Mistaking Africa

Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind


Curtis A. Keim

Third Edition • August 6, 2013 • 248 pages


Print ISBN: 9780813348940 • $38.00 USD$49.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813348957 • $25.99 USD$25.99 CAN

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For many Americans the mention of Africa immediately conjures up images of safaris, ferocious animals, strangely dressed “tribesmen,” and impenetrable jungles. Although the occasional newspaper headline mentions genocide, AIDS, malaria, or civil war in Africa, the collective American consciousness still carries strong mental images of Africa that are reflected in advertising, movies, amusement parks, cartoons, and many other corners of society. Few think to question these perceptions or how they came to be so deeply lodged in American minds. Curtis Keim’s Mistaking Africa looks at the historical evolution of this mind-set and examines the role that popular media plays in its creation. Keim addresses the most prevalent myths and preconceptions and demonstrates how these prevent a true understanding of the enormously diverse peoples and cultures of Africa.

Updated throughout, the third edition includes a new chapter, “Where Is the Real Africa,” discussing the multifaceted nature of the question and the importance of not grasping onto stereotypes of Africa’s mythical past. Keim also includes new examples and new images to expand the visual narrative of western views about Africa. Mistaking Africa is an important book for African studies courses and for anyone interested in unraveling American misperceptions about the continent.


Curtis Keim is professor emeritus of history at Moravian College. He is a recipient of the College’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching and he is coauthor of African Reflections: Art from Northeastern Zaire and coeditor of The Scramble for Art in Central Africa.

Part 1: Introduction
1. Changing Our Minds About Africa
2. How We Learn
Part 2: Evolutionism
3. The Origins of “Darkest Africa”
4. “Our Living Ancestors”: Twentieth-Century Evolutionism
5. Where is Real Africa
6. We Should Help Them
Part 3: Further Misconceptions
7. Cannibalism
8. Africans Live in Tribes, Don’t They?
9. Safari: Beyond Our Wildest Dreams
10. Africa in Images
Part 4: New Directions
11. Race and Culture: The Same and the Other
12. From Imagination to Dialogue

Praise for the Second Edition:

“With this new edition, Professor Keim has updated and expanded an important book for the teaching of Africa in the West. This book does the intellectual heavy-lifting of deconstructing our notions of Africa, but does it in a way accessible and meaningful to students and non-students alike.”
—Jeffrey Fleisher, Department of Anthropology, Rice University

“This book strikes a perfect pitch. Keim takes a serious subject and presents it in a thoughtful, concise, and highly engaging manner. He mixes humorous observations with sophisticated anthropological and historical concepts to make them easily accessible to generalist audiences. As a result, Mistaking Africa contains valuable insights for the novice and experienced Africanist alike. It is a great book for introductory courses on Africa, across a range of disciplines, as well as more specialized courses such as US foreign policy toward Africa.”
—Scott D. Taylor, Associate Professor and Director, African Studies Program, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

“This is essential reading for the current generation of otherwise sophisticated young social entrepreneurs who little realize how their ideas about Africa have been shaped. This welcome update includes expansions of the discussion on development, information on US military interests in the continent, an assessment of celebrity activities and recent representations of Africa in feature films, a chapter on the enduring western fascination with African animals, help for finding African materials on the Internet, and analysis of new images drawn from recent ad campaigns.”
—Edna Bay, Emory University

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