Africa has a long and rich history of urbanization dating back thousands of years. Cities in ancient Egypt, the Western Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, the East African City States, and Southern Africa appeared long before the arrival of Europeans to Africa's coasts. Since the Second World War, however, the pace of urban growth has increased rapidly, ensuring that studies of the political, social, economic, and cultural systems of the urban environments would follow close behind. Since the dawn of African history as a scholarly field in western universities, the urban historiography of Africa has progressed from a myopic view of specific groups in city centers to a larger inter-relational approach that explores actions and interactions within particular urban settings.
The urban environment is complex. One cannot analyze urban space without also incorporating that of the periurban and nonurban areas. Economic factors cannot be studied without giving thought to social conditions, nor can an analysis of political ideologies emerge without allowing for intellectual and cultural considerations. In the densely populated and more cosmopolitan urban space, cultures, politics, and economics mingle on a regular basis. Urbanization in Africa is a complex process, and studies of it must attempt to grasp the clusters of relationships that form around class, ethnicity, race, occupation, religion, and generation. Researchers must take into account residential neighborhoods, market places, mosques, churches, sports fields, and other meeting places. In other words, we must attempt to develop a picture of the entire political, economic, social, and cultural urban landscape.
This book presents new and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of African urban history and culture. It presents original research and integrates historical methodologies with those of anthropology, geography, literature, art, and architecture. Moving between precolonial, colonial, and contemporary urban spaces, the articles cover the major regions, religions, and cultural influences of sub-Saharan Africa. Themes include Islam, Christianity, traditional religion, architecture, migration, globalization, social and physical decay, identity, race relations, politics, development, and the struggle for control of urban space. The book not only elaborates on what makes the study of African urban spaces unique within the modern global cultural climate, it also offers an all-encompassing and up-to-date study of the subject and inserts Africa into the growing discussion of urban history and culture throughout the world.