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Cheikh Anto Diop
Cheikh Anto Diop

Senegal

A Senegalese historian and anthropologist who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture. He has been considered both one of the greatest African historians of the 20th century,


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Created: 3rd Mar 2008
Modified: 8th Jul 2008
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Professional Information
Position:
Anthropologist; Historian
Working primarily in:
Senegal

Description of Work:

Cheikh Anta Diop completed his early education in a traditional Islamic School and subsequently went on to Paris in to become a physicist, where he remained for 15 years, studying under Frédéric Joliot-Curie and ultimately translating parts of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into his native Wolof. Diop's university education included African history, Egyptology, linguistics, anthropology, economics, and sociology.

In 1955, the thesis had been published in the popular press as a book titled Nations Nègres et Culture (Negro Nations and Culture). It would make him one of the most controversial historians of his time. In 1960, he succeeded in the defense of his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. degree.

Mr Diop was quoted to say that “In practice, it is possible to determine directly the skin color and, hence, the ethnic affiliations of the ancient Egyptians by microscopic analysis in the laboratory; I doubt if the sagacity of the researchers who have studied the question has overlooked the possibility.”

This statement, along with his strong belief in the notions of race, cultural heritage and linguistic relationship, formed the basis of his African cultural unity theory and supported his ideology of historic connections between people; Diop didn't accept the existence of races, let alone asserting a racial chauvinism or superiority. At a UNESCO colloquium in Athens in 1981, he said "I don't like to use the notion of race (which does not exist)...We must not attach an obsessional importance to it. It is a hazard of the evolution."

Concerning African cultural unity, Diop argued that there was a shared continuity across African peoples that was more important than the varied development of different ethnic groups shown by differences among languages and cultures over time. Diop, regarded as a 'racialist', repudiated racism or supremacist theories, arguing for a more balanced view of African history than existed in most academic circles during his era. Nevertheless, since he struggled against how racial classifications were used by the European academy in relation to African peoples, much of his work has a strongly race-flavored tint.

"Certainly there was some foreign admixture [in Egypt], but basically a homogeneous African population had lived in the Nile Valley from ancient to modern times... [the] Badarian people, who developed the earliest Predynastic Egyptian culture, already exhibited the mix of North African and Sub-Saharan physical traits that have typified Egyptians ever since (Hassan 1985; Yurco 1989; Trigger 1978; Keita 1990.. et al.,)... The peoples of Egypt, the Sudan, and much of East African Ethiopia and Somalia are now generally regarded as a Nilotic continuity, with widely ranging physical features (complexions light to dark, various hair and craniofacial types) but with powerful common cultural traits, including cattle pastoralist traditions (Trigger 1978; Bard, Snowden, this volume)."


Biographical Information
Cheikh Anto Diop
(At a Glance)
Date of Birth: Dec/29/1923
Place of Origin: Senegal



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