Union Académique Internationale

Fontes Historiae Africanae (FHA)

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Project nº22, adopted in 1964

Origins The international editing and publishing project Fontes Historiae Africanae was proposed in 1962 by Prof. Ivan Hrbek from the Oriental Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague, and adopted by the UAI in 1964 on the initiative of the CIPSH.

Mission/Vision The origins of both the project Fontes Historiae Africanae and of the new African historical research and writing lie in the 1950s and 1960s, when the existing historical knowledge about Africa started to be critically reassessed and radically redefined. The difficulty specific to the history of Africa has been twofold: the difficulty of sources and the problem of methodology. Any effort to reassess and rewrite African history from the African perspective, to recover and reconstruct African pre-colonial history as the first and crucial stage of decolonising African history was baffled by the comparative scarcity of documentary source materials for early periods, differences in the character, provenance and volume of written sources and their uneven distribution in time and space. This called forth the need to pay great attention to the discovery, examination and authentication of the sources of African history, to develop other hitherto non-conventional historical sources and evolve and refine methods for the study of materials about the past that have been produced without writing practices. Another of the weighty initial deficiencies of African historiography was a total lack of basic heuristic and material works and editions of documents, which in other historiographies had appeared already in preceding centuries. African historical studies had no such works at their disposal and had to create them "on the way". Historians of Africa have over the years demonstrated the possibilities of historical reconstructions based on oral historical traditions and have drawn attention to different categories of written sources whose existence had clearly tended to be ignored in the past, namely early written material of African provenance, historical source material kept in African territorial archives through which "the African voice" could be better documented, or Arabic sources whose importance and wealth was in the past clearly underestimated. Huge areas of documentation have started to come to light, many hitherto unused or little used historical sources, Arabic records, oral historical traditions and locally scripted African historical texts both in the Arabic script, Ajami, African scripts and in Latin script. The combination of all these sources with the records of early European activities in Africa have amassed a wealth of evidence.

Objectives Principal aims of the project, as declared in the proposal, were to prepare and publish critical editions and translations of written and oral sources, historical texts or collections of documents assembled to address particular topics for the history of sub-Saharan Africa in the original language together with a translation into either English or French. The intention was that the translation of foreign-language texts into English or French and the publication of the original documents and archive material in hardcover editions would improve access to them by scholars based in Africa and overseas. Precedence was to be given to hitherto unpublished texts or collections of fragments, while new editions of works already published might be tackled later. Three main series were established grouping publications on the basis of the principal languages or language groups of the source materials: Arabic, Ethiopic languages, African languages other than Ethiopic. A fourth series, the Series Varia was also established to accomodate languages where only a small number of works exist (e.g. Latin) with a provision that further series according to language may be created if this would seem desirable. A series entitled Subsidia Bibliographia was also created.