JAN VANSINA ORAL TRADITION AS HISTORY PDF

He was surrounded by his wife, Claudine, and his son, Bruno. Diagnosed with lung cancer in the Fall of , Vansina underwent chemotherapy for a few weeks and enjoyed a remission in the summer and early fall of , during which he continued his tireless quest for understanding the past of Central Africa. A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the s and s. His insistence that it was possible to study African history in the era prior to European contact, and his development of rigorous historical methods for doing so, played a major role in countering the then prevalent idea that cultures without texts had no history. He remained a trailblazer in the field for more than five decades.

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He was surrounded by his wife, Claudine, and his son, Bruno. Diagnosed with lung cancer in the Fall of , Vansina underwent chemotherapy for a few weeks and enjoyed a remission in the summer and early fall of , during which he continued his tireless quest for understanding the past of Central Africa.

A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the s and s. His insistence that it was possible to study African history in the era prior to European contact, and his development of rigorous historical methods for doing so, played a major role in countering the then prevalent idea that cultures without texts had no history.

He remained a trailblazer in the field for more than five decades. Vansina spent most of his career at UW-Madison, where he took up a position in African History in at the invitation of Philip Curtin. Together, Vansina and Curtin created the first program in African history in the United States, and trained the first and second generation of specialists in the history of Africa and the African diaspora. Vansina quickly became a towering figure in the field, a scholar of exceptional intelligence, erudition and intellectual drive.

He combined an encyclopedic knowledge of linguistics, anthropology and history with a steadfast commitment to rigorous historical research, and a unique talent to recover intricate historical changes in places where little traces of the past could be retrieved.

In scale, depth, complexity, clarity and significance, his work in African history was unique and will certainly remain so for many years to come. Born in in Antwerp, Belgium, he trained as a medievalist before accepting a position in as an anthropologist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then a Belgian colony. At UW-Madison, Vansina brought immense energy and commitment to the scholarship and legacy of African history.

He held his position for thirty-five years , advising more than 50 Ph. Beginning with the publication of La tradition orale in , his work led to the acceptance in the academic world of oral traditions as valid sources of history.

La tradition orale appeared in English in and eventually translations in Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and Hungarian followed. In , Vansina published Oral Tradition as History, a complete reworking of La tradition orale that became his most widely known book.

Vansina also promoted the use of interdisciplinary tools, especially historical linguistics, archaeology, and art history, to recover the African past. His reputation as the preeminent authority on methods for the study of early Africa extended beyond academia.

An energetic teacher and a generous mentor, he had wide influence on several generations of students. He remained close to his former students and colleagues following his retirement in at the age of Living close to UW campus, Vansina remained a stimulating and generous presence for African historians, students and friends, and the many scholars who visited him and Claudine to converse and debate about African history, African politics, or the tribulations of academia in the United States.

His intellectual prowess remained intact until his death and continued to fuel his remarkable productivity. His last presentation reflected on history and memory from the viewpoint of the capacity of the human brain to preserve and rework past experience and information. In his last few months, he tireless worked with Professor Rebecca Grollemund on a joint article on Bantu languages, currently under review for the Journal of African History.

He was the first historian to tackle the challenge of reconstructing the past of societies in the rainforest over several millennia, from the early diffusion of Bantu languages and communities to political and cultural innovations in the early modern period and the nineteenth century.

Covering more than two thousand years of history, the book detailed the rich traditions that Equatorial Africans created to invent their society, culture and institutions, ending with the disruptions brought by the slave trade and European intrusions in the nineteenth century.

Six major books followed. In , he wrote When Societies are Born as a complement to Paths in the Rainforest, turning to the early history of the southern part of West Central Africa. Antecedents to Modern Rwanda: the Nyiginya Kingdom looked at the early formation of Hutu and Tutsi identities, and the development and expansion of the ancient Rwandan kingdom.

In , Being Colonized traced how the Kuba people in the Congo experienced colonial rule. Using dreams, life stories, and visual archives, the book offered a unique view of the fabric of African life under European domination. Vansina received numerous honors and distinctions over the course of his career. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in , from which he quietly resigned when the group failed to denounce the use of torture during the presidency of George W.

Bush, and to the American Philosophical Society in Vansina was committed throughout his professional life to promoting the writing of African history for African audiences. Some of his last thoughts concerned the younger generation of Central Africans, whom he hoped could read rich, updated and accessible histories of their region.

He believed that a sense of pride in their past could help them to deal with the challenges of the present. The African Studies Program has created a tribute page where people can share their stories and fond memories of Jan Vansina. The sole purpose is to serve the broad needs of the University of Wisconsin African History Program, especially through graduate support, fellowships, and research grants.

Thanks to the fund, the program has already supported a significant number of graduate students, many from Africa. As such, new gifts to the fund will target continuing collaborations with African scholars and linkages between US African studies programs and Africanist scholarship elsewhere in the world.

Among the aims of the fund: fellowship and research support for African graduate students at UW; support for visiting African scholars to utilize UW library collections and engage in research collaborations; bolstering partnerships with African universities and institutes, including publishing projects, small seminars, and conferences. Ultimately, our goal is to continue the rich legacy of engagement with Africa that Jan developed over his many years of distinguished scholarly service.

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Jan Vansina (1929–2017)

He was surrounded by his wife, Claudine, and his son, Bruno. A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history. His insistence that it was possible to study Africa in the era prior to European contact, and his development of rigorous historical methods for doing so, played a major role in countering the idea that cultures without texts had no history. Born in in Antwerp, Belgium, Vansina trained as a medievalist before accepting a position in as an anthropologist in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then a Belgian colony. In , Vansina accepted an invitation from Philip Curtin to join the history department at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Vansina and Curtin created the first program in African history in the United States and trained the first and second generations of specialists in the field.

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Jan Vansina

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