Reflections on conceptualizing Africa for biological studies with a historical component

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Pliny the Elder said, to paraphrase, that there was always “something new out of Africa.” The place that was Africa for Pliny and the Romans was in supra-Saharan and northern Saharan Africa, specifically a region that encompasses the current state of Tunisia, the location of the ancient city-state of Carthage. By Pliny’s time, Carthage and the surrounding territories were a colonized region, specifically a Roman (and Romanized) province (called Africa). During the Islamic period, the name Africa passed into Arabic as Ifriqiya, and the same region was known by this name for a millennium until it began to be called Tunis. The Ottomans continued to use this name. During French colonial occupation this " protectorate” was called Tunisia and the name was kept after independence. In many instances, Pliny’s Africa, as Africa, has all but been forgotten in the conceptualization and naming of Africa, an irony of sorts - given that it was an Amazigh king from this region, Massinissa, who first said " Africa for the Africans,” in the heady days of various interactions within and between the region and Rome.

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