Roundtable I

New and old sources for African history

Sunday, 20 March 2016, 15:30-17:00

Convenor: Dmitri van den Bersselaar (University of Liverpool)

Panelists: Jan Jansen (Leiden University), Robin Law (University of Stirling), Peter Mark (Wesleyan University), Silke Strickrodt (University of Birmingham)

— This roundtable is organized by the journal History in Africa in honour of Adam Jones —

In this round table, we propose to have a conversation around the themes explored in the journal History in Africa, and more specifically about the question of where we find new insights in African history? On the one hand, historians are always on the look-out for new sources that provide insights in new topics, or that cover a known topic from a new perspective. A particular issue has, of course, been the need to uncover African viewpoints, given how much of the conventional source-base had been produced by Europeans. However, we have found that new sources do not always allow us to see something new, sometimes offering just ‘more of the same’ or yet another example of a situation or process we are already familiar with from other cases. On the other hand, many leading new interpretations in African History are based on familiar sources that have been used previously as basis for more conventional interpretations. It is often not a new source, but a new way of interpreting well-known sources, that leads to new insights. Over the decades, History in Africa has reported on both ways of gaining new insights, with perhaps more emphasis on the question of how to read and interpret sources, whether written, oral, or material. We therefore intend to discuss the following question: What gives us better new insights: discovering a new source, or discovering a new way to read sources we already know?