B1 -- Africa

African Biographical Archive (AfBA) = Archives biographiques africaines. Ed. Victor Herrero Mediavilla. München: Saur, 1995–1997. ISBN 3-598-33101-0 (diazo fiches): EUR 9,800 [99-B09-175]

The list of sources of the AfBA contains 231 titles, beginning with a few from the 19th century and extending to the early 1990s, with the bulk published after World War II. Among the sources incorporated are older biographical works with short entries similar to those in Who’s Who, but also the numerous volumes (many of unsatisfactory quality) that have appeared in the series African Historical Dictionaries published by Scarecrow Press. Although a number of respected recent biographical works have been included, e.g., the Dictionary of African Historical Biography (Berkeley, 1986), there are a number of notable gaps, such as the Dictionary of South African Biography, excluded probably because reprint permission was denied. [sh/jg]

Makers of Modern Africa: Profiles in History. Ed. Raph Uwechue. London: Africa Books Limited, 1996. xii, 933 p. ill. 25 cm. (Know Africa Books, 3). ISBN 0-903274-24-8: ₤125 [99-B09-179]

Africa Who’s Who. Ed. Raph Uwechue. 3d ed. London: Africa Books Limited, 1996. xi, 1,507 p. 25 cm. (Know Africa Books, 2). ISBN 0-903274-23-X: ₤195 [99-B09-180]

The scope of these two works is the entire continent of Africa—although only racially non-discriminatory biographical works are taken into account. Taken together with Africa Today, a country-by-country handbook, by the same publisher and editor-in-chief, they represent an extremely useful reference tool. They are all compiled with the help of language and country specialists and correspondents in all African countries and have been regularly brought up-to-date.

Makers of Modern Africa covers approximately 640 figures from the past 250 years, each with a portrait—although this is often just a fanciful reconstruction. These range from kings and princes to anti-colonial rebels and figures from the public and cultural spheres and business. Every effort has been made to be objective, whereby the publisher obviously is dependent upon the quality of his sources. This retrospective biography is probably the best and most extensive available on the market today and is recommended for all Africanists and research collections.

Africa Who’s Who treats approximately 14,000 individuals in its 1,500 pages, representing a continued expansion vis-à-vis the 7,500 names in the first edition (1981) and the 12,000 in the second (1991). All walks of life are included. For every name there are data such as date of birth, career history, family status, and address. The extraordinary effort required to collect all of this information from so many countries with diverse languages and often modest infrastructures surely justifies the high price of the product, quite apart from the fact that there is nothing else comparable on the market. [est/jg]

Dictionary of Portuguese-African Civilization. London; München [et al.]: Zell. 24 cm. [99-B09-181]

Vol. 2. From Ancient Kings to Presidents. Benjamin Nufiez. 1996. xix, 478 p. ISBN 1-873836-65-1: ₤65

This lexicon seeks to provide basic information for readers of English on all topics related to the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa: Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Sao Tome, and Principe. While the first volume (1995) treated non-personal subjects and themes, volume 2 gathers biographical articles on notable individuals. Unfortunately, the weaknesses of volume 1 have not been remedied, above all a virtually exclusive reliance on existing secondary and tertiary literature, as listed at the end of each article.

These literature lists make clear that the chief sources for these articles were general and national encyclopedias, e.g., among the older works, the massive Grande enciclopedia portuguesa e brasileira (1936–1960), whereby—typically, one must say—the supplement volumes published between 1981 and 1987 and the annuals published in the 1980s and 1990s appear not to have been consulted; in fact, not even the death dates for many historical figures who must be long since deceased have been determined, but are still left open, as they were in the Grande enciclopedia. For more recent names, a limited number of special reference works have been used, including the country volumes in the African Historical Dictionaries series of Scarecrow Press. Granted, one finds on the pages of this work many names hard to find elsewhere; but all too often, obsolete or qualitatively inferior sources have been used, compounding and perpetuating their errors and outdated information. [sh/jg]

New Dictionary of South African Biography. Ed. E. J. Verwey. Pretoria: HSRC Publishers. 21 cm. [99-B09-183]

Vol. 1. 1995. viii, 310 p. ill. ISBN 0-7969-1648-9: Rand 90

Five volumes of the national biography of South Africa appeared between 1968 and 1987 under the title Dictionary of South African Biography. With the political transformations of recent years, it had become uncertain how or even if the work would be continued. In 1995, however, the Human Sciences Research Council published the first volume of a continuation, with the word “New” added to the title and a foreword by Nelson Mandela.

There are numerous differences between the “new” biographical dictionary and its predecessor. In light of the economic circumstances of the publisher and the country as a whole, the cheaper production quality is certainly unavoidable. Also, the number of entries has shrunk from the earlier average of 900 per volume to just 129. At the same time, however, criteria for inclusion have been radically altered, as even a cursory review of the portrait photographs shows. Instead of the phalanx of faces from an almost exclusively white male establishment, we now find a large number of black South Africans—and women. Articles are not signed, probably reflecting a strong involvement of the editorial team in preparing them in their final form, but a list pairing the names of contributors with their biographical subjects is provided at the beginning of the work. Sources, both print and archival, are cited at the end of each article, and a cumulative index to all 4,518 biographies in this and the original five volumes facilitates use. Further volumes will be released as soon as enough individual biographies have been collected to make their publication worthwhile.

This is a very impressive continuation of the South African national biography, augmenting the strengths of the original work with an enlightened new standard. [sh/jg]

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Last update: March 6, 2006 [BG]
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