Heinrich Barth and African History
Heinrich Barth's entry in Timbuktu
By his own account Barth's prime interest was the history of Africa and he was a great pioneer in this field. In contrast to the conventional wisdom of his time Barth believed that Africa did indeed have a history and that a deeper understanding of world history was impossible without reference to the history of Africa. The methods he employed to study the continent's past were many and varied, ranging from comparative linguistics, the study of Arabic manuscripts and oral traditions to the interpretation of rock art. His revolutionary approach made Barth one of the nineteenth century's most outstanding historians but at the same time brought him into conflict with many of his European colleagues. Although not always aware of their eminent predecessor, contemporary scholars of African history are still working with the methods he pioneered.
"Denn auch die Völkerbewegungen Central-Afrika's haben ihre Geschichte, und nur indem sie in das Gesammtgebilde der Geschichte der Menschheit eintreten, kann das letztere sich dem Abschluss nähern." (Barth1857, II: 82)