09/05/08

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AFRICA EXPLAINED

“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.

In his book, Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, published by Westview Press, Curt 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. Curt 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 American's hold about Africa, Curt believes they include the ideas that all of Africa is in trouble, 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 to its problems," Curt explained.


"Africa still symbolizes for us the primitive, both in its positive and negative senses, prime (how life ought to be) and primeval (full of savage animals and natives)."
— Curt Keim


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.

Curt 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 Curt. "For some examples, she wrote critiques included in the book. She also watched current feature films set in Africa and wrote critiques included in the book.

"Although the occasional newspaper headline alerts us to genocide, AIDS, malaria, or civil war in Africa, most Americans know very little about the continent," Curt 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, with the trade market as a secondary focus. Publisher Westview Press has promoted the book to African studies professors; the book also was featured at the International Studies Association annual conference in March. Westview Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, is planning additional direct mailings and promotions. Visit the publishers web site for Mistaking Africa.

Curt also is author of African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire (with Enid Schildkrout) and editor of The Scramble for Art in Central Africa.