Historical writing about Africa in the last decade has undergone a quantitative, if not always qualitative, boom. This is particularly true in the realm of political and, to a lesser extent, economic history. But little work has been completed in the area of African intellectual history, surely one of the most fascinating and ultimately rewarding fields into which history can be divided.
One obvious reason for this dearth of work is the elusiveness of intellectual history in general--the immense difficulty involved in researching and writing about it well. Intellectual history, according to its broadest definition, deals with the history of thought. But thought, unlike so-called “hard,” verifiable evidence used by social scientists--such as statistics, carbon dating, chronologies--is a nebulous phenomenon to isolate and define. Thought can be nonverbal as well as verbal. It can be symbolic or “unmethodical,” as in poetry, fiction, art, or music, or quite definite and “methodical,” as in science and philosophy.
Ideally, an intellectual historian would study all of these types of thought, not for their accuracy or logical consistency (as would a, scientist or mathematician), not for their value or aesthetic satisfaction (as would a critic or philosopher), but for their relation to each other in time, how and why they appear and spread at a particular time, and their effect on concrete historical situations. In other words, it is the intellectual historian's job to delineate or describe thought in a given historical epoch and to explain the changes which this thought undergoes from epoch to epoch.