Professor Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias FBA

Professor Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Honorary Professor

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a historian. I have worked on epigraphic sources for the medieval history of West Africa. I have also developed new approaches to the 17th-century Timbuktu Chronicles, and to some historical oral narratives current among the Mande, Songhay, Baatombu, and Yoruba.


  • Medical Doctor
  • LicHist Bahia
  • MA Ghan


Moraes Farias (Medical Doctor, LicHist Bahia; MA Ghana) was a member of DASA staff until retirement (2003). He is now an Honorary Professor at the department. He is from Bahia, a region of Brazil noted for the cultural heritage it shares with West and Southern Africa. After qualifying at the Federal University of Bahia as a medical doctor and later as a historian, he lived for several years in West Africa, a region he continues to visit regularly for work. Before coming to Birmingham, he worked in the CEAO (Federal University of Bahia) and IFAN (University of Dakar) and taught African History in the Ahmadu Bello University (Zaria, Nigeria).

Postgraduate supervision

Moraes Farias has examined doctoral theses at the Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne, the Université de Provence, the University of Tampere (Finland), and the Université de Paris VIII. In Britain, he has examined PhD theses at SOAS, King's College London, University College London, and in Cambridge University and the University of Manchester. The PhD projects he has supervised include:           

  • T.O.R. Green, “Masters of Difference: Creolization and the Jewish Presence in Cabo Verde, 1497-1672”
  • N. Amherd, “Yoruba Ifa Divination” (co-supervision with K.J. Barber)
  • C. Ayorinde, “Afro-Cuban Religiosity, Revolution, and National Identity” (co-supervision with K. Barber)
  • I. Nolte, “Ritualised Interaction and Civic Spirituality: Kingship and Politics in Ijebu-Remo, Nigeria” (co-supervision with K. Barber)
  • José Flávio Sombra Saraiva, “Brazil’s Foreign Policy towards Africa, 1946-1985: Realpolitik and Discourse”.
  • S.P.D. Bulman, “Interpreting Sundiata: A Comparative Analysis and Exegesis of the Malinke Epic”
  • M.B. Ahmad, “The Refugee Emirate: Misau’s Bornoan Origins and its Relations with its Neighbours, ca. 1805-1903”
  • E. Hodgkin, “Social and Political Relations on the Niger Bend in the 17th Century”

Find out more - our PhD African Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Moraes Farias is one of the rare historians in Britain whose range of interests includes the early pre-colonial history of Africa. His Arabic Medieval Inscriptions from the Republic of Mali (2003) was a finalist for the Herskovits Award (2004) and won the Paul Hair Prize(2005) conferred by the USA African Studies Association together with the Association for the Preservation and Publication of African Historical Sources. A discussion to explore the issues raised by the work was held at the Centre d’Études des Mondes Africains, Université de Paris-1, and was later published in Afrique&Histoire 4 (2005), 175-243. A similar discussion was organised (2007) by the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa at the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University. 

Reviewers have pointed out that in addition to revealing a corpus of new sources the book deconstructed the established paradigm of Sahelian historical studies, which had originated with Heinrich Barth in the 1850s. Other Moraes Farias publications (on the Almoravids in the Western Sahara, “Silent Trade”, oral traditions, and the interaction of Islamic and other cultures) are also credited with producing shifts of perspective in African studies.

Other activities

Conference participation

  • February 2010 _ Keynote Speaker at the Troisième Rencontre européenne d’analyse des sociétés politiques (Département de science politique of the Université Paris I - Panthéon – Sorbonne).
  • December 2009 _ “Heritage Matters !” conference organised by the University of Michigan and the University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana.
  • November 2009 _ Inaugural Conference of the Point-Sud Program, organised by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, and Point Sud, Bamako, Mali.
  • April 2009 _ Guest Speaker at Professor Eileen Julien’s seminar “Africa & the History of Ideas”, Department of Comparative Literature, Indiana University.
  • August 2008 _ “Global Seminar” organised in São Paulo, Brazil, by the Media, Religion and Culture Project (Houston, Texas) and Stichting Porticus (Amsterdam).
  • August 2008 _ Public lecture “Griots: from ‘Organic’ to ‘Traditional’ Intellectuals”, Clemente Mariani Foundation, Salvador, Brazil.
  • February 2008: Workshop on “Religion and Public Moral Debate in Africa”, University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University.

Membership of Editorial Boards                                        

  • Africa (Journal of the International African Institute)
  • Islam et Sociétés au Sud du Sahara (Paris)
  • Afro-Ásia (Federal University of Bahia, Brazil)
  • Afriques -- Débats, méthodes et terrains d'histoire (Paris)

Contributions to Websites

  • “Une histoire désertée ? L’histoire de l’Afrique avant le XIXe siècle en France depuis 50 ans" [at the site “Études africaines: état des lieux et des savoirs en France“, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris]


Single-authored books

  • 2003a, Arabic Medieval Inscriptions from the Republic of Mali:  Epigraphy, Chronicles, and Songhay-Tuareg History. Fontes Historiae Africanae, new series (Oxford:  Oxford University Press for The British Academy)

Co-edited books

  • 2007a, with M. Diawara (University of Frankfurt) and G. Spittler (University of Bayreuth), Heinrich Barth et l’Afrique (Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag).
  • 1990, with K. Barber, Self-Assertion and Brokerage --Early Cultural Nationalism in West Africa (Birmingham University African Studies Series 2)
  • 1989, with K. Barber, Discourse and Its Disguises --The Interpretation of African Oral Texts (Birmingham University African Studies Series 1)

Articles in Scholarly Journals

  • 2013, “Bentiya (Kukiya): a Songhay-Mande Meeting Point, and a ‘Missing Link” in the Archaeology of the West African Diasporas of Traders, Warriors, Praise-Singers, and Clerics”, Afriques: Débats, methods et terrains d’histoire [online bilingual peer-reviewed periodical published by the Institut des Mondes Africains, CNRS and Université de Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne], Dossier 04 / 2013, 

  • 2011, “Local landscapes and Constructions of World Space: Medieval Inscriptions, CognitiveDissonance, and the Course of the Niger”, Afriques: Débats, methods et terrains d’histoire [online bilingual peer-reviewed periodical published by the Institut des Mondes Africains, CNRS and Université de Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne], Dossier 02 / 2010 [placed online 02/2011],    

  • 2003b, “Afrocentrism: between Crosscultural Grand Narrative and Cultural Relativism” [review article], Journal of African History 44:2 (327-340)
  • 2003c, “Afrocentrismo: entre uma contranarrativa histórica universalista e o relativismo cultural” [Portuguese-language revised version of item 2003b above], Afro-Ásia 29-30 (317-343)
  • 1992, "History and Consolation: Royal Yoruba Bards Comment on Their Craft", History in Africa 19 (263-297)
  • 1974, “Silent Trade:  Myth and Historical Evidence”, History in Africa 1 (9-24).
  • 1967, “The Almoravids: Some Questions Concerning the Character of the Movement”, Bulletin de l’IFAN, série B, 29:3-4 (794-878).

Chapters in edited books

  • 2015, “Modern Transformations of Written Materials into ‘Traditional’ Oral Wisdom (Mali, West Africa)”. In G. Ciarcia and E. Jolly (eds), Métamorphoses de l’oralité entre écrit et image (Paris: Karthala), 95-108.

  • 2009 (with K. Barber), “Archive as Work-in-Progress”. In Preben Kaarsholm & Isabel Hofmeyr (eds), The Popular and the Public: Cultural Debates and Struggles over Public Space in Modern India, Africa and Europe (London, New York & Calcutta: Seagull Books), 3-24.
  • 2008a, “Intellectual Innovation and Reinvention of the Sahel: the Seventeenth-Century Timbuktu  Chronicles”. In Shamil Jeppie Suleymane Bachir Diagne (eds), The Meanings of Timbuktu (Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council Press), 95-107.
  • 2008b, “Mediations: Tayiru Banbera and David Conrad”. In S. Belcher, J. Jansen & M. N’Daou (eds), Mande Mansa: Essays in Honour of David C. Conrad (Zürich & Berlin: Lit Verlag), 132-143.
  • 2007, “Au-delà de l’opposition coloniale entre l’authenticité africaine et l’identité musulmane. L’oeuvre de Waa Kamisòkò, barde moderne et critique du Mali” In Colonisationset héritages au Sahara et au Sahel, eds. Christophe de Beauvais and Mariella Villasante Cervello (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007), Vol. 2, 271-308.
  • 2006a, “Touareg et Songhay: histoires croisées, historiographies scindées”. In H. Claudot-Hawad (ed.), Berbères ou Arabes ? (Paris: Éditions Non-Lieu), 225-262.
  • 2006b, “À quoi sert l’épigraphie arabe médiévale de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ? ”. In A. Camara and C. Descamps (eds), Senegalia: Études sur le patrimoine ouest-africain --Hommage à Guy Thilmans (Paris : Éditions Sépia), 90-105.                         

Book reviews

  • 2006,   Review of Almamy: L’âge d’homme d’un lettré malien by Almamy Maliki Yattara, Spirit 184 (373-374).
  • 2005, Review of La vie intellectuelle dans le Sahel by Chouki El Hamel. In the Journal of African History 46:2 (342-344).
  • 2004, Review of Les secrets du Manding by Jan Jansen et al. In the Journal of African History 45:1 (180-181).
  • 2002b, Review of Controlling Knowledge by L. Brenner. In Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 13:2 (254-255).