Basil Davidson, born on November 9, 1914 in Bristol, England, led a rich and successful life in both film and the printed word. He became an accomplished contributor to the studies of African history. His important contributions in the field, developed a school of modern African history, in which the prejudices and presumptions of African civilization were abandoned, and archaeological evidence was embraced. His study of African history and archaeology helped change the view of African civilizations being "backward" or unrefined, to a view of an Africa that was sophisticated both culturally and technologically.
The son of Thomas and Jessie Davidson, he married Marion Ruth Young in 1943, and became the father of three children: Nicholas, Keir, and James. His career includes the membership of the editorial staff for The Economist from 1931-1939. Afterwards he served in the British Army from 1940-1945, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His military accomplishments include the Military Cross, the US Army Bronze Star, and two mentions in dispatches. Afterwards he returned to writing as a Paris corespondent in London for The Times, he held this position until 1947 when he became a European leader writer for two years. Throughout this career he spent much of his time free-lance writing.
Davidson's book "The Lost Cities of Africa" won him the 1960 Anisfield-Wolf Award, for the best book which dealt with racial problems in creative literature. His work on African history won the 1970 Gold Medal from Haile Selassies. In 1976 he won the Medalha Amilcar Cabral. He also earned honorary degrees from Open University of Great Britain in 1980, and the University of Edinburgh in 1981. For his film "Africa" he won the Gold Award, from the International Film and Television Festival of New York in 1984.
Basil Davidson's work helped break the narrow views of Africa and was able to study the history and culture in a more favorable light. He was able to break ground in the study of Africa, and helped popularize interest in the field throughout the world.
Basil Davidson has written mroe than 30 books on Africa since 1952. He writes many of these books almost like a historian, but more as a scholar. Davidson's descriptions on the history of Africa are known to be very detailed. His books mainly concern history. The three books briefly described here are: The Search for Africa, West Africa before the Colonial Era, and The Black Man's Burden.
West Africa before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850 is in "constant tension with centuries of prejudice and indifference." (source) It emphasizes the sophistication of pre-colonial Africa in a very accessible manner. it is written to people not familiar with West African history. Davidson gives many stories on various kingdoms and themes in this book. Some of the chapter topics include: antiquity of West African history, the Ghana empire, Mali, Songhai, eastern Sudan, Senegambia, and other societies. Davidson challenges his readers to forget racial boundaries, and understand the enormous, complex region. His writing should satisfy and interest readers of all types.
The Black Man's Burden collects most of Basil Davidsons's ideas. Davidson made this book as an attempt to offer all of his wisdom and conclusions from a lifetime of study of Africa. I will attempt to include a sample of those conclusions. Basil Davidson states that it is easy to blame human failures, but no society is immune from failure. He notes the difficulty in analysing African history, especially in dealing with the Eurocentric point-of-view. The liberation of Africa was not true. It was just a change from one kind of dominance to another. Africa was still somewhat under the power of Europe after all the countries had been freed. Davidson emphasizes the use of Eurocetric and racist approaches of the colonists. He emphasizes the strength of pre-colonial Africa, and its ability to solve its own problems. Davidson presents a well documeted analysis of events in African history. He notes that African nationalism was modelled after European nationalism. "Nation-statism betrayed the labouring poo and advanced the interests of the 'middle strata.'" Davidson has observed two kinds of nationalists: those that fight for the restoration of pre-colonial ideology and those that reject the pre-colonial ideals, suggesting others means of progress. He is very good in showing the separation between classes in modern Africa. Davidson also attributes failure to the uncritical adoption of the European models for goverment. This book closely compliments The Search for Afica, and they should be read together, according to Shubi Ishemo. (source)
Before the mainstream idea in studies of racial bias was to challenge the idea of people being "others," Basil Davidson was at work. The Search for Africa is a collection of essays and articles written by Davidson between 1953 and 1992. He wrote these as Africa broke free from colonial rule and began to recover. The troubles currently existing in Africa are the result of the poor colonial rule and the curse of the nation state. Colonial rule hurt Africans because they used it as their example of democracy. Eliteism was common in Africa. "Only one tribe cold be on top at any one time, and it used political power to dish out favours to itself and its kinsmen. All too often, those excluded took up arms." (source) Nationalism, Davidson writes, was a uniting and freeing force, but it has expired. He suggests that Africa needs to rescue the social policies of pre-colonial Africa that created stability and curbed corruption. Davidson does not offer many concrete solutions to the problems of Africa. He merely presents his ideas. Gail Gerhart writes that this is only journalism, not scholarship. (source) Despite any criticisms of his style, Davidson is extremely consistent in his lifelong passion for African studies.