African, American

From Tarzan to Dreams from My Father – Africa in the US Imagination

David Peterson del Mar


A panoramic account of the role Africa has played in the American psyche, covering books, movies, music and more.

Africa has long gripped the American imagination. From the Edenic wilderness of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan novels to the ‘black Zion’ of Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement, all manner of Americans - whether white or black, male or female - have come to see Africa as an idealized stage on which they can fashion new, more authentic selves. In this remarkable, panoramic work, David Peterson del Mar explores the ways in which American fantasies of Africa have evolved over time, as well as the role of Africans themselves in subverting American attitudes to their continent.

Spanning seven decades, from the post-war period to the present day, and encompassing sources ranging from literature, film and music to accounts by missionaries, aid workers and travel writers, African, American is a fascinating deconstruction of ‘Africa’ as it exists in the American mindset.

Author Bio

David Peterson del Mar is an associate professor of history at Portland State University, and the founding president of Yo Ghana!, a charity devoted to promoting friendship and understanding between students in Ghana and the Pacific Northwest.

Table of Contents

  • Preface: ‘Africa In My Head’
  • 1. ‘Brightest Africa’ in the Early Twentieth Century
  • 2. Post-War America and the ‘New Africa’
  • 3. From Political to Personal: White and Black America Confront a Transformed Continent in the 1960s
  • 4. Gendered American Quests in ‘Timeless Africa’, 1970-2000
  • 5. Africa Cosmopolitan in the New Millennium
  • Conclusion: The In Between
  • Notes
  • Primary Sources: Books
  • Primary Sources: Films
  • Major Secondary Sources


‘Offers an intimate view of the intertwined relationship between Americans and Africans. Through a comprehensive yet sensitive analytical reading of fiction, autobiography and film, Del Mar shows just how much Africa has and continues to shape what it means to be American.’
Kathryn Mathers, Duke University

‘Demonstrates how Americans projected their own gender, class, and racial psychoses into their experiences and renderings of the African Continent. Del Mar seeks a critical approach not to what Africa is, but to how Americans have perceived it. With this comprehensive source, we might begin to understand the difference.’
Leslie James, University of Birmingham


Publication Date: 15 June 2017
400 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781783608539
Hardback: 9781783608546
eBook ePub: 9781783608560
eBook PDF: 9781783608553
eBook Kindle: 9781783608577

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