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Abina and the Important Men

A Graphic History

Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke

Publication Date - September 2011

ISBN: 9780199844395

208 pages
7 x 10 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $15.95

The first ever graphic history from Oxford University Press


Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated "graphic history" based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a microhistory that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made.

The story of Abina Mansah--a woman "without history" who was wrongfully enslaved, escaped to British-controlled territory, and then took her former master to court--takes place in the complex world of the Gold Coast at the onset of late nineteenth-century colonialism. Slavery becomes a contested ground, as cultural practices collide with an emerging wage economy and British officials turn a blind eye to the presence of underpaid domestic workers in the households of African merchants. The main scenes of the story take place in the courtroom, where Abina strives to convince a series of "important men"--a British judge, two Euro-African attorneys, a wealthy African country "gentleman," and a jury of local leaders--that her rights matter. "Am I free?" Abina inquires. Throughout both the court case and the flashbacks that dramatically depict her life in servitude, these men strive to "silence" Abina and to impose their own understandings and meanings upon her. The story seems to conclude with the short-term success of the "important men," as Abina loses her case. But it doesn't end there: Abina is eventually redeemed. Her testimony is uncovered in the dusty archives by Trevor Getz and, through Liz Clarke's illustrations, becomes a graphic history read by people around the world. In this way, the reader takes an active part in the story along with the illustrator, the author, and Abina herself.

Following the graphic history in Part I, Parts II-V provide detailed historical context for the story, a reading guide that reconstructs and deconstructs the methods used to interpret the story, and strategies for using Abina in various classroom settings.

About the Author(s)

Trevor R. Getz is Professor of History at San Francisco State University. He is the author of Modern Imperialism and Colonialism: A Global Perspective (2010) and Slavery and Reform in West Africa (2004). He is also the editor for the new Oxford University Press series, African World Histories, the first volumes of which will appear in 2012.

Liz Clarke is a professional artist and graphic designer based in Cape Town, South Africa.


"Trevor Getz's Abina and the Important Men is a tremendous step forward for the world history community."--Journal of World History

"This is a universal story of deception and truth that will appeal to anyone who has sought greater independence from the obligations of family, employer, or government."--Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, University of California, Berkeley

"The young Abina Mansah lost her 1876 suit for freedom, but her voice still resounds in the transcript of her testimony. From that dusty transcript, Trevor Getz brings her struggle graphically to life. He beautifully surrounds her sad tale with resources showing its links within West Africa and beyond. Through Getz and in the engaging images of Liz Clarke, Abina affirms the mark that each person can make on the world."--Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh

"Trevor Getz has pushed the envelope of Africanist scholarship. With Abina and the Important Men he offers unique insight into such contentious topics as personhood, gender, slavery, and colonialism. Along the way, he provides teachers and readers with a powerful tool for investigating the process of giving meaning to historical documents and narratives. This is exactly the sort of work that will help African history escape the dark and dusty halls of academia and help make it relevant to a wider audience. This is GENIUS."--Jonathan T. Reynolds, Northern Kentucky University

"This is a superb introduction to the way that historians construct the past, to the history of slavery in Africa, and to colonialism. Getz's analysis of how he reads the document and the problems he had in building the narrative displays an ability to contextualize the document, and to read it both with and against the grain."--Martin Klein, University of Toronto

"I hope that this book will serve as a model to many historians with compelling stories to tell. To tell our stories in a compelling and unconventional way does not mean that rigorous scholarship needs to be compromised. Rather, it shows that rigorous scholarship can go hand in hand with speaking to multiple audiences."--Heather Streets, Washington State University, Pullman

"Getz has crafted a gem, a valuable contribution to African studies and the world history classroom. The book combines a well-informed pedagogy with current historiographical trends. Its multi-layered format delves deeply and lyrically into Abina's world of image and word."--Candice Goucher, Washington State University, Vancouver

"This is an important book that takes history into the public domain in a very accessible form."--Journal of African History

Table of Contents

    Table of Contents

    Part I: The graphic history

    Part II: The transcript

    Part III: Historical context
    The Gold Coast, c.1876
    The British Civilizing Mission
    The Civilizing Mission in the Gold Coast
    Slavery in the Gold Coast
    The Atlantic Slave Trade and Abolition
    Abina Mansah and the Important Men

    Part IV: Reading guide
    Whose Story is This?
    Level One: A staircase of voices
    Level 2: Silences
    Level 3: Representation and Translation
    Is this a Level 1: Reconstructing Abina's story
    Level 2: Deconstructing the courtroom transcript
    Level 3: Reconstructing Abina's Is this Level 1: Local forms of history-telling
    Level 2: The personal and the collective authentic
    Level 3: History as a forum or a temple

    Part IV: Abina in the classroom
    Abina for the world history classroom
    Abina for the African history/African studies classroom
    Abina and colonialism
    Abina and the history of slavery
    Gendering Abina's story

    Reading questions
    Introductory questions, for students at all levels
    Questions for students at the university or college level
    Additional questions for advanced undergraduate and graduate students
    Timeline of Events
    Further Resources
    Abina Mansah
    Slavery and Abolition on the Gold Coast
    About Colonialism and the Gold Coast
    General histories of Africa
    Imperialism and Colonialism
    Gender and African History
    Web Resources

    List of maps and images
    1) Location of Gold Coast, 16th-18th century
    2) Language distribution in Ghana today
    3) Asante c. 1700
    4) Asante and the Gold Coast in the 1870s, showing sites of Abina Mansah's enslavement
    5) Page of transcript from Regina v. Quamina Eddoo Further readings

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