BLACK TO THE FUTURE: THE POLITICS AND PRODUCTION OF GATES AND APPIAH'S ENCYCLOPEDIA AFRICANA
Bruford, Natalie Amber
Early in the twentieth century the great W.E.B. Du Bois became convinced that ignorance was at the root of racism and that knowledge was the essential tool needed to effectively fight it. This led to the realization that the academic world and indeed Africans themselves were in dire need of an African Encyclopedia that accurately accounted for the prehistory, cultural contributions, colonial history and sociology of Africa and the African Diaspora. The Encyclopedia Africana would be an academically engineered project, designed to socially amend the twentieth century racial landscape by altering long held negative and even imperialist perceptions of the culturally insignificant black world.Du Bois made three significant efforts in his lifetime to make his vision a reality but due to political and financial challenges he went to his death in 1963 in Ghana still striving to make his vision a reality. Fortunately, the mantle was picked up and carried to completion in 1999 by two Harvard Professors, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah with the publication of Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience and in the creation of the Encarta Africana.Their great accomplishment challenges Britannica's formally narrow conception of history as the history of European elites by achieving respect for denigrated blackness in the same manner that respect for French culture had been cemented by Diderot's encyclopedia, or respect for English culture by the Encyclopedia Britannica. Gates and Appiah's work has created a paradigm shift in the colonial curricula of a Eurocentric academy by establishing the African continent and the African diaspora as having produced civilizations, religion, and culture by establishing that Africa, cradle of mankind retains the oldest history of the human race.<italic>Africana: The Encyclopedia of The African and The African American Experience</italic> and <italic>Encarta Africana's</italic> historical evolution, postcolonial politics and success in expanding beyond the "ivory tower" of Harvard Square to the common curriculum across all levels of education provides evidence of its monumental success. Despite the challenges due to evolving technology and competing sources, the work of Gates and Appiah will prove to be a more trusted, balanced and politically significant body of knowledge.
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