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Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000

Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000

by James C. McCannJames C. McCann
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Sometime around 1500 A.D., an African farmer planted a maize seed imported from the New World. That act set in motion the remarkable saga of one of the world's most influential crops--one that would transform the future of Africa and of the Atlantic world. Africa's experience with maize is distinctive but also instructive from a global perspective: experts predict that by 2020 maize will become the world's most cultivated crop.

James McCann moves easily from the village level to the continental scale, from the medieval to the modern, as he explains the science of maize production and explores how the crop has imprinted itself on Africa's agrarian and urban landscapes. Today, maize accounts for more than half the calories people consume in many African countries. During the twentieth century, a tidal wave of maize engulfed the continent, and supplanted Africa's own historical grain crops--sorghum, millet, and rice. In the metamorphosis of maize from an exotic visitor into a quintessentially African crop, in its transformation from vegetable to grain, and from curiosity to staple, lies a revealing story of cultural adaptation. As it unfolds, we see how this sixteenth-century stranger has become indispensable to Africa's fields, storehouses, and diets, and has embedded itself in Africa's political, economic, and social relations.

The recent spread of maize has been alarmingly fast, with implications largely overlooked by the media and policymakers. McCann's compelling history offers insight into the profound influence of a single crop on African culture, health, technological innovation, and the future of the world's food supply.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674025578
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 09/15/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.94(h) x (d)

About the Author

James C. McCann is Professor of History and Associate Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University.

Table of Contents


1. Africa and the World Ecology of Maize

2. Naming the Stranger: Maize's Journey to Africa

3. Maize's Invention in West Africa

4. Seeds of Subversion in Two Peasant Empires

5. How Africa's Maize Turned White

6. African Maize, American Rust

7. Breeding SR-52: The Politics of Science and Race in Southern Africa

8. Maize and Malaria

9. Maize as Metonym in Africa's New Millennium

Appendix: Tables


Select Bibliography


Illustration Credits


What People are Saying About This

Joseph Miller

McCann's book is as amazing as its title - the botanical properties of the cultigen itself (clearly delineated for the botanically challenged), the continent's unique modern dependence on the crop, the complicated and varied political and economic histories of how it came to be that way, how his Ethiopian research partner's local knowledge connected maize with malaria, and more. Maize and Grace is a readable, highly original, penetrating and comprehensive study of exemplary quality.
Joseph Miller, University of Virginia

James C. Scott

A sweeping, deeply-learned, beautifully-written, and well-nigh comprehensive account of how maize changed Africa and how Africa changed maize. The level of botanical historical, cultural, and agricultural knowledge that underwrites this volume makes it a model of scholarship as meticulous as it is ambitious. Henceforth, none of my students will be released into the world without having read it.
James C. Scott, Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University

Dr. Alemneh Dejene

A captivating account of the introduction and spread of maize in Africa. This book provides excellent analysis of the legacy and opportunity of maize in addressing Africa's food crisis, as well as powerful insight into emerging social, cultural, health and environmental issues.
Dr. Alemneh Dejene, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Andrew Spielman

Maize transformed life in Africa, initially alleviating hunger during that crucial period before other crops ripened and now providing an increasingly important source of food, fodder, fuel and cash. McCann's eloquent narrative traces the path of this crop from its introduction as a snack into the land of Prester John to its present eminence throughout Africa.
Andrew Spielman, School of Public Health, Harvard University

T.S. Jayne

Maize and Grace offers a compelling counterpoint to the maize success story accepted by most agricultural economists. McCann sheds light on previously unexplored connections between the political, health, and food security dimensions of maize in Africa, some of which have major implications for development policy.
T.S. Jayne, Michigan State University

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