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The Lion’s Historian: Africa’s Animal Past by Sandra Swart

Book Launch, Public Event

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There is an African proverb: ‘Until the lion has a historian of his own, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’. This book is an acceptance of that challenge, to write a brand-new kind of history, with the author becoming The Lion’s Historian. As a species, we are not alone. But for too long our history has been written as though we are. This book insists on a multi-species retelling of our more-than-human past, reconstructing a shifting series of significant inter-species relationships – from quirky idiosyncratic connections to those that triggered major changes in History itself. The book scours the archives to find both the real animal and the stories we have told about them for millennia. The animals in this book – elephants, hippos, okapi, lions, jackals, cows, sheep, horses, white ants, quagga, Nazi cattle, police dogs, and baboons – are chosen strategically to highlight different facets of our shared past. With this animal-centric lens, decades of research are brought together in a collection that takes animals seriously but in very different ways.

Sandra Swart is Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She received her DPhil in Modern History from Oxford University in 2001, while simultaneously obtaining an MSc (with distinction) in Environmental Change and Management, also at Oxford. She studies the socio-environmental history of southern Africa, with a particular focus on the shifting relationship between humans and animals. She is an editor of the Brill book series African and Asian Anthropocene: Studies in the Environmental Humanities, an editor of the South African Historical Journal, past president of the Southern African Historical Society, and current co-vice President of European Society for Environmental History. It has been her privilege to supervise 17 successful doctoral students from Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe – she is currently supervising seven. She has authored and co-authored over 80 peer-reviewed articles and chapters in academic books. She is the co-author with G. Bankoff of Breeds of Empire: The ‘invention’ of the horse in the Philippines and Southern Africa, 1500-1950 (2007); co-editor, with L. van Sittert, of Canis Africanis: a dog history of southern Africa (2008) and co-editor with E. O’Gorman, M. Carey and W.San Martín of The Routledge Handbook of Environmental History (2023). She is sole author of Riding High – Horses, Humans and History in South Africa (2010) and The Lion’s Historian – Africa’s Animal Past (Johannesburg: Jacana Press, 2023).


Date and time

Tuesday, 5 December 2023

17:00 – 20:00​

All times are in SAST (UTC+2)


STIAS Wallenberg Research Centre

STIAS, Marais Road, Mostertsdrift

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Charles Darwin jotted in his notebook in 1838, ‘He who understands the baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.’ Essentially, I am trying to answer Darwin’s call. I want to...

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