African History

Yennenga the Svelte–the Mother of the Mossi

I’ll warn you up front, the story of Yennenga the Svelte is going to feel more like a fairy tale than a historical biography. We know her story only from the oral traditions of the Mossi people, which may have some non-historical additions and embellishments. But then again, they may tell the story exactly the…

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The Question of the Queen Mother

Speaking of the linguistic booby traps that await the unwary in the pursuit of global history, as I believe we were, I offer you the example of the Queen Mother. In English, the term “Queen Mother” generally refers to the widow of a king* who is the mother of a reigning monarch. The term has…

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The Storied City

In 2013, Charlie English, then international news editor of The Guardian, became obsessed with the news coming out of Timbuktu. Jihadists were destroying the city’s religious monuments because they were not properly Islamic and librarians were smuggling medieval books out of the city in order to preserve them from the jihadists. He was not the…

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