[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Africa]: Rich on Harms, 'Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Wed Feb 26 09:15:39 MST 2020



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Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: February 26, 2020 at 11:04:45 AM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Africa]:  Rich on Harms, 'Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> 
> Robert W. Harms.  Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of 
> Equatorial Africa.  New York  Basic Books, 2019.  544 pp.  $35.00 
> (cloth), ISBN 978-0-465-02863-4.
> 
> Reviewed by Jeremy M. Rich (Marywood University)
> Published on H-Africa (February, 2020)
> Commissioned by David D. Hurlbut
> 
> Jeremy Rich on _Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of 
> Equatorial Africa_
> 
> Since Adam Hochschild's _King Leopold's Ghost_ was published two 
> decades ago, the brutality of the European colonization of Central 
> Africa has again returned to the attention of Anglophone readers. 
> However, popular understandings tend to present Leopold II's Congo 
> Free State as a morality tale of cruel rulers without considering the 
> economic, environmental, and comparative aspects to central African 
> colonization. _Land of Tears_, by renowned historian Robert Harms, 
> offers a sweeping review of the history of conquest from the 1860s 
> until the Belgian government purchased the Congo Free State from the 
> Belgian king Leopold II. By covering and comparing both the French 
> and Leopoldian invasions, this study undermines the misconceived idea 
> that the Independent State of the Congo was somehow an aberration of 
> colonial excess. Older French efforts to cast Pierre Savorgnan de 
> Brazza as a peace-loving, cultured hero compared to the boorish and 
> cruel Henry Stanley tended to ignore the common features of 
> imperialism. French colonization borrowed the Leopoldian model of 
> concessionary companies and the rapacious exploitation of Africans. 
> At the same time, Harms acknowledges how African leaders such as 
> Tippu Tip could greatly influence colonial politics.  
> 
> Harms's main subject lies in political narrative history, even as he 
> does occasionally draw upon his seminal engagement with environmental 
> factors dating back to the early 1980s. The destruction of elephants 
> drove African traders and eventually colonial officials further and 
> further into the Central African interior. David Livingstone, Henry 
> Stanley, and Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza's careers drive the first 
> half of the study. Their competition for establishing control over 
> the Congo River and the interior of Central Africa is well-worn 
> territory for scholars of European colonization. The political 
> narratives of Leopoldian and French expansion Harms depicts do not 
> stray far from much older scholarship on these topics.  
> 
> Yet he effectively uses short cases to make the larger story of 
> industrialization and colonial invasion accessible to readers. For 
> example, an extended discussion of Connecticut factories producing 
> ivory products demonstrates how violent struggles over trade in 
> Central Africa connected to mass production in Europe and North 
> America. When reviewing Stanley's career, Harms uses a series of 
> scenes complete with individual dates and locations. Harms delineates 
> responses by African leaders and communities to European expansion, 
> whether to resist colonial rule or to accept European dominance. This 
> method also strikes against overly vague generalizations about Africa 
> by providing specific geographic locations and individual moments. 
> 
> The second half of the book considers the formation of colonies after 
> Brazza and Stanley between the mid-1880s and World War I. Not 
> surprisingly, there is more consideration of the concessionary era in 
> the Independent State of the Congo than in neighboring 
> French-controlled territory. Harms's knowledge of the Anglo-Belgian 
> India Rubber Company (ABIR) concession is particularly valuable to 
> examining the vicious impact of Leopoldian rule. Though familiar 
> figures such as the French journalist Félicien Challaye are 
> referenced in discussing French territories, Harms is clearly on 
> surer ground in the Independent State of the Congo. 
> 
> There is no doubt Harms has mastered the lengthy archival and 
> published record on European colonization in Central Africa in the 
> late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Francophone 
> specialists are not going to find a great deal of new insights, 
> especially given that Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch and other scholars 
> writing in French have mined explorer and colonial records since the 
> 1960s. While Harms clearly has a grasp of current research on the 
> Congo Reform movement and European actors in colonization, it is 
> striking how little recent work is cited on African participants in 
> either Leopoldian Congo or French Equatorial Africa. Does this speak 
> more to the lack of new scholarship or Harms's lack of engagement 
> with more contemporary research, especially by African scholars? 
> Could less commonly used sources--such as the Disciples of Christ and 
> other missionary records for the Leopoldian period employed 
> effectively by Nancy Rose Hunt--have brought in new perspectives 
> largely overlooked in the dominant archival record? Hunt's use of 
> oral sources also indicates the ambivalence and obscurity of violence 
> in the Leopoldian era that is at odds with the matter-of-fact 
> approach by Harms. One of the more frustrating aspects of this book 
> is the lack of individual African cases in the Leopoldian period, 
> beyond the usual cast of Swahili-speaking traders defeated by 
> European forces. For example, Manyema communities constituted the 
> military might of Tippu Tip's successors in eastern Democratic 
> Republic of Congo in the 1870s and 1880s. Yet the internal political 
> dynamics of this important group are dimly apparent here.    
> 
> In the end, who is the intended audience for this book? Specialists 
> of colonial conquest in Central Africa already will know this 
> material well. There are few major methodological advances here to 
> inspire future research. At the same time, Harms's lucid overview is 
> an excellent introduction to the colonization of Central Africa to 
> those unfamiliar with the subject, particularly as Basic Books is a 
> respected trade publisher rather than an academic press. To Harms's 
> credit, the book assumes no knowledge of the subject or literature. 
> Its length and structure probably make the book a somewhat difficult 
> text in its entirety for undergraduate classes, although the wealth 
> of freely accessible primary sources cited here could make _Land of 
> Tears _an effective textbook. On the other hand, this would be a 
> valuable work to include in graduate classes on African colonization. 
> It also will serve as an exemplary reference work on the European 
> colonization of Central Africa. 
> 
> Citation: Jeremy M. Rich. Review of Harms, Robert W., _Land of Tears: 
> The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa_. H-Africa, 
> H-Net Reviews. February, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54841
> 
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
> 
> 



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