A History of Namibia

From the Beginning to 1990

April 2011 9781849040914 288pp
Temporarily out of stock


In 1990 Namibia gained its independence after a decades-long struggle against South African rule – and, before that, against German colonialism. This book, the first new scholarly general history of Namibia in two decades, provides a fresh synthesis of these events, and of the much longer pre-colonial period. A History of Namibia opens with a chapter by John Kinahan covering the evidence of human activity in Namibia from the earliest times to the nineteenth century, and for the first time making a synthesis of current archaeological research widely available to non-specialists. In subsequent chapters, Marion Wallace weaves together the most up-to-date academic research (in English and German) on Namibian history, from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. She explores histories of migration, production and power in the pre-colonial period, the changes triggered by European expansion, and the dynamics of the period of formal colonialism. The coverage of German rule includes a full chapter on the genocide of 1904-8. Here, Wallace outlines the history and historiography of the wars fought in central and southern Namibia, and the subsequent mass imprisonment of defeated Africans in concentration camps. The final two chapters analyse the period of African nationalism, apartheid and war between 1946 and 1990. The book’s conclusion looks briefly at the development of Namibia in the two decades since independence. A History of Namibia provides an invaluable introduction and reference source to the past of a country that is often neglected, despite its significance in the history of the region and, indeed, for that of European colonialism and international relations. It makes accessible the latest research on the country, illuminates current controversies, puts forward new insights, and suggests future directions for research. The book’s extensive bibliography adds to its usefulness for scholar and general reader alike.


‘Perceptive, multi-layered and judicious, Marion Wallace’s comprehensive History of Namibia is a veritable tour de force. Based on a deep knowledge of the existing historiography but also of the most recent research in Namibia itself, over two-thirds of the volume deals with the history of the region and its peoples since 1870, and ends with a deft summary of the period since independence. Yet Wallace—and the archaeologist, John Kinahan, who contributes the first chapter —are also to be congratulated on their decision to root this account in the far deeper history of south-west Africa. The volume will surely prove indispensable to anyone with an interest in Namibian, southern African, and, indeed, African history more widely.’ — Shula Marks, Emeritus Professor and Hon. Fellow, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

‘This first history of independent Namibia takes its small, ethnically diverse, largely pastoral community, in a vast piece of Africa, through colonialism, dispossession, genocide and war to the birth of  “a stable, peaceful, relatively prosperous nation state.” A compelling story, brilliantly told.’ — Randolph Vigne, writer, researcher and campaigner on Namibia since the late 1950s

‘A comprehensive history which will be essential reading for anyone interested in moving beyond the shallow histories contained in tourist guides. This well crafted, fair, insightful and sensitive volume will appeal not only to the general reader but will be compulsory reading for scholars as well. Wallace’s book is destined to become an instant classic.’ — Robert Gordon, Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, University of Vermont

‘Marion Wallace achieves nothing less then the first modern general history of Namibia. Her erudite treatment of the various aspects of Namibian history, from the German colonial racial state and the first genocide of the twentieth century to the de facto annexation by South Africa and the very late independence, will hugely benefit scholars and students of Namibia and southern Africa more generally.’ — Jürgen Zimmerer, Professor of African History, University of Hamburg

‘An indispensable introduction to the history of Namibia for all interested in the country and her people.’ — Africa Review of Books

‘Rarely, if ever, do academic histories reflect … the whole gamut from precolonial to postcolonial pasts. Marion Wallace has remedied this problem in a magisterial new book, A History of Namibia. … Her goal here is synthesis and perspective and she succeeds admirably on both fronts. … At the same time that Namibians across ethnicities are well served by, and well represented in, one of the first survey texts of Namibian history, anyone interested in the development of social systems and African politics writ large will benefit from reading, and rereading, this book.’ — Mail and Guardian, South Africa

‘Clearly written with impressive documentation resembling that of research monographs, this is among the best African country histories. … Highly recommended’ — CHOICE

‘Wallace hopes not simply to have written a reference book but also to have generated new debate and research on the history of one of Africa’s least understood and least studied countries. That she has done extremely well. Scholars and students of Namibia and southern Africa will hugely enjoy and benefit from reading this book.’ – International Journal of African Historical Studies

‘…without a doubt the best account of the history [of Namibia] to date.’ — Historische Zeitschrift


Marion Wallace is African curator at the British Library and a historian of Namibia.

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