In the decades between the Berlin Conference that partitioned
Africa and the opening of the African Hall at the American Museum
of Natural History, Americans in several fields and from many
backgrounds argued that Africa had something to teach them.
Jeannette Eileen Jones traces the history of the idea of Africa
with an eye to recovering the emergence of a belief in "Brightest
Africa"-a tradition that runs through American cultural and
intellectual history with equal force to its "Dark Continent"
Jones skillfully weaves disparate strands of turn-of-the-century
society and culture to expose a vivid trend of cultural engagement
that involved both critique and activism. Filmmakers spoke out
against the depiction of "savage" Africa in the mass media while
also initiating a countertradition of ethnographic documentaries.
Early environmentalists celebrated Africa as a pristine continent
while lamenting that its unsullied landscape was "vanishing." New
Negro political thinkers also wanted to "save" Africa but saw its
fragility in terms of imperiled human promise. Jones illuminates
both the optimism about Africa underlying these concerns and the
racist and colonial interests these agents often nevertheless
served. The book contributes to a growing literature on the ongoing
role of global exchange in shaping the African American experience
as well as debates about the cultural place of Africa in American
Subjects: History, Anthropology
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