Joseph C. Miller :

Communication and Commercialization in Central Africa:
Angola in the Context of World-Historical Processes of Modernity


Joseph C. Miller

From ancient times, Northern and portions of western and eastern Africa participated in the historical processes of the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean worlds around them, as a generation of historians has richly illustrated. Central Africa significantly engaged comparable transport routes and communication links only later, with the arrival of Portuguese mariners along its Atlantic coasts at the end of the fifteenth century. From then, until European politico-military consolidation of control over the region's "Atlantic zone" at the end of the nineteenth century, African residents of the region adapted cultural heritages oriented in other directions and tailored to other purposes to new commercial and other stimuli emanating from the distant ports of coastal "Angola". The paper considers how people in the region attempted to seize local advantage from consolidation of remote contact - via communications and transport - beyond the horizons of daily life and personal experience, domesticated and mystified strangers in terms of the older, local, cultural resources on which all of those increasingly involved (Europeans not excepted) drew to interpret strange and unsettling, accelerating change and contact with unknown "others".
The paper proposes a broad sequence of schematized steps through which both Europeans and Africans moved to consolidate these new networks - based on rich secondary works published by the organizers of this conference and other good friends and collaborators expected to attend - showing how they drew on older cultural heritages to elaborate new strategies of commerce, community formation, and resulting conflicts, all in the context of the global historical process of commercialization. The paper also considers world history as a specific epistemology, constituted of numerous regional components like these in central Africa, and how its parameters are distinct from, and interact with, the regional and local dynamics that compos it. The theoretical objective is to suggest how such a multi-centric history of autonomous, but engaged, regional historical dynamics moves the discipline of history beyond its Eurocentric origins.