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Response to Review of Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror

I am grateful for the effort to which Mr. Robinson went to read my book and to write such an extensive critique. Unfortunately, he misunderstands the purpose of Cambridge's New Approaches to African History series and the book’s target audience.

Mr. Robinson is dissatisfied with the book’s format – a ‘sweeping narrative of foreign intervention on the African continent since 1945’ – that covers too much terrain and offers conclusions that are ‘are unsurprising and unspectacular to anyone but a novice on post-World War II African history’. He also refers to a ‘misguided element of the text’s construction and overall planning: minimal footnoting, with a focus on ‘suggested reading’ sections at the end of each case study’.

As noted in the book's front matter, Cambridge's New Approaches to African History series ‘is designed to introduce students to current findings and new ideas in history … Each volume summarizes the state of knowledge on a particular subject for a student who is new to the field’. While the books may ‘introduce debates on historiographical or substantive issues and may argue for a particular point of view’, their purpose is not to introduce new primary research or to advance new theories that might be of more interest to specialists in the field. Their format, which includes a minimum of footnotes and theoretical language, ‘allows the studies to be used as modules in general courses on African history and world history’.

In other words, this book was not intended to advance new theories, present the results of new primary research, or provide a detailed survey of new literature. Indeed, the target audience is undergraduate students and general readers, and hence, the book might well be characterized as being aimed at ‘novice(s) on post-World War II African history’.

As a scholar whose earlier books on Zimbabwe and Guinea are heavily footnoted and based on primary research, I can understand Robinson's frustration with the lack of source citations. However, because the New Approaches to African History series intends for its books to be used in ‘general courses on African history and world history’, it has prescribed a style that includes a minimum of footnotes and instead directs students to suggested readings appended to each chapter. As unsatisfactory as this approach might be for scholars and other specialists, it is an asset for undergraduate students and general readers, who can follow the outlines of the argument without the distraction of footnotes and yet benefit from the direction of bibliographic essays.

In sum, Robinson offers a thoughtful critique, but one that is more appropriate to a book with a different purpose and intended for a different audience.