“Phil Curtin is one of the most important historians to stride across the fields of academe in the twentieth century. His memoir tracks the emergence of American interest in and engagement with the wider world. It is both a self-assessment of his intellectual life and a valuable chapter in the history of higher education.”
James L. A. Webb, Jr., author of Tropical Pioneers: Human Agency and Ecological Change in the Highlands of Sri Lanka, 1800-1900
“It is one of the most successful memoirs to present the social background of a historian…It is now possible to see how family and social upbringing shape not only the trajectories of historians but the subjects they choose to write about.”
“It is difficult to think of any historian writing and teaching over the past half century whose work has been as influential in such a diverse array of subfields with history and related social science disciplines…. ”
International Journal of African Historical Studies
In the 1950s, professional historians claiming to specialize in tropical Africa were no more than a handful. The teaching of world history was confined to high school courses, and even those were focused on European history, with a chapter added to account for the history of East and South Asia. The change over the ensuing decades was revolutionary.
Philip D. Curtin was a leader among a new generation of historians that emerged after the Second World War. Written with characteristic economy and telling detail, On the Fringes of History: A Memoir follows Curtin from his beginnings in central West Virginia in the 1920s, through a distinguished academic career in which Curtin founded African studies at the University of Wisconsin. He began the programs in comparative world history at Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins, producing many of the most influential historians and Africanists from the 1950s to today.
Always an independent thinker and controversial figure, Curtin revived the study of the Atlantic slave trade. His career stands as an example of the kind of dissatisfaction and struggles that brought about a sea change in higher education. On the Fringes of History traces the movement of African history and world history from the fringes of the history profession into the mainstream. This stunningly illustrated memoir illuminates both the career of a leading historian and the history of twentieth-century academia.
Philip D. Curtin was Herbert Baxter Adams Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. His books include The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census and Cross-Cultural Trade in World History.
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