This is the first comprehensive history of Malawi during the colonial period. Using a wide range of primary and secondary sources, it places this history within the context of the pre-colonial past. The book examines the way in which British people, starting with David Livingstone, followed by the pioneer Scottish Presbyterian missionaries and including soldiers, speculators, colonial officials and politicians, played an influential part in shaping Malawi. But even more important is the story of how Malawian people responded to the intrusion of colonialism and imperialism and the role they played in the dissolution of the colonial state. There is much here on resistance to colonial occupation, including religious-inspired revolt, on the shaping of the colonial economy, on the influence of Christian missions and on the growth of a powerful popular nationalism that contained within it the seeds of a new authoritarianism. But space is also given to less mainstream activities: the creation of dance societies, the eruption of witchcraft eradication movements and the emergence of football as a popular national sport. In particular, the book seeks to demonstrate the interrelationship between environmental and economic change and the impact these forces had on a poverty-stricken yet resilient Malawian peasantry.
John McCracken —
John McCracken is Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Stirling University. He has taught at University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, University College of Dar es Salaam and was Professor and Head of the Department of History at Chancellor College, University of Malawi from 1980-83 and returned as Visiting Professor in 2009. John McCracken was awarded ASAUK's Distinguished Africanist Award in 2008.
McCracken, John. A history of Malawi: 1859-1966. James Currey, 2012. 485p bibl index; ISBN 9781847010506. Reviewed in 2013mar CHOICE.
The study of Africa is helped by historical synthesis: comprehensive, detailed works of history, such as John Iliffe's A Modern History of Tanganyika (CH, Dec'79). These works are essential entry points to scholarship for new students. For Malawi, McCracken's meticulously sourced book is a much overdue fulfillment of this need, drawing on all the major historical literature dealing with pre-independence Malawi and its environs, through the "Cabinet Crisis" of 1964-65. The archival sources range widely, from libraries and archives in England and Scotland to those in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Specifically, McCracken draws on these sources to tell the story of how Malawi came to be--the political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental forces that shaped its creation, as well as the triumphs and struggles of its people. This is a foundational text for undergraduate curricula and for African history collections that need broad, deep work. One small criticism is the need for more maps of historical movement; though a small country, Malawi's high population density lends itself to overlapping descriptions of places and people.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- J. R. Kenyon, University of Idaho