Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) was written from the perspective that the history of Africa is necessary to understand the continent’s present and to envision its transformation in the future. This essay tracks Rodney’s positioning of the historian in the conjunction of past, present, and future through the registers of diagnostician and participant in political mobilization. The author argues that Rodney’s analogy of the historian as medical doctor generates a critique of romantic depictions of the African past and draws on the language of Marxism to track the formation of African political power. At the same time, Rodney’s position as a participant in political mobilization compels an approach to history writing that exceeds the terms of diagnosis. Examining the interplay between diagnosis and mobilization, this essay reveals the range of ways Rodney approached the task of historicizing the present and generating usable African pasts.

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