My Name Will Not Be Lost: Cosmopolitan Temporality and Reclaimed History in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Headstrong Historian”

by David Mikailu and Brendan Wattenberg


This essay offers a consideration of cosmopolitan temporality in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story “The Headstrong Historian.” Spanning the late nineteenth century to the 1970s, Adichie presents three generations of cosmopolitans and three distinct iterations of cosmopolitanism. We argue that the cosmopolitan is a person privileged with a poly-visional sensibility and that cosmopolitan temporality is informed by multiple, often overlapping, narratives of family, heritage, and historical time. With emphasis on Grace, the eponymous historian, we examine manifestations of cosmopolitan temporality, from the village, to the mission schools, to postcolonial Lagos. Grace aims to resituate Nigerian history from a Nigerian perspective, influenced by the lives of her grandmother, her parents, and her husband, all of whom experienced Christianization and intercultural contact in radically different ways. She also writes “reports for international organizations about commonplace things.” In both endeavors, Grace reappraises colonial tracts, which once denied the true historicity of her people. As three temporalities collapse into and upon her writing and worldview, we see Grace as a “citizen of the world” and an active participant in reclaiming the history of southern Nigeria.

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David Mikailu

Brendan Wattenberg