Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199844395
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/2/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 107,602
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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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 "true" story?
Level 1: Reconstructing Abina's story
Level 2: Deconstructing the courtroom transcript
Level 3: Reconstructing Abina's "truths" or constructing our own?
Is this "authentic" history?
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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2013

    This comic book is aimed at college aged students who should not

    This comic book is aimed at college aged students who should not need pictures to learn history, this might be a good book for middle school students to be given some knowledge of African Studies, or even a History Methodology class, but to be required reading in an upper level African Studies class it is a bad joke. Getz gives the transcript of the case in the second part of the book, he added a great deal to the graphic history part to make it a story. He created the character of Abina from the court transcript, as it is the only record of her existence. This to me was like being told to watch Speilberg movies to understand history or given Mel Gibson as an example of Shakespeare. The transcript could have been used in a larger study of slavery in Africa, or economics in colonial Africa, but to try and use it as a stand alone primary source to create a secondary source.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2014

    A book I've read and immediately shared with history teachers fr

    A book I've read and immediately shared with history teachers from middle school to graduate school. A tremendous case for making history accessible and immersive, while teaching principles of historical narrative and the source and debate, upon which it depends. Beautifully illustrated. Representing a history that sorely needs a popular voice. This book should find a space in any world history class, as a supplement or as a required text. Hopefully the authors continue to promote and find ways to make this word more broadly and globally accessible. 

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  • Posted February 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Courageous Gold Coast Girl's Inspirational Illustrated History

    Readers will be captivated and inspired by this graphic page-turner of a young African girl's trial in Africa's Gold Coast. While Albina's experience of being separated from family and friends early in life and sold to a series of slave owners was not unusual in 1876 Ghana, it was extraordinary that Albina not only escaped captivity but subsequently brought her slave owner to trial. Fascinating aspects of Gold Coast daily life, social customs and political dynamics are presented as part of this true life story that educates all levels of readers while being exceptionally entertaining.

    Authors Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke have created an artistic and historical tour de force that succeeds both as a beautifully illustrated graphic novel and a comprehensive all-in-one teaching guide. The graphic illustrations depict emotional tension and conflict so realistically that the illustrated first half of this book will likely be read in one sitting. Several additional sections in this book provide aspiring forensic historians with just the right amount of background explanation and insight, so as to encourage development of a more discerning eye and mindset. Getz explains the scholarly process of constructing and deconstructing narratives from the past with such zest as to stimulate discussions about how one might recognize many examples of reading with and "against the grain" in order to see both what a person was trying to convey and what they were unintentionally communicating.

    Abina and the Important Men is highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of 19th century African Gold Coast, historical relationships between England and Africa, gender studies, how history is interpreted, and the topic of slavery.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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