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Fistful of Shells

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

Author: Toby Green  

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A ground-breaking history that revolutionizes our view of West Africa

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Summary

A ground-breaking history that revolutionizes our view of West Africa

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Description

By the time of the 'Scramble for Africa' in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for many centuries. Its gold had fuelled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world since around 1000 CE, and its sophisticated kingdoms had traded with Europeans along the coasts from Senegal down to Angola since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies - most importantly shells- the cowrie shells imported from the Maldives, and the nzimbu shells imported from Brazil.

Toby Green's groundbreaking new book transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa. A Fistful of Shells draws not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, on art, praise-singers, oral history, archaeology, letters and the author's personal experience to create a new perspective on the history of one of the world's most important regions.

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Critic Reviews

“A Fistful of Shells is the fruit of research conducted in the archives of nine nations and required the author to undertake fieldwork across eight West African states. It shows. [...] This is a stunning work of research and argumentation. It has the potential to become a landmark in our understanding of the most misunderstood of continents.--David Olusoga, New Statesman A multifaceted history of West Africa which turns many old assumptions on their heads. Green utterly demolishes the tired Western view that Africa had no history before the arrival of the Europeans, and that they naively ceded power in the region to the newcomers by exchanging valuable goods for baubles. 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.--Miranda Kaufmann, Author of BLACK TUDORS Toby Green's book restores the rich African history which she had been denied for too long. Here the author reveals that Africa was never at the margins of global commerce but was in fact a decisive player with the prowess to negotiate and also the goods - ivory, gum, gold - to supply.--Hassoum Ceesay, National Museum, The Gambia 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.--Paul Reid, Director, Black Cultural Archives Very seldom do I pick up a history book and wish I had written it myself. Toby Green's A 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 history of money, power, religion, and inequality that is as rich as it is sound.--Professor Nwando Achebe, Michigan State University An epic journey and an astonishing tale--W.G. Sebald, on Toby Green's SADDLED WITH DARWIN: A Journey through South America Very beautifully, very movingly written... by someone who knows Africa --Ryszard Kapuscinski, on Toby Green's MEETING THE INVISIBLE MAN: Secrets and Magic in West Africa”

A Fistful of Shells is exemplary: scholarly, sensitive, enlightening and often vivid. The author does much more than make Africa seem normal. He proclaims a daunting ambition: to explore the local and global implications of West Africa's economies during the age of slavery. He succeeds. -- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Wall Street Journal Very seldom do I pick up a history book and wish I had written it myself. Toby Green's A Fistful of Shells is one such book. Brilliantly conceptualized, beautifully written, it breaks with colonially configured regional boundaries - which work to re-create unintended silos of knowledge - to imagine a West and West Central African Atlantic history of money, power, religion, and inequality that is as rich as it is sound. Professor Nwando Achebe, Michigan State University 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. -- Paul Reid, Director, Black Cultural Archives Toby Green's book restores the rich African history which she had been denied for too long. Here the author reveals that Africa was never at the margins of global commerce but was in fact a decisive player with the prowess to negotiate and also the goods - ivory, gum, gold - to supply. -- Hassoum Ceesay, National Museum, The Gambia A multifaceted history of West Africa which turns many old assumptions on their heads. Green utterly demolishes the tired Western view that Africa had no history before the arrival of the Europeans, and that they naively ceded power in the region to the newcomers by exchanging valuable goods for baubles. 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. Miranda Kaufmann, Author of BLACK TUDORS Toby Green's A Fistful of Shells uses a global archive - in Africa, the Americas and Europe - to explore the complex, flourishing and connected economy of West Africa existing long before a European capitalist system established itself on the continent. Extraordinarily written and researched, the book paints a huge, complex canvas, filled with individual detail. -- Julia Lovell Observer Books of the Year 2019 A Fistful of Shells is the fruit of research conducted in the archives of nine nations and required the author to undertake fieldwork across eight West African states. It shows. [...] This is a stunning work of research and argumentation. It has the potential to become a landmark in our understanding of the most misunderstood of continents. -- David Olusoga New Statesman

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About the Author

Toby Green has worked widely with academics, musicians and writers across Africa, organising events in collaboration with institutions in Angola, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. He has written a number of previous books, and his work has been translated into twelve languages. Awarded a 2017 Philip Leverhulme Prize in History, he is Senior Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture at King's College London.

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Product Details

Publisher
Penguin Books Ltd
Published
30th January 2020
Pages
656
ISBN
9780141977669
$31.21
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