Continental Drift : African Europeans: An Untold History

 Continental Drift: Two continents and two millennia of extraordinary African Europeans.
Christienna Fryar, January 2021, History Today



Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History begins in 23 BC and ends in the present day, spanning two continents, from Sweden to Senegal, from Portugal to St Petersburg. Inevitably such ambitious scope requires a focus. Otele, who became the UK’s first female Black history professor in 2018, covers the terrain by orienting her study around extraordinary figures from each period. 

Beginning in the Roman era, Otele explores how officials such as Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Emperor Septimius Severus navigated their African and Roman identities. Staying in the Mediterranean, a discussion of 16th-century Florence and Spain focuses on the lives of the Duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici and the Spaniard Juan Latino, a Latin scholar and poet who had been enslaved for the first few decades of his life. Otele then moves north to the 17th-century Dutch Republic. As the Dutch invested in global trade, the country’s involvement in Atlantic slavery grew. Like Latino, Jacobus Capitein was also originally enslaved. Born in West Africa, he became one of the first Africans to study in Europe, at the University of Leiden. Eventually, he returned to the Gold Coast as a Reformed Church missionary, yet his legacy is far from clear: published in 1742, his dissertation De servitude, libertati christianae non contraria defended the right of Christians to own slaves.

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