An Untold History
A dazzling history of African Europeans, revealing old and diverse links between the two continents.
A Guardian Best Book of 2020, a History Today Book of the Year 2020, and Waterstones Best Book of 2020
Longlisted for The Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2021
As early as the third century, St Maurice—an Egyptian—became leader of the legendary Roman Theban Legion. Ever since, there have been richly varied encounters between those defined as ‘Africans’ and those called ‘Europeans’. Yet Africans and African Europeans are still widely believed to be only a recent presence in Europe.
Olivette Otele traces a long African European heritage through the lives of individuals both ordinary and extraordinary. She uncovers a forgotten past, from Emperor Septimius Severus, to enslaved Africans living in Europe during the Renaissance, and all the way to present-day migrants moving to Europe’s cities. By exploring a history that has been long overlooked, she sheds light on questions very much alive today—on racism, identity, citizenship, power and resilience.
African Europeans is a landmark account of a crucial thread in Europe’s complex history.
‘Fascinating … One of the book’s great pleasures is its cast of memorable characters [and] though this is a work of synthesis, it’s an unusually generous and densely layered one.’ — The Guardian
‘Superbly researched … This richly layered history brims with stories of how African Europeans contributed to the culture, politics and language in the countries they lived in … This book is more than just the stories of interesting lives; it is also a careful study of the scholarship on these individuals.’ — Prospect
‘A brilliant, important and beautifully written book that forces us to think about the past differently.’ — Peter Frankopan, History Today Books of the Year 2020
‘African Europeans is an immense accomplishment and an urgent intervention from one of the most important scholars of the African diaspora working today.’ — History Today
‘As well as demystifying the longstanding and complicated presence of African people in Europe, this book … explains the role that complex intersections of class, skin colour, nationality and gender played in the nuanced experiences of African individuals.’ — BBC History Magazine
‘A thrilling, informative read.’ — LSE Review of Books
‘Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History is superb. Enlightening and erudite, it deploys awesome range, narrative panache and deep scholarship to overthrow conventional wisdom and show the neglected role of Africans in European history from ancient times.’ — Simon Sebag Montefiore
‘Rich in storytelling, discovery, question-making and a way forward, African Europeans covers no old ground. This is new—and European history itself is not complete without this book.’ — Bonnie Greer, playwright, novelist and broadcaster
‘This is a book I have been waiting for my whole life. It goes beyond the numerous individual black people in Europe over millennia, to show us the history of the very ideas of blackness, community and identity on the continent that has forgotten its own past. A necessary and exciting read.’ — Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)
‘Yoking together the “African” and the “European”, too often treated as entirely separate categories, Otele skilfully invites her reader to navigate the multiple intersecting worlds inhabited by her characters. This is fundamentally reparative writing that undoes the cultivated ignorance around race and blackness in Europe and shows us what is irrefutably true—that black history is European history, indeed, world history.’ — Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire
‘An extensive rendition of African European history from the third century to the 21st… A thorough, dynamic, accessible narrative that pulls together disparate strands into a unique, fresh history.’ — Kirkus Reviews
‘A magisterial book—brilliant, humane and gripping, and a call to arms for an end to violence and subjugation. Otele explores the individual lives of African Europeans against great shifts of history, and the result is a masterpiece.’ — Kate Williams, historian and broadcaster
‘This is a book that all must read—now. This story has been lived not just for centuries but for millennia, all the while being consistently suppressed, denied or untold. Searing scholarship and heightened humanity combine to illuminate, appal, explore and ultimately inspire.’ — Bettany Hughes, historian and broadcaster
‘The scope of Otele’s research is awesome, as is her unflinching analysis of the shifting prisms through which African Europeans—particularly women—have had to contest their identities. Full of powerful stories with deep roots and livid scars, African Europeans is scholarly, revelatory and important.’ — Jessie Childs, author of God’s Traitors and Henry VIII’s Last Victim
‘Fascinating. Otele reconnects us with the men and women who came from Africa to shape European history: rulers, diplomats, slaves and soldiers—above all, our ancestors.’ — Dan Snow, historian and broadcaster
‘The first survey this century of the fascinating 2,000-year-long history of Africans in Europe. Otele’s masterful narrative weaves together the lives of prominent figures—St Maurice, Jacobus Capitein, Manga Bell, Paulette and Jane Nardal—with those of everyday people.’ — Hakim Adi, author of Pan-Africanism: A History
‘Olivette Otele is a scholar with a vivid intellect and a deep sense of right and wrong. African Europeans forces us to reassess the past so that we can imagine a different future.’ — Fiammetta Rocco, chief culture writer, The Economist
‘A nuanced, thoughtful retelling of the stories of African Europeans, with extraordinary scope. Otele triumphs in her commitment to countering the experiences of the privileged with those of the enslaved. This is a learned, impassioned and searingly important history.’ — Suzannah Lipscomb, historian and broadcaster
‘Important, exciting and illuminating. Otele takes us through centuries of history we think we know, but shifts the lens onto those who have been deliberately excluded from traditional historical narratives. This book will change how you look at the past and introduce you to wonderful characters with rich and revealing lives.’ — Janina Ramirez, historian and broadcaster
Olivette Otele is Professor of the History of Slavery at the University of Bristol and Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society. She is an expert on the history of people of African descent and the links between memory, geopolitics and legacies of French and British colonialism.