HIST251: History of Africa to 1890

Course Syllabus for "HIST251: History of Africa to 1890"

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This course will introduce you to the history of Africa from 300,000 BCE to the era of European imperialism in the nineteenth century. You will learn about the major political, economic, and social changes that took place in Africa during this period and examine the experiences of Africans who lived during this period. You will also explore the relationships between Africans and people living in other regions of the world. The course will be structured chronologically except for units 3 and 4, which will divide the continent geographically while covering the classical period of African history. Each unit will include representative documents and other resources that illustrate important overarching political, economic, and social themes. By the end of the course, you will understand how Africans transformed their continent beginning with human evolution and concluding with the era of global capitalism. The story then continues in HIST 252, which covers the last 120 years of African history.

Learning Outcomes

Upon sucessful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • locate major regions, geographic features, and populations in Africa and label them on a map;
  • identify major events and trends in the history of Africa prior to 1890 that describe change over time;
  • demonstrate the impact of the African environment on human history in Africa and explain how humans in turn changed that environment;
  • compare and contrast the diverse social and political structures and systems devised by Africans;
  • summarize the connections between Africans and other peoples of the world and the ways in which those connections changed over time;
  • demonstrate the usefulness, best practices, and limitations of different types of sources for understanding the African past;
  • appraise various conceptions of the African past given the evidence from that past; and
  • assess the degree to which there can be said to be one, shared African history before 1890.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Be competent in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to HIST251. Below, please find general information on this course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Trevor Getz

Course Introduction: For a long time, professional historians denied that Africa had a history prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The process of overturning this misconception has led to certain peculiarities in the study of Africa’s pre-colonial past, and you may notice them in this course. For example, we will explore several assumptions that we make in modern-day society that make it difficult for us to see how Africans understood and experienced their own lives in the past. We will also emphasize the many different types of sources and methods necessary for studying African history in this period outside of written texts. As you work through this course, think about the ethical issues that are present in this course and use them to inform your thinking about the ethics of studying the past in different times, places, and manners.

The struggle over Africa’s past has also created difficulties in the kinds of online resources available to construct a course like this. Some of the online sites are more emotional and polemical in nature than they are balanced and scholarly. Others make use of very difficult technical language to explain sophisticated techniques using multiple source types. We have tried to find authoritative sources that areas objective as possible while also remaining accessible to readers, but you will notice a big difference in the level of readership between different resources.

One of the very special resources discussed in this course is the Mande epic of Sundiata (Sogolon Djata), the first ruler of Mali. Your reading of this course will be greatly enriched if you manage to get a copy of the D.T. Niane version of this epic, available quite cheap in most cases. Additional outside readings available online include chapters of the UNESCO General History of Africa, which you can search for and find through your search engine. However, this course is entirely self-contained and should provide the information you need to gain a survey-level understanding of pre-colonial Africa.
Requirements for Completion: You must complete all of the assigned readings and materials presented over the course of each unit, including the final exam, which can be accessed via the link in the final resource box in this course. Note that you will be required to create a (free) account in order to access this final exam unless you have already done so for another course. In order to pass this course, you must earn a score of 70% or higher on the final exam.
Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.