Some southern African entry points into global history

19 January 2011

So-called Global History has taken off in the Unites States to liberate undergraduates from Big Power parochialism, and has been the topic of a major conference held in London in May this year. The key element of Global Studies is to demonstrate the connectedness between different peoples and lands and periods of time. This paper is an attempt to crack the small-end of the egg by starting studies in one familiar region of the world, rather than the big-end approach of starting with general explanations or theory and then relating them back to particulars. It suggests three ways in which Southern Africa could be used as the starting point to throw more general light upon the world’s history. First, by taking cues from and asking questions about the latest genetic research which suggests that modern human population dispersal about 60 000 years ago began in Angola-Namibia frontier region. Second, by taking cues and asking questions about Indonesian contact with Africa and coastal settlement that may account for significant influences on southern African societies. Third, by tracing the biographies of real individuals whose careers encompass not only southern Africa but other parts of the world and in doing so demonstrate not only interconnectedness of cultural, social, political and economic histories but also significant points of comparison in the experience of global trends and events.