Database Update and Concluding Thoughts

The work on the database of burial sites in Eastern Africa is progressing smoothly, but a project of this size will require constant attention.  I will attend to it for the next few months until I am sure that it represents a sizable portion of the many grave sites in that region of Africa.


Moving on, I have found my work this summer to be both fulfilling and entertaining.  I feel that the sources I have looked at – transcriptions of oral traditions, the English translation of Ibn Battuta’s West African travels, and various accounts of Arabic travelers in the Sahel – have helped me to gain a better understanding of what life was like in medieval West Africa.  That is not to say I have found anything conclusive about the Black Plague; far from it.  If I were to make any definite conclusions off of such a scant amount of information, I would be a poor student of history.  But what I researched does show potential.


In the sources, several pieces of information stand out – mentions of supernatural interventions, particular emphasis on the suddenness of the death of a leader, or simply details that seem interesting, like one author’s notice of the destruction of trees whenever a war leader happened to conquer a neighboring city.  These and many other instances bear further inquiry and will be addressed in due time, once I take into consideration the various factors surrounding these sources – the original translation, any secondary scholarship centered on these pieces that could shed light on the context, and inquiries into the period of time to see what other events occurred, so as to see what, if any, impact they had.


Ibn Battuta’s chronicle and its usefulness as a source are suspect, but that does not mean his entire work is without merit.  He provides vivid descriptions of several major cities and the various personalities of the men that he visited and stayed with during his time abroad.  However, his descriptions wax and wane throughout his account, making it appear that he may only have heard about towns second-hand, rather than visiting them himself.  More conclusive results can only be obtained after cross-referencing the English translation of his work with other translations, such as the Arabic or French versions.  Looking at the other work of Ibn Juzzay, the compiler of his work, would probably be fruitful, as well as Ibn Battuta’s other works on his travels in the Far East.  Yet one must always be careful, as the constant transcriptions and translations of his work may have distorted its original message.  With time, and a bit of luck, my colleagues and I may be able to find something conclusive with regards to his West African travels and state whether or not his work prevents the possibility of the Black Plague from having wrought havoc in West Africa.


This is all I have for now with respect to my summer research and I look forward to refining my conclusions and presenting my findings this fall.  Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity this summer.