Donald R. Wright participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2003. During this residency he worked on The World and a Very Small Place in Africa: A History of Globalization in Niumi, The Gambia (Fourth Edition: Routledge, 2018). Donald is Distinguished Teaching Professor of History, Emeritus, at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland. He has been writing about the history of The Gambia since his first eight-month visit there in 1974.
A few words with Donald
“When I arrived at the Bellagio Center, I was just back from two months in The Gambia, and spent time rewriting and expanding a weak initial effort that was to become the book. Several conversations with fellow residents provided a new perspective on my work: with Sven Beckert [Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University], on the global spread of cotton; with Roy Blount, Jr. [writer, reporter, and humorist], on writing; and with Sheldon Segal [embryologist and biochemist] on style (in every sense of the word).
“My advice to those embarking on a residency at the Bellagio Center: be ready to write on arrival, engage fully with residents, and see if you can get the tiny chapel on the hillside for your writing.”
Quote from The World and a Very Small Place in Africa
“This is a book of African history inspired by my study and teaching of world history, or a book of world history inspired by my study and teaching of African History. I am still not sure which. This is a history of the state of Niumi, which existed for centuries on the north bank of the Gambia river’s broad estuary, emphasizing how a long process of globalization – a continuing widening of Niumi’s world, bringing influences from afar – affected the lives of people living there.”
The World and a Very Small Place in Africa looks at how contact with the wider world has affected how people have lived in Niumi – a small and little-known region at the mouth of West Africa’s Gambia River – for over a thousand years.
Drawing on archives, oral traditions and published works, Donald R. Wright connects world history with real people on a local level. The new edition discusses the final years of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s regime, including the role of global forces in the events of the 2016 presidential elections.
The book is supported throughout by photographs, maps and Perspectives boxes that present detailed information on such topics as Alex Haley’s Roots (part set in Niumi), why Gambians take the risky ‘back way’ to reach Europe, or “Wiri-Wiri,” the Senegalese soap that has Gambians’ attention.