The southern African savannah landscape has been framed as an 'Arid Eden' in recent literature, as one of Africa's most sought-after exotic tourism destinations by twenty-first-century travellers, as a 'last frontier' by early twentieth-century travellers and as an ancient ancestral land by Namibia's Herero communities. In this 150-year history of the region, Michael Bollig looks at how this 'Arid Eden' came into being, how this 'last frontier' was construed, and how local pastoralists relate to the landscape. Putting the intricate and changing relations between humans, arid savannah grasslands and its co-evolving animal inhabitants at the centre of his analysis, this history of material relations, of power struggles between commercial hunters and wildlife, between wealthy cattle patrons and foraging clients, between established homesteads and recent migrants, conservationists and pastoralists. Finally, Bollig highlights how futures are being aspired to and planned for between the increasing challenges of climate change, global demands for cheap ores and quests for biodiversity conservation.
1. Doing research on a changing savannah landscape
II. The evolution of pre-colonial environmental infrastructures
2. The prehistory of North-western Namibia and the riddled emergence of pastoralism
3. Elephants and humans in the late 19th and early 20th century
III. Encapsulation and pastoralisation, 1900s to 1940s
4. Scientist, cartographers, photographers and the establishment of western knowledge of the Kaokofeld
5. The establishment of colonial administration and the re-immigration of pastoralists into the Kaokoveld – 1900s to 1920s
6. The politics of encapsulation: game protection, instituting borders and controlling mobility
IV. The state, intervention, and local appropriations between 1950s and 1980s
7. A hydrological revolution in an African savannah
8.Conservation and poaching in the 1970s and 1980s
V. Dynamics of social-ecological relations between the 1990s and the present
9. Pastoralism, environmental infrastructures and state-local society relations in the late 20th and early 21st century
10. The establishment of “new commons” by government decree
11. Into the future – envisioning, planning and negotiating environmental infrastructures
VI. Theorizing time, space, and change in a pastoral system
12. The changing environmental infrastructure of the north-western Namibian savannah
Michael Bollig is a Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Cologne where his key interests lie in the environmental anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa. His current research projects focus on the social-ecological dynamics connected to large-scale conservation projects, the commodification of nature and the political ecology of pastoralism. He is the author of Risk Management in a Hazardous Environment (2006), co-author of African Landscapes (2009) with O. Bubenzer, Pastoralism in Africa (2013) with M. Schnegg and H.P. Wotzka, and Resilience and Collapse in African Savannahs (2017) with D. Anderson.
"At last the hauntingly beautiful arid landscape of northern Namibia has the historical analysis that it merits. Bollig, an anthropologist with long experience of the region, brings to life the long-term interaction of humanity, wildlife and the environment in a rich narrative that speaks to our age of global change."
– Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa
"Michael Bollig is one of the world's most distinguished experts on the environmental 'entanglements' of African societies. Adopting a 'new materialist' approach to understanding human, livestock and wildlife impacts on the African Savannah in Namibia, Bollig examines how its environmental infrastructure reflects a historical dialectic of pastoralism, foraging, and hunting from colonialism to capitalism. This monumental work explores three possible futures for African drylands – conservation, mining or indigenous autonomy – which will determine whether Savannah environments can sustain Africa's indigenous peoples and their remarkable reservoir of biodiversity."
– John Galaty, McGill University
"Erudite and compelling [...] Who else but Michael Bollig can weave together archival materials, satellite data and cultural analysis in a comprehensive work that appeals to historians, anthropologists, economists, ecologists and basically everyone interested in the interplay of people, policy and an arid environment. This book contains lessons for everyone."
– Steven Van Wolputte, University of Leuven
"Shaping the African Savannah is immensely stimulating, and not only for those who love reading everything about Namibia. It is a book that will appeal to the anthropologically-inclined, of course, but also to (environmental) historians, ecologists and geographers alike."
– Michael Bollig, Journal of Namibian Studies
"[...] richly detailed [...] Recommended."
– C. Higgs, Choice
"Shaping the African Savannah succeeds in making the global local and examines the Kaokoveld's environmental past, present, and future with nuance and sophistication. Much of the strength of this work lies in the detail and sensitivity with which Bollig approaches processes at the granular level and yet creates a story of environmental history and globalization that remains accessible to the majority of readers."
– Cathy Skidmore-Hess, African Studies Quarterly
"The book offers a valuable comparative perspective to historians who focus on pastoralism and arid environments. It is also useful to scholars of conservation and wildlife management, as well as those researching the influence of international actors on indigenous systems of land tenure and resource management [...] this is a rich study, finely textured and rooted in a deep familiarity with the people and local environment."
– Meredith McKittrick, Agricultural History
"In this important new book, Michael Bollig provides an environmental history of the Kaoko region in North-Western Namibia while contributing to wider debates on colonialism, conservation, and land-use in Africa [...] this is just one of the many issues that Bollig's book compels us to revisit and reconsider."
– Eduard Gargallo, Human Ecology