The five papers included in this collection are revised and expanded versions of talks given in honor of Frederick Cooper at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association held 29 November – 1 December 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.Footnote 1 In advance of Cooper’s retirement from teaching, Dorothy Hodgson and a number of his former students and interlocutors organized five roundtables on themes of slavery and emancipation, labor and work, colonialism and decolonization, development and the world economy, and state and citizenship.Footnote 2 The range of important themes addressed and the enthusiasm of participants in the panels attest to Frederick Cooper’s monumental impact on the study of African history.
Since the 1970s, the quality and originality of Cooper’s major books and articles have shaped not only African studies but also the theory and methods of scholarship beyond African studies. Over the course of his career, Cooper has produced ten single-authored books, numerous co-authored and edited books, and over 115 articles and book chapters, many of which have been translated into other languages. Added to this are countless book reviews, article and book manuscript reviews, and generous comments on the work of colleagues. But the impact of his work is not measured by the quantity of his publications, as is clear from Cooper’s numerous awards. His second book, From Slaves to Squatters, won the African Studies Association’s Melville Herskovits Prize in 1982. Two of his later books – On the African Waterfront and Decolonization and African Society – were finalists for the same prize in 1988 and 1997, respectively. More recently, Cooper’s work has been recognized by the World History Association (2011) and the American Historical Association (2015).
In his commitment to mentoring PhD students and generously supporting the work of colleagues, Cooper has played a distinguished role in producing new generations of African historians, anthropologists, and scholars in other fields and disciplines. Clearly, not all of them – not even a small fraction of them – could participate in the roundtables, and even a smaller fraction could take part in our project to publish a selection of the papers on a relatively compressed time scale (five months between the conference and the final submission of the collection to this journal).
The discerning reader will note that four of the five authors published here are or were tenured in North American universities and that none are African by birth. Cooper’s own work would suggest that we be attentive to the structural factors that create such imbalances. In Atlanta, Cooper commented on the fact that, particularly in the late 1970s, he learned a great deal in seminars at the History Department and the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Nairobi, where questions were honed, evidence critiqued, and ideas challenged by scholars like Karim Janmohamed, Peter Anyong N’yongo, and Apollo Njonjo. Those institutions, like many others on the African continent (and in different ways for different reasons, in North America), have been through lean times in the decades since.Footnote 3 Yet a new wave of history-writing is rising in and beyond Africa, and as the strength of African research institutions returns, and new generations of scholars emerge, our field can only become more dynamic, engaged, and engaging.
Although all of the papers collected here attest to and appreciate Frederick Cooper’s major influence on their respective subjects, they are not hagiographic. Rather, our intention is to describe some of Cooper’s key intellectual interventions, place them in historiographical context, suggest ways that they continue to enrich the study of African history, and even note some of their limitations. The papers engage with most of Cooper’s key works. As it turns out, all reference Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa or From Slaves to Squatters, while historiographically situating interventions like “The Problem of Slavery in African Studies” (Lindsay), On the African Waterfront (White), “Africa in the World Economy” (Traugh), the co-edited Tensions of Empire (Ivaska), Decolonization and African Society (White and Mann), and Citienship between Empire and Nation (Mann). Finally, this collection of papers is not intended as a moment of “closing,” to borrow Cooper’s language from an influential 2008 article, but as a continued “opening” towards new questions, new perspectives, and new critiques.Footnote 4 We hope that these essays prove useful and stimulating for both those who are new to and those who are already familiar with Cooper’s scholarship. We look forward to Cooper’s future publications and to those of his students, interlocutors, and critics.