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 RevolutionBy 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 , 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

Toby Green is the author of five previous works of non fiction, and his work has been translated into ten languages He teaches the history and culture of Portuguese speaking Africa at King s College London.

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  • Hardcover
  • 640 pages
  • A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution
  • Toby Green
  • English
  • 06 April 2018
  • 022664457X

10 thoughts on “A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

  1. Becki Iverson says:

    This is the best single history of any part of Africa I ve ever read and should honestly be taught in all schools I picked it up because my knowledge of African history and cultures is so severely lacking the only region we ever learned about in school was Egypt and even that was almost remedial and I needed to have awell rounded understanding of the world This was the perfect book to pick up It s impeccably sourced and researched but remains quite readable and includes lots of maps This is the best single history of any part of Africa I ve ever read and should honestly be taught in all schools I picked it up because my knowledge of African history and cultures is so severely lacking the only region we ever learned about in school was Egypt and even that was almost remedial and I needed to have awell rounded understanding of the world This was the perfect book to pick up It s impeccably sourced and researched but remains quite readable and includes lots of maps, charts and photos to help visualize the information The author provides highly nuanced approaches towards gender history and politics, the true impact of colonialism and religious influence, and embraces a complexity that dazzled me I wishhistory books were this thorough and honest there is no cover up or one sided perspective here The insistence on depth enriches every chapter and leave you with a full 360 degree view of life in West Africa in the period of transition around the 18th century I haven t read a book this deep in quite some time and it took a long time to finish but it was immensely worth the effort Toby Green s approach to history by using currency to explain how slavery started and true impact it had in this region and globally is a brilliant idea, and I think this information should be taught in all American classrooms as a mandatory part of understanding why chattel slavery was different and how deeply it robbed an entire continent of its potential If I could give thisthan 5 stars I would Highly, highly recommend

  2. Haley McNamera says:

    I didn t realize this book would be so focused on currency and trade If someone is particularly fascinated by those topics they may like this bookthan I didbut I can t believe this book has so many raving reviews.

  3. Bart says:

    This is a history of West Africa that is centered around the main theme that the involvement of the continent into global trade did not lead to economic prosperity, but instead to deep cultural change and upheaval Much of the argument is related to the point that African exports including mainly slave labour and gold could be used for accumulation and hence the creation of new wealth by their importers, while African imports cowries, cloth, iron provided much less opportunities to do th This is a history of West Africa that is centered around the main theme that the involvement of the continent into global trade did not lead to economic prosperity, but instead to deep cultural change and upheaval Much of the argument is related to the point that African exports including mainly slave labour and gold could be used for accumulation and hence the creation of new wealth by their importers, while African imports cowries, cloth, iron provided much less opportunities to do that Green is not an economist, and the book suffers from this, although he himself would see this very much differently In his view, economists are all disciples of Adam Smith, believing that trade benefits all involved While I agree that African history speaks against such a view, it is also true that many economists would not be surprised by this The Latin American structuralist tradition as well as related Marxist views , for example, makes very much the same point about the continent of South America which, ironically, was a main trading partner of West Africa Equally based in historial analysis, its main point is that the terms of trade has moved against Latin American exporters, leading to uneven development This is obviously much related to Green s point about Africa, but he seems to be unaware of this Green seems to fit much better in a sociological view of history, which leads to a thematic rather than geographical or time linear approach to the subject This may well be suit those who are well aware of West African history, but it makes this volume especially Part 2 utterly unsuitable as an introduction to the subject I am reading Fage s introductory history of West Africa a somewhat dated but consequently muchwell organized approach on the side of this book, and this is what I would recommend to all who are looking for a comfortable way into African history

  4. Zidane says:

    The best overall history of West Africa I ve ever read It is rich in the what and the how and references great archival material to give an account that has been rarely given Great Why 3 stars well because he delves into the murky waters of explaining why the history played out as it did, finding causal links where none exist and coming off as trying to convince you of something he already believes that the tragedies that occurred there between 1300 and 1800 have waysay on the realiti The best overall history of West Africa I ve ever read It is rich in the what and the how and references great archival material to give an account that has been rarely given Great Why 3 stars well because he delves into the murky waters of explaining why the history played out as it did, finding causal links where none exist and coming off as trying to convince you of something he already believes that the tragedies that occurred there between 1300 and 1800 have waysay on the realities of W Africa today than any other factors Read it for the what and the how, ignore the why

  5. Zulu Fox says:

    It s been a while since a book significantly changed the way I think about either a region of the world or an entire epoch of world history, and this book did both Aside from providing an extremely convincing and well argued thesis about the causes of the economic divergence between West Africa and Europe that I won t try to summarize here, the author does a great job of re centering West Africa in the last millennium of world history and exploding Hegel s widely subscribed notion that Afric It s been a while since a book significantly changed the way I think about either a region of the world or an entire epoch of world history, and this book did both Aside from providing an extremely convincing and well argued thesis about the causes of the economic divergence between West Africa and Europe that I won t try to summarize here, the author does a great job of re centering West Africa in the last millennium of world history and exploding Hegel s widely subscribed notion that Africa has no history You absolutely do not have to have an especially strong interest in the particulars of West African history to get a lot out of this book An interest in any of the following will do What are the historic origins of African underdevelopment How did African states change during this era, and how were these changes connected to early globalization What are the implications of one of the findings of this book that broadly analogous historical processes took place simultaneously in Africa, Europe and the Americas at this time, especially during the age of revolution On my reading, one conclusion is that these histories did not somehow evolve separately until the rise of colonialism in the nineteenth century, but rather always grew together Economics aside, the book s initial focus on the centuries prior to and during the early stages of the growth of the Atlantic slave trade are actually surprisingly interesting and thought provoking For example depictions of medieval Europe being influenced in a big way by changes in West Africa, vignettes of all the many ambassadors stationed at European courts and Brazil by African kingdoms starting in the 15th century, and the narration of Kongo as a significant diplomatic player in European affairs in the 17th century among other things, really changed the way I think about pre colonial Euro African relations.One minor fault in Part 2 of the book, while there s nothing wrong with the thematic focus organization of the chapters as opposed to geographic, as in Part 1 , I did find that the narrative got a bit convoluted and lost among a deluge of rapidly changing people, places and times sometimes all within a single page Judging by the amount of notes and underlines I made, I was considerably less engaged with some sections of Part 2 In sum, if you re even a little interested in world history and issues of development, this book will nicely round out your understanding of the subject

  6. Ed Stoddard says:

    This is one of the most thought provoking and insightful works of history that I have read for some time Green connects pre colonial West African history to wider global trends as a robust rebuttal to the notion that Africa has no history , or had an economic history rooted in barter notions which still have surprising currency Speaking of currency, Green anchors much of this superb study in patterns of trade and foreign exchange between West Africa and the wider Atlantic economy For seve This is one of the most thought provoking and insightful works of history that I have read for some time Green connects pre colonial West African history to wider global trends as a robust rebuttal to the notion that Africa has no history , or had an economic history rooted in barter notions which still have surprising currency Speaking of currency, Green anchors much of this superb study in patterns of trade and foreign exchange between West Africa and the wider Atlantic economy For several centuries, Western African societies exported what might be called hard currencies , especially gold these were currencies that, on a global scale, retained their value over time For the first two centuries of Atlantic slave trade, these societies also imported large amounts of goods that were used as currencies cowries, copper, cloth and iron However, these were what we might call soft currencies , which were losing their relative value over time By 1700, therefore, centuries of trade had been grounded in inequalities of the exchange of economic value Among other things, this would lead to what economists might today call a terms of trade shock which weakened West African states and economies ahead of the late 19th century colonisation scramble The net cast by the book is wide Who knew that West African demand for iron ore helped to facilitate early industrialisation in Eurpe Then there is the Age of Revolution in the book s title, the age that began with the American, French and Haitian Revolutions and Britain s Industrial Revolution Green reclaims West Africa s place in this history the peoples of the region overthrew aristocracies that had emerged to prey on them, including literally in the case of enslavement There were echoes of this around the Atlantic which have since largely been lost to history When political analysts today speak of state failure or failed states in Africa, they are often detached from the deep historical roots of these trends The same might be said about the inequalities that have helped to give rise to 21st century Islamist militancy on the continent, which is also in some ways an echo of past movements that flourished against the backdrop of increasing inequities One hopes to some day see similar histories of east and Southern Africa

  7. Slowjammer says:

    Unbearable Crazy structure which leads to repetion after repetition after repetition, and info going all over the place, through geographies, time, cultures and everything else I am just not smart enough to follow Author s tone becomes tedious over time and one really wonders how objective his facts are, considering his strong personal biasesIt s a shame because I would have loved to learnabout the region s history

  8. Clivemichael says:

    Deeply researched and presented well Seemingly interminable descriptions and examples Insightful and informative one of the comfortable realities historians must deal with in their work is precisely that some people will defend liesfiercely than the truth Africa has been so global for so long that its continued exclusion from world history speaks volumes about misconceptions that have arisen outside the continent over so many centuries.

  9. Tanya says:

    A good history, but complexly written That said, the arguments are identified clearly and are straightforward enough Emphasizes complexity of early West Africa, in particular, and the interconnectedness of West Africa within the globalizing world economy mainly in the 1600s to 1800s.

  10. shoesforall says:

    This book is well written and well researched but, alas, I do not have the economic history background to follow it I give up

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