A Fistful of Shells
West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution
University of Chicago Press 2019
All too often, the history of early modern Africa is told from the perspective of outsiders. In his book A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 2019), Toby Green draws upon a range of underutilized sources to describe the evolution of West Africa over a period of four transformative centuries. With these sources Green demonstrates that the region was integrated into the developing transcontinental trade networks far earlier than is often portrayed in more Western-centric accounts, and in ways that influenced the development of local communities long before European ships arrived off of their coast. The arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century, however, shifted the dynamics of this trade in dramatic ways, changing kingdoms and reshaping economic priorities. While West Africa was an equal partner for the first two and a half centuries of this period, Green shows how the growing demand for slaves and the very different nature of slavery in the West during this period combined increasingly disadvantaged the region, while simultaneously changing the internal political dynamics of kingdoms and the societies within them.