The Flaws and Shortcomings of African Historiography
History is formed through a combination of personal experiences, psychological state, personal objectives, relation with the interviewer, position in society and many other factors that cannot be scientifically monitored and accounted for. Thus, no historian has been able to filter through the many layers they need to in order to arrive at an accurate account of history. What “personal narratives” and “life histories” provide are numerous examples of the complexities and ambiguities that accompany any reconstruction of African history. Each account of history does not offer a different perspective from which one may view a particular event or time, simply because no two accounts have the same concept of location or time. Western and African romanticism has lead many historians to create and adapt scientific methodologies in order to penetrate the combination of personal objectives, interview limitations, and psychological intricacies that were present in each life history.
Whether it is a matter of age, race, psychological state, or personal (or group) objective, the subjects oftentimes function in differing paradigms, which leads to significant inconsistencies between the transmittance and recording of any particular history. Texts such as Belinda Bozzoli’s, Women of Phokeng, Marjorie Mbilinyi’s article entitled “I’d Have Been a Man,” and several articles in White, Cohen and Miescher’s, African Words, African Voices, to put forth the claim that the information historians collect from “life histories” cannot be generalized in any way to correctly represent a society or group of people.
Each author claims to recognize his/her biases and shortcomings, then goes on to say, despite these, I have something with more truth to share with you. It’s as if they put disclaimers, then say, if you ignore that they are poor and are only giving interviews believing they will gain something from them; if you ignore that they are human and have biases and prejudices stemming from experiences and events we (historians) have no knowledge of; if you ignore that if we let each person speak about what they thought of history and did not direct them in any way, we (historians) would rarely get people concentrating on similar events, and when they did, there would be significant inconstancies in the accounts; if we ignore all this, what is being is significant only as far as no one is more important than another man (which is purely idealistic) and getting different perspectives is interesting. But that is all it is, interesting! With enough disclaimers and ‘considering’ any claim, theory, or historical account becomes valid history.
Relationships Between Interviewer and Subject:
As recognition and acceptance of the subjects’ ability to hold back and alter information increased, so did historians’ emphasis on the quality of the relationship between interviewer and interviewee. For example, Bozzoli...