A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Jan Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the 1950s and 1960s.

Vansina’s insistence that it was possible to study African history in the era prior to European contact, and his development of rigorous historical methods for doing so, played a major role in countering the then prevalent idea that cultures without texts had no history.

He remained a trailblazer in the field of African studies for more than five decades.