Professor Hilary Jones showcased her book, “The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa,” at Source Booksellers June 22, in Midtown Detroit.
Jones, an associate professor of history at Florida International University in Miami, felt it was very important to debut her first book in her hometown of Detroit.
“For me this is where it started,” Jones said. “I feel like I grew up with people who instilled in me the importance of books and reading. It was very important for me to do this here.”
Jones, a proud product of Detroit Public Schools, says her love for history and African history began with a project from her French teacher as a student at Cass Technical High School.
“Mrs. Jones had me do an assignment which I had to study an area that was French speaking outside of France,” said Jones.
That one assignment along with the encouragement of her history professors at Michigan State University led Jones to study abroad in Africa.
It was there where she learned about the Métis Senegalese, people of interracial origin, sparking a greater curiosity to study the area more.
In the book, Jones explores a time spanning from1890 to about early 1920 in Senegal. It is during this period where the Métis people burgeoned due to the French and British creating commercial influence in Senegal. This was during the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade to the beginning of what is called legitimate trades of materials.
Through interviews with decedents, private documents, letters, church documents and oral history, Jones was able to explore the group and get a perspective through the lens of the Métis people.
“The 19th century was this era that had not been given this great attention. It sort of fell in this category of pre-colonial and colonial. And it happens to be the era where we have the most documentation of Africa’s history,” Jones said of her research
Jones’ lecture discussed the global context of Africa with a strong overview of the book’s content. When it was time for the Q&A every hand was raised, wanting to know more about these little known people and this part of African heritage.
As a historian, Jones immerses herself in research to create the best work for her audience; whether students, colleagues or readers. She said this particular book has helped her have a greater understanding of the past and a greater appreciation for humanity as a whole.
“We’re the product of a lot of change that has gone before us, even if we can’t see it all or know it all personally,” Jones said. “I found something of myself in that the ability to engage and understand people on the basis of our common humanity.”