West African history is inseparable from the history of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. According to historical archaeologist François Richard, however, the dominance of this narrative not only colors the range of political discourse about Africa but also occludes many lesser-known—but equally important—experiences of those living in the region.
Reluctant Landscapes is an exploration of the making and remaking of political experience and physical landscapes among rural communities in the Siin province of Senegal between the late 1500s and the onset of World War II. By recovering the histories of farmers and commoners who made up African states’ demographic core in this period, Richard shows their crucial—but often overlooked—role in the making of Siin history. The book also delves into the fraught relation between the Seereer, a minority ethnic and religious group, and the Senegalese nation-state, with Siin’s perceived “primitive” conservatism standing at odds with the country’s Islamic modernity. Through a deep engagement with oral, documentary, archaeological, and ethnographic archives, Richard’s groundbreaking study revisits the four-hundred-year history of a rural community shunted to the margins of Senegal’s national imagination.
About the Author
François G. Richard is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago.
“Reluctant Landscapes presents a cogent, compelling, and nuanced analysis of the production of Siin’s social, political, and economic life in a time of shifting interregional and intercontinental entanglements. Richard engages the complexities of a particular ‘reluctant landscape’ while he simultaneously develops insights of broader applicability. He builds in erudite fashion on a wide array of literatures—critical Marxist, postcolonial, and historical anthropological, among others—deftly drawing into conversation insights from a variety of sources—historical, ethnographic, archaeological. This is an important book that will contribute to a much-needed shift in the way we understand historical dynamics and their consequences in the present.” — Ann Stahl, University of Victoria
“African historical archaeology is brought to a new dimension with this penetrating account of the landscapes of Siin in Senegal. Richard blends ethnography, history, and archaeology to unravel the intricacies of politics, everyday life, and history in an African peasant landscape. He does so while debunking colonial myths and postcolonial representations—always with a keen eye for the material world. Reluctant Landscapes eloquently shows how the margin can rewrite the center and how the past might illuminate the present. A must-read for anybody interested in historical archaeology, political anthropology, African studies, or colonialism.” — Alfredo González-Ruibal, Institute of Heritage Sciences and Spanish National Research Council
"Reluctant Landscapes is a significant contribution to historical and archaeological scholarship in West Africa and an elegant addition to scholarship on lived experience during the past 500 years. The consequent views of the past during different eras advance debates on how localised responses related to regional and world events." — Stephen Dueppen
"Richard’s Reluctant Landscapes is a gorgeous, poetic, intensely quotable book that uses landscape as a lens through which to explore rural experiences of the Seereer people in the Siin region of west central Senegal over the past 500 years. For all its local focus, it imparts critical lessons to global studies of the modern world...This book is critical reading for scholars of Africa, postcolonialism and any of the myriad disciplines (anthropology, history, archaeology, political science, geography, etc.) lassoed in by the rope of Richard’s grand historical anthropology project." — Alexandra Kelly