Professor of History and African American Studies
African, Atlantic history, world history
John Thornton is primarily an Africanist, with a specialty in the history of West Central Africa before 1800. His work has also carried him into the study of the African Diaspora, and from there to the history of the Atlantic Basin as a whole, also in the period before the early nineteenth century. His publications on these subjects include two books on his primary topic, the history of the Kingdom of Kongo (The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition  and The Kongolese Saint Anthony ); a history of African warfare, Warfare in Atlantic Africa (1999). For his interest in Atlantic History, he has published Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World (1st ed., 1992; 2nd ed, 1998) and Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles and the Foundation of the Americas (2007) (written with Linda Heywood). In 2010 he is finishing the writing of a major project, a general history of the Atlantic Basin, tentatively called A Cultural History of the Atlantic World: Encounter and Development in the Formation of Atlantic Culture for Cambridge University Press.
Thornton also serves as a consultant for public projects, including being a consulting co-curator on “African Voices”, the Africa exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History (opened in 1999); “Against Human Dignity” at the Maritime Museum in Newport News, VA; and for the principal exhibit at Jamestown. He has also worked as consultant for various PBS series, including “Africans in America,“ “African American Lives” Parts I and II, “Finding Oprah’s Roots,” and shows on Africans in Latin America and on African American History being produced in 2010.