Fisher, Humphrey J(ohn) 1933-
FISHER, Humphrey J(ohn) 1933-
PERSONAL: Born September 20, 1933, in Dunedin, New Zealand; son of Allan G. B. and E. A. (Pope) Fisher; married Helga H. A. Kricke, 1958; children: Clemens, Duncan, Crispin, Thomas. Education: Attended Deep Springs Junior College, 1950-52; Harvard University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1955; Oxford University, D.Phil., 1959. Religion: Quaker.
ADDRESSES: Home—66 Ormond Ave., Hampton, Middlesex, England. Office—School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London WC1, England.
CAREER: University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, England, 1952—, began as lecturer, became reader in African history, became emeritus professor of history.
MEMBER: Association of University Teachers, African Studies Association, Phi Beta Kappa.
(With father, Allan G. B. Fisher) Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa: The Institution in Saharan and Sudanic Africa and the Trans-Saharan Trade, C. Hurst (New York, NY), 1970, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971, revised version published as Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, New York University Prress (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and translator with father, Allan G. B. Fisher) Gustav Nachtigal, Sahara and Sudan, Volume IV: Wadai and Darfur, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1972, Volume I: Tripoli and Fezzan, Tibesti or Tu, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1974, Volume II: Kawar, Bornu, Kanem, Borku, Ennedi, C. Hurst (London, England), 1978, Volume III: The Chad Basin and Bagirmi, Humanities Press International (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1987.
(Editor, with Nehemia Levtzion) Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa, L. Rienner (Boulder, CO), 1987.
(Editor, with David Parkin and Lionel Caplan) The Politics of Cultural Performance, Berghahn Books (Providence, RI), 1996.
Contributor to Journal of African History and to other journals.
SIDELIGHTS: Humphrey J. Fisher is emeritus professor of history at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. Born in New Zealand, Fisher has specialized in the religious history of precolonial Africa, and particularly in its Islamic roots. In collaboration and alone, he has also written, translated, or edited works about European travelers in Africa, such as Gustav Nachtigal, and about slavery in tropical Africa.
Working with his father, Allan G. B. Fisher, the author translated, edited, and wrote the introduction for Nachtigal's Sahara and Sudan, a "unique classic of mid-nineteenth-century travel in the Eastern Sahara and its southern borderlands," according to H. T. Norris in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and Africa Studies. The four-volume work spanned fifteen years of work by the Fishers, bringing this long out-of-print and rare book back to availability. Norris, reviewing Volume II, Kawar, Bornu, Kanem, Borku, Ennedi, commented, "One can readily see why this series of English translations . . . received favourable, even enthusiastic, comments from reviewers in several disciplines." The same contributor went on to note that "at least one reviewer has hailed the series as perhaps the major contribution to African history in the last decade." Norris also commented that the "excellence of the translation cannot be praised too highly." In a review of Volume III, The Chad Basin and Bagirmi, Dierk Lange, writing in the Journal of African History, found that the Fishers' "wide range of interests precluded them from merely supplying a translation of Nachtigal's German, though this is so carefully rendered into English that translation would certainly have been an admirable end in itself." Rather, according to Lange, the translators "enriched Nachtigal's own work" by supplying a more complete index and by adding footnotes and references to more contemporary publications.
Working with Nehemia Levtzion, Fisher edited Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa, a 1987 collection of nine essays centering on the relations between rural Islam and cities in West Africa. For Murray Last, writing in the Journal of African History, this was "overall, for the historian, . . . a useful collection which scotches, once again, the hoary notion that West African Islam is just an urban phenomenon." Reviewing the same title in the Journal of Modern African Studies, Jibrin Ibrahim wrote that the editors, rather than providing a "systematic analysis of either rural or urban Islam in West Africa," have instead presented "an interesting collection of case studies." Ibrahim also noted of Fisher's contribution to the collection, the final chapter titled "Liminality, Hijira and the City," that it "opens an important debate on the possibility of evolving a unified theoretical approach in the life-cycles of religions."
Fisher also served as editor, along with David Parkin, of The Politics of Cultural Performance, a collection dedicated to a long-time professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Abner Cohen. The essays in this volume deal with such cultural performance and ritual as the singing and dancing of Samburu boys to attain "moranhood," and cultural performance of British Pakistanis. For Mario I. Aguilar of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, "the strength of the volume comes . . . from the fact that it provides continuity to the study of ethnicity in social anthropology, and can serve as a solid collection of comparative ethnographies."
Fisher turns his attention to slavery in Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, a book that explores the little-known aspect of slave trading by Muslims. While most focus has been placed on the Atlantic slave trade from West Africa to England and the United States, much less has been written about that which supplied slaves for the Near East and North Africa. Fisher sets out to shed light on that neglected history and, according to Times Higher Education Supplement contributor Peter Shinnie, is both "scholarly and detailed" in his account. An updated revision of Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa: The Institution in Saharan and Sudanic Africa and the Trans-Saharan Trade, a 1970 work written with his father, the book "examines with care the ambivalent Muslim attitude to slavery, in which taking slaves in jihad was not only permitted but encouraged, while taking fellow Muslims was forbidden," noted Shinnie. Fisher also details the use of such slaves for servants, concubines, soldiers, and agricultural workers, much of his anecdotal information coming from Nachtigal. Martin A. Klein, writing in the Journal of African History, felt that while Fisher's book "will be useful to students doing research on slavery," it was also disappointing. For Klein, the author "totally ignores most of what has been written about slavery in Muslim Africa over the last 25 years." Reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, Gervase Clarence-Smith was more positive, calling the work the "culmination of a lifetime's academic study of Africa." As Clarence-Smith further commented, "The chapters are organized by theme, with an exhaustive examination of almost every aspect of slavery and the lives of slaves." Though Clarence-Smith faulted Fisher for "uneven coverage" and a "tendency to lose sight of Islam," he also noted that the "great strength of Fisher's book lies in the immediacy of his descriptions of slavery."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 44, number 44, 1981, H. T. Norris, review of Sahara and Sudan, pp. 428-429.
Journal of African History, Volume 28, number 3, 1987, Murray Last, review of Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa, p. 467; Volume 32, number 1, 1991, Dierk Lange, review of Sahara and Sudan, pp. 150-152; July, 2003, Martin A. Klein, review of Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, pp. 346-347.
Journal of Modern African Studies, December, 1990, Jibrin Ibrahim, review of Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa, pp. 715-716.
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, September, 1997, Mario I. Aguilar, review of The Politics of Cultural Performance, pp. 642-643.
Times Higher Education Supplement, August 23, 2002, Peter Shinnie, review of Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa.
Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 2002, Gervase Clarence-Smith, review of Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, pp. 7-8.
School of Oriental and African Studies Web site,http://www.soas.ac.uk/ (February 8, 2004).*