A Caltech Library Service

African field reports, 1952-1961

Munger, Edwin S. (1961) African field reports, 1952-1961. C. Struik , Cape Town, South Africa.

PDF (Report Collection) - Published Version
Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Mr. Edwin S. Munger is a successful experiment. The experiment started a number of years ago. It was an experiment with a new method of producing an expert. After World War II ten million men returned from overseas to the United States. Many of them had been in Africa, Asia, Europe and elsewhere for years on end. But the country to which they returned was deeply ignorant of the very world which it had helped to save from conquest by Germany and Japan. There were some experts on Russia and China, fewer still on India and Southeast Asia. On Africa there were a couple of lonely men with no one to talk to and nobody much who wanted to listen. Expertness in the American university world, especially in those days, was often training in the difficult art of looking at the world through the eye of a needle. Geographers of China without history, historians of Russia without economics, economists of Japan without anthropology, anthropologists of Africa without geography - this gave concentration, good thesis titles and no community of discourse. But help was at hand. During the war a few bright spirits recognized that fighting Japan and then making peace with Japan might be carried on more successfully if the geography, history, economics and anthropology were regarded as aspects of a total Japanese culture. Moreover, it did not seem to be quite so ridiculous or impossible for well-trained men to acquire an expert understanding of a whole people, an entire country or a large and even diverse area. Universities experimented with area studies, and for a while the experts permitted the upstarts to look round instead of through the eye of a needle. Of the many excellent things about America is a readiness to try something that has not been tried before, even though it may look silly or wrong. And so a bold foundation undertook the experiment of trying to create an expert generalist or a general expert. There appeared in India, South Africa, East Africa, Brazil and elsewhere able young men with the mission of seeing all they wanted to see, learning each according to his qualities, all they could learn, and setting down in writing their opinions, observations and conclusions. If any of them had a thesis, or wanted a Ph.D., or planned ultimately to get back of the eye of a needle, that was incidental. Otherwise, it was not cricket. Edwin Munger was one of these people. He was a geographer, which meant that he had his own eye of a needle. With a Ph.D. under his belt, he could run for cover if he had to. But he did not. As any reading of his published work shows, he became very skillful at looking at Africa from all sorts of angles. He skipped over the Germanic spirit of the nineteenth century scholarship into a free-ranging eighteenth century Voltairean spirit willing to look at geography, history, politics and even Afrikaans poetry. It was not a pure zest for scholarship that caused him to marry a South African girl, but his admirers know that this was helpful. Of Voltaire the historians of the day said that he was a master of all knowledge except history. Mathematicians, philosophers and divines made the same exception in the case of their own subjects. Scholars may want to express the same qualifications about a geographer who writes on constitutions, ethnology, penal codes and even rape. But they would miss the point. Ten years of traveling, looking, learning, writing and talking have produced in Mr. Munger an expert generalist. He has much of Africa, and certainly South Africa, in his veins and in his pores. His has been a systemic as well as a cerebral education. For the United States the appearance of a growing number of men with this systemic, visceral, pervasive understanding of other lands and peoples is a superb enrichment. It means that Americans are less prone to fashion their opinions out of theoretical deductions from their own history. This bad habit explains much of the naive or clumsy handling of America's foreign policy. A position based on American political thought does, of course, lead to more sympathy for Julius Nyerere than for Verwoerd. But the new generation of scholars like Edwin Munger make it possible for American public opinion to understand that Mr. Verwoerd is a man involved in one of the most difficult problems of modern history. If one, indeed, accepts Mr. Verwoerd's assumptions, which I cannot, then Mr. Verwoerd becomes a very logical man, acting according to principle, and in a spirit of great courage. One of the saddest paradoxes about Africa is that it needs literally millions of fresh highly skilled experts. But the clash of grinding racial antagonisms may be leading to the expulsion of nearly four million people already in Africa who have many of the skills that Africa must have in order to prosper. Maybe the dams have already burst, and the destroying floods are inexorably on their way. Mr. Verwoerd is certainly in their path. But meanwhile it is valuable to read the understanding and thoughtful things Mr. Munger has to say about Germans and Afrikaners, Jews and Indians, black men and colored men. He knows that if there is hope in South Africa it must come from Afrikaner liberals, although here I myself would wish that he had more to say of the now lonely, and courageous and generously minded English liberals. It is always a little harder to see the virtues of a people whose language is the same as your own. There is a special bias towards people whose tongue you have arduously learned to speak. All this will be written again, later on, in fuller knowledge, maybe not through a haze of tears or after the atomic dust has settled upon a broken world. If the fates are very kind, this may be written again by men free of the angers that now rack Africa. That Mr. Munger has written so fully, so variously means that the final and more definitive story will be better and more fairly told.

Item Type:Book
Contact Email
Additional Information:"One of a continuing series from American Universities Field Staff correspondents on current developments in world affairs." Introduction by C.W. de Kiewiet.
Subject Keywords:Social Sciences, History, American Universities Field Staff
Record Number:CaltechBOOK:1961.003
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Munger, Edwin S. African field reports, 1952-1961. Cape Town, C. Struik, 1961.
Usage Policy:Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License 3.0.
ID Code:25075
Deposited By: Imported from CaltechBOOK
Deposited On:17 Dec 2008 21:25
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 03:02

Repository Staff Only: item control page