François-Xavier Fauvelle, "The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages" (Princeton UP, 2018)


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What are the African Middle Ages? A place, certainly, and a time period, evidently. But also a “documentary regime,” argues François-Xavier Fauvelle. How do we reconstruct these centuries of the African past in the face of a daunting lack of sources? In thirty-four thoughtful vignettes, Fauvelle takes us along for the ride as he wrestles with this question. From Aksum to the Swahili coast, and Sijilmâsa to South Africa, the distances covered by The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages (Princeton UP, 2018) are vast. But we are in expert hands. Combining the skills of a historian and an archeologist, Fauvelle explores possible readings of the sources available while always acknowledging the limits of what is knowable. We are left with a distinct sense of loss, at how much history we may not ever be able to tell, but also filled with wonder for Africa’s “golden age.”

Elisa Prosperetti is a Visiting Assistant Professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. Her research focuses on the connected histories of education and development in postcolonial West Africa. Contact her at:

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