeology, linguistics, history, anthropology, and demography, as well as geography, Newman describes the richness and diversity of Africa's inhabitants, the technological changes that transformed their lives, how they formed polities from small groups of kin to states and empires, and how they were influenced by external forces, particularly the slave trade. Maps are an important part of the book, conveying information and helping readers interrelate local, regional, continental, and global contexts.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 207-221) and index.