This is an essay offering some random thoughts on the progress that has been made on research in African history since the early 1960s and what the writer sees as the research tasks that must still be addressed in future. In this introductory portion, a number of general issues are raised about the current state of the craft. It is a section in which the ground is cleared, as it were, for the main task of the paper which is dealt with in the subsequent three sections. There, an attempt will be made to come to grips with the most topical findings of the research that has gone on, and to point out the gaps that have yet to be filled, in the main sub-disciplines of political, economic, and social history. The examples used to illustrate the argument have been largely drawn from east, central, and southern Africa, this being the part of the continent with whose history the writer is most familiar. Furthermore, being neither original nor empirically based, this essay is essentially a review of work others have done on various facets of African history. While assessing that work, it should nonetheless also serve as a pointer to areas of investigation that seem not to have received adequate attention, areas to which effort might well be directed in future.
It should be noted, to begin with, that historians of Africa have been extremely good at asking new questions of their discipline and its sources. The result is that African historiography has been characterized by different traditions of historical inquiry and knowledge (Zeleza, 1983:9-42). In other words, in a bid to enhance our conceptual understanding of past African experience, historians have had recourse to one paradigm or framework of analysis or another, to the extent of making possibilities seem endless. All this has been generally viewed as a healthy development, but it is one which poses a serious challenge to one called upon to identify and offer informed opinion on the research tasks to which future attention should be directed.