Volume 8, Issue 4
Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kathleen Sheldon. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005. 403 pp.
Country-specific, historical dictionaries abound in the field of African studies; yet reviewers of even recent editions of these dictionaries have highlighted the paucity of entries on women (see, for example, Gardinier 2001 and Reynolds 2001). To fill this void, Scarecrow Press has recently launched a new series on women in the world. Kathleen Sheldon’s Historical Dictionary of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa is the first in this series, and it is an excellent first step toward filling this scholarly lacuna.
The volume consists of a chronology of African women’s history, a brief (13-page) introductory essay that traces broad developments in African women’s history, 276 pages of dictionary entries, and an extensive (115-page) bibliography. The dictionary entries are wide-ranging. Sheldon covers prominent female politicians, activists, writers, artists, and historical and religious figures; historical and contemporary women’s organizations; and more general topical entries (e.g. missions, nationalism, structural adjustment programs, and shari’a law) that emphasize how these topics have affected women in Africa and/or how women have participated in these movements and processes. The bibliography begins with a brief—but quite interesting and useful—essay on the evolution of scholarship on women in Africa. Most of the sources included in the bibliography are in English and have been published since 1975. The first part of the bibliography is organized chronologically; the second part is organized around specific topics. The last section of the bibliography provides lists of journals, films, and websites. Dictionary entries on contemporary organizations also generally include the organization’s website.
Country specialists will undoubtedly find that Sheldon has excluded some prominent women and organizations. In the case of
Gardinier, David E. “Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 34, no.1, (2001): 248-249.
Reynolds, Jonathan T. “Historical Dictionary of