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Boahen, A. Adu 1932–2006

Boahen, A. Adu 1932–2006

(Adu Boahen, Albert Adu Boahen)

PERSONAL:

Born May 24, 1932 in Osiem, Gold Coast (now Ghana); died May 24, 2006, in Accra, Ghana; married (twice); second wife's name Mary; children: four sons, one daughter. Education: University of Ghana, B.A. (honors), 1956; London University School of Oriental and African Studies, Ph.D., 1959.

CAREER:

Historian, activist, politician, educator, writer, and editor. University of Ghana, Legon, 1959-75, professor of history, 1971-90, emeritus professor, 1990-2006, chair of department of history, 1967-71, dean of graduate studies, 1973-75. Movement for Freedom and Justice (MFJ), Ghana, interim president, beginning c. 1990; ran for president of Ghana, 1992. Visiting professor at numerous universities, including Australian National University, 1969; Colombia University, 1970; Birmingham University, 1975; University of California, Los Angeles, 1975-76; Johns Hopkins University, 1985; and the State University of New York, Binghamton, 1990-91. Work-related activities included chair of the board of directors of the Ghana News Agency; president of the Historical Society of Ghana; member of the Council of the University of Ghana; member of National Executive of the Association of Recognized Professional Bodies; honorary secretary of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences; president of the International Scientific Committee for the preparation of the eight-volume UNESCO History of Africa.

MEMBER:

Asante Kotoko Society (founding member, 1977), Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (honorary secretary, 1983-85), Historical Society of Ghana (fellow), Historical Association of Great Britain (honorary fellow), African Studies Association, Royal African Society.

AWARDS, HONORS:

African Heritage Studies Association Honors Award for outstanding contribution to the preservation and enrichment of the heritage of peoples of African descent in the world; Ghana Book Award; Seventeenth Noma Award for Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana; UNESCO Avicenna Silver Medal in recognition of outstanding contribution to the general history of Africa; Order of the Star of Ghana, 2006.

WRITINGS:

Britain, the Sahara, and the Western Sudan, 1788-1861, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1964.

(With J.B. Webster and Michael Tidy) The Revolutionary Years: West Africa since 1800, Longmans (London, England), 1967, new edition, 1980, also published as History of West Africa: The Revolutionary Years, 1815 to Independence, Praeger (New York, NY), 1970.

Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Longman (London, England), 1975.

Clio and Nation-Building in Africa: Inaugural Lecture Delivered at the University of Ghana, Legon, on Thursday, 28th November, 1974, Ghana Universities Press (Accra, Ghana), 1975.

(Editor) Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1985, abridged version, 1990.

(With J.F. Ade Ajayi and Michael Tidy) Topics in West African History, Longman Group (Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex, England), 1986.

African Perspectives on Colonialism, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1987.

The Ghanaian Sphinx: Reflections on the Contemporary History of Ghana, 1972-1987, Ghana Democratic Movement (New York, NY), 1989, 2nd edition, Sankofa Educational Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 1992.

Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History, 1876-1976, Sankofa Educational Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 1996.

(Editorial contributor) Joseph Boakye Danquah, The Ghanian Establishment: Its Constitution, Its Detentions, Its Traditions, Its Justice and Statecraft, and Its Heritage of Ghanaism, Ghana Universities Press (Accra, Ghana), 1997.

Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Sankofa (Accra, Ghana), 2000.

(Editor and contributor, with E. Akyeampong, N. Lawler, T.C. McCaskie, and I. Wilks) Otumfuo, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, "The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself" and Other Writings, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, edited with editor's note by Emmanuel Akyeampon, Sub-Saharan Publishers (Accra, Ghana), 2003.

Africa in the Twentieth Century: The Adu Boahen Reader, edited by Toyin Falola, Africa World Press (Trenton, NJ), 2004.

Contributor to books, including The Horizon of African History, edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., American Heritage Publishing (New York, NY), 1972. Member of the editorial board of the Journal of African History, Tarikh, Journal African Studies, and African Affairs.

SIDELIGHTS:

A. Adu Boahen was Ghana's most renowned historian and also a political activist who ran for president of Ghana in 1992. Although he lost, Boahen garnered slightly more than thirty percent of the vote. "On the soap-box Boahen adopted Asante war songs and aroused tens of thousands at his rallies," wrote Ivor Agyeman-Duah in an obituary for the author in the Guardian. Agyeman-Duah went on to write: "He, like Albert Luthuli in South Africa, instilled in people the need to be martyrs of the nation, and for democracy. He was, as he told me fifteen years ago, a liberal democrat, a believer in the freedom of the individual, the welfare of the governed, and in private enterprise and the market economy. And it was his guidance from 1987 which helped establish Ghana's democratic credentials."

Boahen wrote numerous books focusing primarily on the history of Ghana. His highly praised African Perspectives on Colonialism, published in 1987, is a revision of the texts from the James S. Schouler Lectures delivered by the author at Johns Hopkins University in 1985. The book deals with the twenty-year period between 1880 and 1900, a time when the imperial powers of Europe had seized almost all of Africa. Previously, studies of this era in Africa featured primarily Eurocentric points of view, but Boahen reinterprets this history of colonial experiences from the perspective of the colonized. "What makes the lectures, and the book, noteworthy, is both the distinction of the author … and the theme he argues—an ‘African’ view of colonial history," wrote Victor T. LeVine in Research in African Literatures. LeVine added that "it is important to note whose views on colonialism Boahen himself considers out of bounds. It is not only those historians who, in their Eurocentricity, saw Africans as the legitimate objects of Europe's civilizing ministrations, but also those whose accounts of colonialism showed a favorable balance in Europe's favor."

In his 1996 book Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History, 1876-1976, the author provides a history of one of Ghana's oldest and most noted secondary schools, a school that the author also attended. However, the book is more than just a history of the school; it is also the story of the making of modern Ghana as told through the life of the school. The author discusses how western education has refined and altered the destiny of the Ghanaian families who attended the school and of the country itself through the school's graduates, who went on to help build a new nation. The author pays special attention to the 1948 riots, which represented a turning point in Ghana's history, and their aftermath. Boahen begins with the school's founding in 1876, a product of a Methodist foundation and the Fante confederacy, a group of states in what is now southern Ghana. Among the school's first students were many who have gone on to become common names in Ghanaian history. "This is an immensely rewarding and very readable book which adds immeasurably to our knowledge of Ghana's social history," wrote Richard Rathbone in the Journal of African History.

Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1 is a work abandoned by the author when he became ill in 2000. It was finally published in 2003 with the help of book editor Emmanuel Akyeampon. The book focuses on the Asante-British War of 1900-01, which is known outside of Ghana as the war of the "Golden Stool." In Ghana the war is called the Yaa Asantewaa War after the Queen of Edweso. The author is primarily interested in the precise role the queen played in the war. Boahen delves into how the Asante people of what is now Ghana faced a crisis in 1900 when the British governor demanded additional tribute and the symbolic Golden Stool. Made of gold, the stool was so cherished by the people that it was never allowed to sit on the ground, and purportedly no one was allowed to sit on the stool. In ceremonies, a new king was lowered and raised over the Golden Stool without ever touching it. According to the author, it was Nana Yaa Asantewaa who rallied Asante resistance with fiery speeches and gender-conscious challenges. Drawing extensively on contemporary documents and oral testimony, Boahen provides a new perspective on the war.

"Boahen has done well to extol the virtues of this extraordinary woman, showing beyond doubt that she came to exercise a quite decisive influence on the course of the war even if the extent to which she herself actually engaged in combat remains moot," wrote Ivor Wilks in a review of Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1 in the Journal of African History. Raymond E. Dumett wrote in the Historian: "This is a well-researched, well-reasoned, and finely written book, which will long stand as the standard treatment of the great Queen Mother, Yaa Asantewaa, and the Asante-British War of 1900-01."

Boahen is the editor, with E. Akyeampong, N. Lawler, T.C. McCaskie, and I. Wilks, of "The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself" and Other Writings. Written by Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, the book represents what many scholars believe to be the earliest example of history writing in English by an African ruler. The history provides a detailed account of the Asante monarchy from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The book also includes other writings either by Agyeman Prempeh or about the ruler, as well as four introductory essays, including one by the author. These introductions help place the ruler and his West African kingdom of Asante (now Ghana) in context. The author introduces chapter two, which discusses Nana Agyeman Prempeh and other captives and their life in an exile community from 1900 to 1924.

"Over the past three decades, scholars have extensively explored oral history and oral tradition in Africa through the prisms of method, theory and content," commented Jean Allman in a review of "The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself" and Other Writings in the Journal of African History. "In contrast, African texts (with the important exception of Arabic documents) remain woefully underappreciated and understudied. ‘The History of Ashanti Kings’ … is an important reminder … that African history writing (outside the Muslim world) did not begin at the University of London or the University of Wisconsin."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

African Affairs, January, 1989, Christopher Fyfe, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 131.

American Historical Review, June, 1987, William B. Cohen, review of Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, p. 716; December, 1989, Katherine Harris, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 1448.

Choice, April, 1997, review of Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana: A Centenary History, 1876-1976, p. 1393.

English Historical Review, April, 1991, A.H.M. Kirk-Greene, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 542.

Historian, summer, 2006, Raymond E. Dumett, review of Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, p. 362.

International Journal of African Historical Studies, spring, 1990, Ed Ferguson, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 334; spring, 1998, John Parker, review of Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana, p. 453; summer, 2004, Trevor Getz, review of "The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself" and Other Writings, p. 543; spring, 2005, Natasha Gray, review of Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, pp. 383-385.

Journal of African History, August, 1988, John Longsdale, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 556; January, 1992, Kristin Mann, review of Africa under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, p. 151; October, 1997, Richard Rathbone, review of Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana, p. 506; July, 2004, Ivor Wilks, "A Woman and a War," p. 324; March, 2005, Jean Allman, "Precolonial History by an African Ruler," review of "The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself" and Other Writings, p. 170.

Research in African Literatures, spring, 1993, Victor T. LeVine, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 142.

Statesman, July 21, 2006, "Tributes to Prof. Albert Adu Boahen."

Times Literary Supplement, April 22, 1988, Christopher Fyfe, review of African Perspectives on Colonialism, p. 443.

ONLINE

Michigan State University Press,http://msupress.msu.edu/ (March 27, 2008), brief profile of author.

OBITUARIES:

PERIODICALS

Guardian (London, England), June 2, 2006, "Albert Adu Boahen: Historian Who Broke Ghanaian Dictator's Culture of Silence."

Independent (London, England), June 5, 2006, "Professor A. Adu Boahen: Historian Who Shone New Light on Africa's Past and Campaigned for Democracy in Ghana."

ONLINE

Ghanaweb.com,http://www.ghanaweb.com/ (June 2, 2006), Kwabena O. Akurang-Parry, "In Memoriam: An Appreciation of Professor A. Adu Boahen (1932-2006)"; (June 6, 2006), Kwame Donkoh Fordwor, "Tribute to Prof. Albert Kwadwo Adu Boahen."

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