The study presents African history from an African point of view, decolonizing history through its focus on Wolof historical agency, critical readings of French sources, and a Wolof-centered chronology of historical transformation. It presents the French colonial conquest of Senegal as part of a Wolof civil war. Critical developments in this conflict were the on-going battles between Islam and monarchy that commenced with the Muslim rebellion of 1859. The author shows how the struggle between Islam and monarchy undermined and shaped institutions of colonial rule, based on an alliance between the French and Wolof aristocrats.
The study also examines slavery, slave emancipation, and the peasant economy against this background of civil war. Slavery declined rapidly between 1883 and 1905 as slave resistance, aristocratic decline, and the ability of Muslim communities and peasant households to offer refuge to runaway slaves took their toll. A new peasant economy emerged from the ashes of slavery with cash crop agriculture providing the impetus for change. Through his command of both Wolof and archival sources, Searing has constructed a compelling reassessment of the colonial history of Senegal that clearly demonstrates the power of African agency.