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A Fistful of Shells

West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

Toby Green

A Fistful of Shells

Toby Green

640 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 9780226644578 Published March 2019 USA DEPEND PHILLIPPINES
E-book $10.00 to $24.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226644745 Published March 2019 USA DEPEND PHILLIPPINES
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.
Contents
List of Maps
Foreword
Note on Spellings/Names
Glossary
 
Introduction
 
Part One
Causes: Economic Divergence in West and West- Central Africa
Timelines for Part One
1 ‘Three Measures of Gold’: The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires of the Sahel
2 Causeways across the Savannah: From Senegambia to Sierra Leone
3 Ready Money: The Gold Coast and the Gold Trade
4 Rivers of Cloth, Masks of Bronze: The Bights of Benin and Biafra
5 The Kingdom of Kongo: From Majesty to Revolt
Coda to Part One
 
Part Two
Consequences: Politics, Belief and Revolutions from Below
Timeline for Part Two: West African Political History, c. 1680–1850
Prologue to Part Two
6 ‘With Boots Worth 3 Slaves’: Slavery and Value in the Eighteenth Century
7 On a War Footing: The ‘Fiscal- Military State’ in West African Politics
8 Feeding Power: New Societies, New Worldviews
9 Transnational Africas, Struggle and the Rising of Modernity
10 Warrior Aristocracies and Pushback from Below
11 Let them Drink Rum! Islam, Revolution and the Aristocracy
 
Conclusion
 
Bibliography
Notes
List of Illustrations
Index
 
Review Quotes
Publishers Weekly
"This meticulously researched book, based on archival research in nine countries, lays out a comprehensive overview of the economic history of West Africa and West-Central Africa before and after the slave trade. . . . A valuable history written in an accessible style."
Telegraph (UK)

“His book is a work of staggering scholarship, drawing on previously untapped sources locked away in European vaults and historical records which, taken as a whole, contradict the age-old perceptions foisted on Africa.”


 
Paul Reid, director, Black Cultural Archives
"Toby Green's transformative book repositions West African history in an entirely new light. It brings into focus the region's fundamental place in shaping the modern world as well as the powerful and also difficult legacy of this today."
Mariana Candido, University of Notre Dame
“This impressive and welcome book engages with the new wave of studies on African economic history and places African societies at the center of global events. Green interrogates and historicizes state failure, violence, corruption, military ideologies, commodification, and globalization, convincingly arguing that roots of many of the current political and economic problems in Africa lie in the past. It is timely, relevant, and necessary in today’s political and economic environment.”
Spectator
"A rich and insightful work. . . . What emerges is a radically different view of the region from the one that has been generally available. West Africa, according to Green, was both cosmopolitan in its outlook, culturally and politically sophisticated and in some ways globally connected long before Europeans arrived to ‘civilise the natives.' . . . Green concludes by pointing to the lack of history being taught in schools and universities in West Africa and elsewhere; if it is taught at all, it tends to focus on the slave trade. A Fistful of Shells shows that there was so much more, and of so much relevance when looking at the issues of our own time."
Roquinaldo Ferreira, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
“The range and depth of this book is simply stunning. By masterfully drawing on primary research and secondary sources in multiple languages, Green delivers a provocative book that is also a landmark of historical imagination and craftsmanship.”
Nwando Achebe, Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History, Michigan State University
“Very seldom do I pick up a history book and wish I had written it myself. Toby Green’s Fistful of Shells is one such book. Brilliantly conceptualized, beautifully written, Fistful of Shells breaks with colonially configured regional boundaries—which work to re-create unintended silos of knowledge—to imagine a West and West Central African Atlantic era history of money, power, religion, and inequality that is as rich as it is sound.”
Miranda Kaufmann, author of Black Tudors
"A magisterial, extensive and fresh account of the history of West Africa that rewrites the region and its peoples back into World History, where they belong." 
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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