In 1947 Oliver became the first lecturer in African history at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, and so an originator of the academic study of precolonial Africa. Oliver's records of his professional life over five decades have apparently been superhumanly detailed. Thus, while the anecdotes of his first cross-continent research trips create sharp snapshots of African life, the relentless inclusion of minutiae later on (extensive lists of graduate students and their research topics, or the precise layouts of Oliver residences in England) makes it almost impossible to read every word. Those unfamiliar with precolonial African history will find their heads spinning, albeit pleasantly, from Oliver's breathless summaries of the far-flung historical and methodological issues he and his colleagues encountered. But these do give a feel for what the discipline of African history is likeits complexity, vastness, and peculiar historiographic problems. And Oliver's real story is just thisthe making of a discipline. It is one of the happier ironies of colonialism that an Africa-centered history of that continent should have been made possible by resources, institutions, and idealism to be found among its foreign rulers. It's exciting to read of an entire field's creation by a small group of dedicated and unusually curious scholars, and its rapid growth, fed by the abundant and challenging evidence ignored by their dismissively Eurocentric colleagues. The contemporary history-making of decolonization is gracefully absorbed into the narrative, as it seems to have been into Oliver's own appreciation of the continent.
While testing the general reader's patience at times, this should prove an exhaustive resource for intellectual historians and a fitting foundation myth for future Africanists to look back to.