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Moravian Professor’s Book Explains Misconceptions about Africa

"Africa still symbolizes for us the primitive, both in its positive and negative senses,”— Author Curtis Keim

Bethlehem, Pa., November 21, 2008— “For many Americans the mention of Africa immediately conjures up images of safaris, ferocious animals, strangely dressed tribesmen, and impenetrable jungles,” says Curtis Keim, professor of history and political science at Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pa.

In his book, Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, published by Westview Press, Keim delves into the corners of American consciousness to examine misperceptions about Africa in advertising, movies, amusement parks, and children’s books. He directly confronts many myths most people hold about Africa, including stereotypes about cannibalism, tribalism, racial theories of evolution, and big-game safaris.

Now in its second edition, Mistaking Africa looks at the historical evolution of this mindset and examines the role that popular media play in the creation of our mental images of Africa. Keim addresses the most prevalent myths and preconceptions and demonstrates how these prevent a true understanding of the enormously diverse peoples and cultures of Africa.

As for the biggest myths Americans hold about Africa, Keim believes they include the ideas that Africa has no viable future and that Africans cannot find solutions to their own problems. "The converse of that is the idea that we know what is best for Africa and can supply Africa with solutions," Keim explained.

Updated throughout, the second edition includes an entirely revised chapter on Africa in images, which analyzes portrayals of Africa in popular media, including print advertising by corporations such as Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, IBM, Vogue magazine, Honda, and Snapple. New to the second edition as well is an appendix for learning more about Africa.

Keim utilized the assistance of Moravian College student Christina Townsend ’08. “In addition to reading the entire text and making suggestions, Christina conducted a great deal of research on the Internet, looking for current examples of ways that Americans mistake and misuse Africa,” noted Keim.

“Although the occasional newspaper headline alerts us to genocide, AIDS, malaria, or civil war in Africa, most Americans know very little about the continent,” Keim said. “Yet we still carry strong mental images of Africa, which are reflected in American advertising, movies, amusement parks, cartoons, and many other corners of our society. Few think to question these perceptions or how they came to be so deeply lodged in the collective American consciousness.”

The 256-page paperback is intended for the course market and libraries. Visit the publishers web site for Mistaking Africa.

Keim is professor of history and political science at Moravian College. The recipient of the College’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, he is the author of African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire (with Enid Schildkrout) and editor of The Scramble for Art in Central Africa.

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at www.moravian.edu.