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Africa Africans and Portuguese Knowledge Strategies c1415-c1550

Unit(s) of assessment: History

School: School of Arts and Humanities


Building on previous research concerning the Crusaders’ relationship with Nubia and Ethiopia in shaping the ‘pre-history’ of the Portuguese fifteenth-century expansion in Africa, this current research focuses on the role of knowledge in informing African and European interactions and how knowledge was used for a group’s own purposes. Who had access to knowledge and who controlled it are defining questions in this study. Taking a continental approach, this research will highlight how events in West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Ethiopia shaped by local leaders and groups had continent-wide intellectual impacts, such as informing European strategies of engagement with each other region. This intellectual connectivity has seldom featured in the historiography, which has instead focused on trade and ‘firsts’ or discussed Ethiopia largely in isolation of events elsewhere in Africa. Above all, this research centralises the key African intellectual role in the Portuguese’s success.

Research Aims

  • To better understand the role of contact and exchange on Afro-European knowledge development.
  • To explore how knowledge was commercialised and politicised in informing engagements and interactions.
  • To examine how regional and localised relationships and knowledge informed continental and trans-regional interactions.
  • To reach a more full and properly contextualised understanding of the continuation between ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’ Africa and Afro-European relations and challenging the labels of chronology.

Addressing the Challenge

Following previous research focusing on the relationship between Nubia, Ethiopia, and the Crusades (which is under contract to be published as a monograph), this current project will continue the concepts of undocumented networks and communal knowledge through archival and textual study to accompany the current archaeological evidence to create a framework for pre-sixteenth-century African intellectual connectivity and its effects in micro- and macro- arenas. This research will form the content for a second monograph and multiple research articles during its duration.

Making a Difference

This research is the first substantial exploration of the continental intellectual connectivity of Africa prior to 1600. There remains a relative dearth of studies on Luso-African relations in English (with the exception of Ethiopia) which this research wishes to contribute to to inform new audiences. Africa is so often portrayed via a prism of conflict and slavery but it has a much richer history that remains largely untouched unless excavated by archaeologists. In a UK context, textual studies have tended to be removed from archaeology and African History in higher education is described as post-1700/1800. The pre-modern textual history of Africa can work with archaeology to offer an even greater varied approach towards African change and continuity during the second millennium.

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