Book Review: Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History. Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN 9780199844395
[image of book cover from Oxford University Press, see: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/abina-and-the-important-men-9780190238742?cc=us&lang=en& ]
An unfortunate consequence of the “age of information” we live in is that people’s attention spans and tolerance for long readings has shortened significantly. Graphic histories such as Abina and the Important Men might be a new trend in the academic world as an answer to this phenomena.
Abina and the Important Men is a relatively short graphic history that depicts a brief period of time in 1876, Gold Coast of West Africa (present day southern Ghana). It is non-fictional historical study based on an interpretation of a court case transcript found in the historical archives of the country. The book was written by Trevor Getz, a historian and author and Liz Clarke, a graphic artist and illustrator. There are five parts to the book; in the first part, with the help of graphic illustrations we are taken through the story of how Abina Mansah charged Quamina Eddoo, an important and wealthy man in the Gold Coast, with the crime of having kept her as a slave. At the time the Gold Coast was under the British colony and was subject to British laws, which prohibited slavery. Although Abina was unsuccessful in the end, the story brings to light issues such as the balance between justice and “keeping the peace” and the conception of slavery and rights at the time.
The authors did a good job in providing context and illustrating the validity of the story of Abina. The second part of the book provides the actual words written in their primary evidence (the transcript). This allows the reader to make interpretations his/her own and decide if the authors presented a legitimate one. The third part gives a thorough context to the story by providing information about the early history of the Gold Coast, including its inhabitants and various leaders. It familiarises the reader on the practice of slavery both in the Gold Coast and in the broader world at the time and gives further descriptions of the specific people in the story (from what is found in other historical documents and oral histories). Finally in the fourth part, the authors engage in explaining the process through which they came to their interpretation of the text. They do this by providing philosophical, ethical and methodological answers to the questions “Whose story is this? Is it a true story? Is it an authentic story?” in three levels of complexity.
Multiple times within the book the authors mention the reason behind their efforts towards this project; they wanted to bring to light a part of history that had been forgotten and ignored by historians and use it to bring more insight towards the lives of the people. The book did just that. It created a way in which the reader could really understand that period in time. It allowed the reader to connect with Abina and understand her struggles in the context of where and when she lived. Unlike most history books that simply state names, dates and events this one encourages the reader to look beyond and explore the real lives of people we study.
The fifth part of the book deals specifically with how to utilize the book in a classroom setting. It explores different facets of the story and how it might apply to different studies like Africa, gender and slavery. It even has a list of reading questions designed for students at different levels (high school, college and advanced undergraduate and graduate students). Depending on how deeply and focused (towards a certain topic) one is when reading the book, it can be used to examine a multitude of issues in a historical context. It is, of course based on primary material that covers a very short amount of time and a limited area in history so the text might not be as useful for studies with a broader scope.
Abina and the Important Men is the first of its kind and shows a promising future for similar texts. It utilizes real historical evidence and comes up with a way to convey history in a more approachable and relatable manner. Its breakdown simplifies the process of understanding history and its ramifications.
Eleni serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu