Saheed Aderinto, assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University, has a passion for African history and encouraging the study of Africa in new ways.
A native of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria, Aderinto holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, and a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Texas. He recently co-authored “Nigeria, Nationalism, and Writing History” with Toyin Falola, professor of history at University of Texas. To complete research for the book, Aderinto returned to Nigeria in the summer of 2006 and 2008.
At WCU, he teaches courses in world history, Western imperialism in Africa and modern African history. Upcoming courses he will teach include a graduate course centered on postcolonialism, and peace and conflict in Africa. He sees his teaching and writing as a complementary and important part of his scholarly work.
“My ability to simplify complex historical narratives for classroom instruction and public commentary is anchored on my conviction that research is useless if it cannot be disseminated to people who crave for knowledge but are not familiar with the issues and societies being discussed,” said Aderinto. “It has been a fulfilling experience bringing Africa to students who may never see the continent, its beautiful cultures and peoples.”
Aderinto, 32, and his wife, Olamide, have two children, 5-year-old Itandola and 3-year-old Itandayo, to whom Aderinto enjoys narrating Yoruba folktales. “We plan to start experimenting with hiking in summer,” he said.
Reporter: What inspired your interest in writing “Nigeria, Nationalism, and Writing History?”
Aderinto: The book is on nationalist historiography, a genre of historical writing that celebrates the creativity of Africans. Nationalist historiography emerged in the 1950s as a defensive paradigm against Eurocentric notions that Africans did not have history—hence they had to be colonized by Europe. It thus served as the intellectual arm of decolonization by supplying information and research that established the ability of Africans to govern themselves.
The book was inspired by lack of single volume that examines nationalist historiography, its core components, the evolution of the various fields of Nigerian history, geographical concentration and the ideologies that shaped the production of knowledge about Africans.
By comparing and contrasting the works of pioneering nationalist historians with those of their colleagues, the book is the first to bring into full limelight the ways individual historians have tackled the problems of interpreting such significant topics as indirect rule, Christian missionary activities, the evolution of the Nigerian state, the origins of the Nigerian peoples, and the place of oral traditions in the development of professional historical writings, to mention but a few.
Reporter: Have you personally recorded oral histories ?
Aderinto: I began to collect oral histories in 2001 and still collect them. Oral histories are an integral component of my present and future projects in that they complement and supplement other sources, especially archival materials. So, it is indispensable.
Reporter: What languages do you speak?
Aderinto: I speak English; Yoruba, my ancestral language; and West African pidgin English
Reporter: What challenges do you face when working with oral histories?
Aderinto: With information passed from generation to generation orally, you may not know the exact time events happened, and you must be conscious of exaggeration, fabrication, overt and covert distortion.
Reporter: What does the image on the cover of the book represent? (See image)
Aderinto: The image on the book is “Time Traveler.” It represents the challenge of historians, artists, scientists and literary scholars who move from different points in time. The time traveler, in part, represents the work of historians who deal with periods and the events that shaped them.
Reporter: The book also proposes a new direction for the study of Nigerian history, and topics such as science and technology. Would you share more about that?
Aderinto: The largest chunk of literature on Africa is produced by scholars of Africa based in Europe and North America. Given the diminishing share in the global output of works by Africa-based historians, it has become crucial to reintroduce Africans into historical writing about Africa. The book attempts to rescue older voices and rehabilitate a stale historiography by revisiting the issues, ideas and moments that produced it. This revivalism also challenges Nigerian historians of the 21st century to study the nation in new ways, to comprehend its modernity and to frame a new set of questions on Nigeria’s future and globalization.
Reporter: What are some of the similarities of American and African history?
Aderinto: Like Americans, Africans have their own history that forms the basis of their collective achievements, failure and source of pride. Africa, like America, has heroes and heroines and was built by ordinary women and men whose stories are enmeshed in their aspirations and goals. I like to tell my students about the emphasis on women and power in precolonial Africa, and about such heroines as Madam Efunsetan Aniwura, Madam Tinubu, Madam Oyinkan Abayomi and others whose contributions to the history of their communities cannot be denied. By learning the history of Africa, American audiences would appreciate the common threads that bind humans in their quest to create a society for today and future for the incoming generations.
Reporter: What is the state of scholarly study of African history?
Aderinto: African history as a formidable academic field, which the book details, did not begin until the late 1950s. However, in 2011, the study of Africa and Africans is full-blown—as exemplified in numerous doctorate degrees awarded in African history all over the globe, high level of specialization, and scholarly production.
However, unlike American and European history, African history is not offered in some American colleges, partly because few universities have doctorate programs in African history. Another reason is funding. It is expensive to conduct research in Africa where poor state of infrastructure and political instability combine to create uneasy assess to academic materials. In spite of these shortcomings, historians of Africa have continued to unearth critical knowledge about the peoples of the continent in ways that establish the significant position the continent occupies in the history of humanity.
Reporter: What project will you work on next?
Aderinto: I am currently working on two books: the first book-length study of sexuality in colonial Nigeria titled “Sexualized Nationalism: Lagos and the Politics of Illicit Sexuality in Colonial Nigeria,” and a 25-chapter anthology titled “New Directions in Nigerian History and Historiography: Essays in Honor of Ayodeji Olukoju.” The latter complements my current book by moving beyond nationalist historiography to engage new studies that began to appear in the 1990s in response to the crisis of relevance of historical education in Africa, and in honor of the impressive academic career of Olukoju, one of Nigeria’s brightest intellectuals. I am co-editing it with Paul Osifodunrin of University of Lagos, Nigeria.
Interview by Teresa Killian Tate and published in condensed and edited form.