SEROLOGY AS A SOURCE OF AFRICAN HISTORY
Serology is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of blood types. It deals with the blood serum components that protect the blood against diseases.
ADVANTAGES OF SEROLOGY
- Human blood varies in composition from one person to another in the sense that some genes present in some people in some people are absent in others. For that matter people can be categorized according to their blood groups. It is therefore possible that adequate knowledge of a predominant blood type in another area or region should be able to establish some kind of hypothesis that the people of region A must have formed part of region B.
- Belonging to a source: Studies in the frequency of the sickle cell should be able to give the clue that, people belong to a particular source. A very good example of how the studies in the frequency in sickle cell can help historical research could be found in Windward Coast in Liberia. In this region, the Kru people are almost devoid of the sickle cell trait. Yet it is very common among the neighboring people. This confirms the fact that the Kru has been a close community who did not intermarry with their neighbors.
METHODS USED IN GATHERING/COLLECTING INFORMATION FOR THE WRITING OF AFRICAN HISTORY
To collect data for the reconstruction of African history, the historian must not rely solely on written sources or non-documentary sources but rather the following methods must be employed to check biases, prejudices and exaggerations.
Personal enquiry and interview: One method of gathering information from non-documentary sources of African history is interviewing of knowledgeable persons about the culture of a particular community. This is to say that the historian must interview people about the information of the past such as eye-witnesses or traditional historians like court linguists, older court officials and the elderly. The historian can record these interviews and later play, write out and analyze the information given.
Inter-disciplinary approach: Another method of gathering information about African history is the interdisciplinary approach. Cooperation with scholars in other fields of knowledge gives information for African history. The historian has to cooperate with specialists like the linguists, archeologists, botanists, ethnographers among others to obtain materials that can be used to reconstruct African history. The researcher works together with these scholars to gather important information to draw valid conclusions.
Reviewing: In writing African history, one can use the review method to get information by reviewing the written sources such as books, newspapers, journals, broadcasts, diaries, manifestoes, and private letters among others, by reviewing the research through written sources both primary and secondary for information which they examine and cross-check. Even though these written records have shortcomings and inadequacies, they can be reviewed by the historian to ensure an accurate reflection of the past. This helps to produce unbiased history which is backed by evidence.
Questionnaire: To get the best results of collecting data for writing African history, a carefully composed questionnaire should be used which must cover the political, economic, social, religious and technological aspects. In this situation, a series of well-structured questions are given out to persons who know about the past to solicit for information. The responses to these questions are gathered and analyzed by the historian in order to draw a reasonable conclusion.
Personal Observation and Records: Through personal observation by visiting places of historical importance like slave sites, castles, forts etc. and personally recording events like festivals, funerals and the like, important findings can result in the collection of data for writing African history. Such details are necessary since they constitute first-hand information as the events happened before their own eyes i.e. eye witness account. Such accounts can be compared and questions are asked on them to get a reliable view of what actually happened in the past.
Reliability of the sources for the study of African history: Despite the fact that written and unwritten sources of African history have shortfalls, we can still describe them as adequately reliable, since the work of a historian is based on historical methods where they use scientific methods in drawing conclusions. Written records of history have a high level of precision and very reliable. All the documentary sources e.g. newspapers, personal letters, diaries, journals, manifestoes etc. can be reviewed and cross checked for a fair assessment of the past. This process helps to get rid of prejudices, biases to ensure truthfulness. By putting written records side by side with other forms of evidence, the historian can establish an objective conclusion.
The reliability of unwritten sources of history cannot be underestimated since they all involve scientific methods in carrying out researches. For instance, the Ghanaian linguist, Professor Abena Dolphyne undertook a research on the Bono, Asante and Fante people and arrived at an important conclusion. She found out that the Asante language is less related to the Fante. Also, archeology which is our main source of information on African history uses scientific methods like reconnaissance, stratification, radiocarbon and potassium argon dating methods and data analysis. These methods help archeologists to come to accurate and reliable conclusions significant for historical writing. Reconnaissance involves the process of discovering sites and plotting them for digging.
However, archeology as a non-documentary source of African history has some flaws. It is an unfortunate fact that there is no conscious system of preserving archeological knowledge. For that matter what archaeologists come across may be an accidental preservation. In this case, one goes into archeological excavation with the idea of acquiring some knowledge but relying on chance if not luck. Again, archaeological remains are subjected to wear and tear, weathering, and disfigurement and therefore are likely to present difficulty in the historians’ attempt to derive very reliable information from them. The process of radio-carbon dating is very expensive and that constitutes a hindrance to effective research.
Moreover, oral tradition is full of exaggeration on establishment of information to suit the narrator’s interest. Many a time, they tend to present history in a way that would not only exclude portions that do not meet their interest but worse of all, it might not be able to give specific details due to genuine loss in memory. Again, oral tradition tends to put so much emphasis on personalities and events like wars, whilst playing down on social and economic aspects of the past With this, information becomes very scanty to the disadvantage of scholarship and posterity.
In conclusion, we can deduce that both documentary and non-documentary evidence must be used to complement each other in the writing of African history. Since both are the work of human beings, one cannot be more reliable than the other since people tend to be subjective, biased and impressionistic.