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A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

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Key Metrics

  • Toby Green
  • University of Chicago Press
  • Paperback
  • 9780226789736
  • 8.9 X 6 X 1.6 inches
  • 1.9 pounds
  • History > Africa - West
  • English
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Book Description

By the time the Scramble for Africa among European colonial powers began in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for centuries. Its gold had fueled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world for nearly a millennium, and the sophisticated kingdoms spanning its west coast had traded with Europeans since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies--most importantly, cowrie shells imported from the Maldives and nzimbu shells imported from Brazil. But, as the slave trade grew, African kingdoms began to lose prominence in the growing global economy. We have been living with the effects of this shift ever since.

With A Fistful of Shells, Toby Green transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms, which revolved around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. Green shows how the slave trade led to economic disparities that caused African kingdoms to lose relative political and economic power. The concentration of money in the hands of Atlantic elites in and outside these kingdoms brought about a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa, parallel to the upheavals then taking place in Europe and America. Yet political fragmentation following the fall of African aristocracies produced radically different results as European colonization took hold.

Drawing not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, art, oral history, archaeology, and letters, Green lays bare the transformations that have shaped world politics and the global economy since the fifteenth century and paints a new and masterful portrait of West Africa, past and present.

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

Author Bio

After studying Philosophy, Toby Green worked as a writer and editor, publishing various books that have been translated into 12 languages. He then studied for his PhD at the Centre of West African Studies at Birmingham University, working with Paulo de Moraes Farias and completing in 2007, before coming to King's in 2010.

After holding fellowships from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, in 2015 he was recipient of a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award. He has also been PI of research projects funded by the AHRC, British Library, European Union, and the Leverhulme Trust, and was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for History in 2017. 

He has organised events in collaboration with institutions in Angola, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. His 2019 book A Fistful of Shells was awarded the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rohdan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.

 

Research Interests

I am primarily a historian of West Africa, and my work seeks to contribute towards a refocusing of the understanding of modern history by grasping the roles of West Africans in shaping world history. As the influence of peoples from West Africa in developing new ideas in the early modern period has often been passed over by historians, one of my main aims is to re-balance this approach.

Working in the "Global North", I seek also to work actively to reorient the privileges of academic power through collaborating with colleagues in the "Global South". I am currently active in collaborative projects with colleagues in Angola, Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Mozambique, and The Gambia. My research interests are broadly structured around West African engagement with the early Atlantic world through a number of themes, including economic change, cultural transformations, and slavery.

Specific areas of interest include:

Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Diasporas
African economic history and its intersection with world economic history
Atlantic slavery
Daily life
Connections between the precolonial, the colonial and the postcolonial state in Africa
Cultural and economic links between Brazil and Africa, 16th-19th centuries

 

 

Source: King's College London 

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