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HIST251: History of Africa to 1890

Unit 1: Perspectives on African History   *The historian’s primary task is to identify evidence of the past and assemble this evidence to create narratives or interpretations of what happened in the past, how it was experienced, and how people talked and felt about it.  The historian also plays an important public role, contributing to our contemporary understandings of the past and its implications for our society.  This means that the historian has to master complex issues of methodology, theory, and ethics.  The study of the African past plays a particularly significant role in the development of both public and academic history for two reasons.  First, because of the world’s colonial past, African history has been disregarded and the views of Africans themselves sidelined for a long time, making the study of African history something of a political as well as a scholarly act.  Second, since human history goes back so far in Africa, much of the African past involves preliterate societies.  Therefore, African historians must make use of many different types of sources, including linguistics, archaeology, and oral tradition, as well as written documents, in order to piece together an understanding of early African cultures.

In this unit, you will explore the preconceptions that hinder our ability to understand African experiences in the past.  You will also get to look at various types of sources that help us reveal and construct narratives of the African past.  Finally, you will begin to familiarize yourself with the physical features of the continent of Africa and the identities of its populations.*

Unit 1 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit should take you approximately 16 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 5 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 1.4: 1 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Critically discuss justifications for studying African history prior to 1890.

  • Describe the commonly held conceptions of the African past and present that have developed in popular society.

  • Analyze popular images of Africa in light of these commonly held conceptions.

  • Demonstrate the usefulness, best practices, and limitations of different types of sources for understanding the African past.

  • Identify major regions, geographic features, and populations in Africa and label them on a map.

1.1 Why Study the History of Africa?   1.1.1 What Is History?   - Reading: The American Historical Association: Peter N. Stearns’s “Why Study History?” Link: The American Historical Association:Peter N. Stearns’s “Why Study History?” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This article describes the purposes of studying history and provides a context for the subsequent debate as to why the history of Africa is particularly useful and important.  Read the entire article.
 
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1.1.2 Why Do We Need to Know about the History of Africa?   - Reading: Southeast Regional Seminar on African History: Joseph C. Miller’s “History and Africa / Africa and History” Link: Southeast Regional Seminar on African History:Joseph C. Miller’s “History and Africa / Africa and History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This was an address given by the African historian Joseph C. Miller when he served as president of the American Historical Association.  It looks at the relationship between the study of Africa and the discipline of history.  Please read the entire article.
 
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1.1.3 The Questions of Relevance and Authenticity   - Reading: Pambazuka News: Chika Enzeanya’s “Black (or White?) History Month” Link: Pambazuka News: Chika Enzeanya’s “Black (or White?) History Month” (HTML)
 
Instructions: The article linked above was written by a graduate student at Howard University.  It frames the argument that African history, as it is commonly written and taught, may not effectively reflect the needs and worldviews of Africans and African-Americans.  It should be read as a position paper, rather than as a fair reflection of both sides of the debate.  Please read the article in its entirety.
 
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1.2 Common Preconceptions of the African Past   1.2.1 Notions of Africa   - Reading: World History Connected: Jonathan T. Reynolds’s “So Many Africas, So Little Time: Doing Justice to Africa in the World History Survey” Link: World History Connected:Jonathan T. Reynolds’s “So Many Africas, So Little Time: Doing Justice to Africa in the World History Survey” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Note that this article was written to specifically discuss ways in which Africa is usually described in world history courses, but it suitably addresses the common preconceptions of Africa within our society.  Please read it in its entirety.
 
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1.2.2 The Trouble with Tribe   - Reading: Teaching Tolerance: “The Trouble with Tribe” Link: Teaching Tolerance: “The Trouble with Tribe” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This article helps us move beyond a specific preconception of African societies as “tribes.”  You may wish to spend some time on the supplemental activity “One Zambia, One Nation,” although this deals with contemporary society and is not required.

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1.2.3 Visual Images of and from Africa   - Reading: Teaching Literature: James Michira’s “Images of Africa in the Western Media” Link: Teaching Literature: James Michira’s “Images of Africa in the Western Media” (PDF)
 
Instructions: This link should take you to the “Multicultural/World Literature” page.  Use the link titled “Images of Africa.”  This will take you to an article that describes the ways in which the media contributes to our preconceptions of African societies through both written and visual images.
 
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  • Activity: The Saylor Foundation’s “Images of Africa” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Images of Africa” (PDF)
     
    Instructions: Please open the linked file to access this activity.  Note that no answer key is provided, as this activity is intended to be reflective and self-guided.

1.3 Methodologies in African History   1.3.1 What Are Our Sources?   - Reading: Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia’s “Review of Writing African History, ed. John Edward Philips” Link: H-Net: Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia’s “Review of Writing African History, ed. John Edward Philips” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this review of a book that tackles the multiple kinds of sources available to African historians. 
 
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1.3.2 What Can We Do with Our Sources?   - Lecture: Africa Past and Present: Radikobo Ntsimane’s “Oral History and Memory Work in Africa” Link: Africa Past and Present: Radikobo Ntsimane’s “Oral History and Memory Work in Africa” (Mp3 Podcast)
 
Instructions: Listen to the entire podcast.  This particular podcast deals specifically with oral history as a source.  In later sections of this course you will look at resources and articles dealing with archaeology, linguistics, and other types of sources. 
 
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1.4 African Geography—“Orientations”   1.4.1 Geography and Climate   - Reading: How Stuff Works: “Geography of Africa” Link: How Stuff Works: “Geography of Africa” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read sections 1–6.  Note that some of the text on
page 1 discusses Africa as if it really were a “dark continent”
before the coming of Europeans.  This interpretation is
problematic.  However, the rest of the material in this source is
useful for understanding the geography of the continent.  
    
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1.4.2 Flora and Fauna   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Flora and Fauna”

Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “[Flora and
Fauna](http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/HIST251-Sub-subunit-1.4.2-Flora-and-Fauna-FINAL.pdf)”
(PDF)  
    
 Instructions: Please read the entire article. 

1.4.3 Historical Demography   - Web Media: Union for African Population Studies: Reiko Hayashi’s “Long Term Population Dynamics in Africa: A Perspective from the Urban Structure” Link: Union for African Population Studies: Reiko Hayashi’s “Long Term Population Dynamics in Africa: A Perspective from the Urban Structure” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Go to the URL, which is a description of a poster presented at a session of an international conference, with links to the poster.  Click on “see paper.”  Much of the information on this poster is not relevant to this course.  However, there is a chart in the left-hand corner that gives various scholars’ estimates of human population levels in Africa over the past 2000 years.  It is exceedingly difficult to estimate prior to that period, although some questions of demography in earlier periods will be discussed in subsequent sections of this course.
 
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