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HIST251: History of Africa to 1890

Unit 4: Ancient and Classical Africa—Sub-Saharan (c. 2750 BCE–1500 CE)  

The same drying of the Sahara that concentrated Africans into the Nile River valley also led to the emergence of sophisticated societies in sub-Saharan Africa. The first highly structured societies probably developed in the Sahelian region of West Africa, but over time, the spread of technologies, the growth of populations, and the development of trade routes stimulated similar growth elsewhere. Nevertheless, many African societies chose not to go the route of centralized “states” in this period, preferring other methods of organization.

In this unit, we will look at these societies in all of their diversity, beginning with a thematic exploration of the origins of complex states and societies and moving on to an examination of societies in the Sahel, the forests of West Africa, and then other regions of Africa in the period before circa 1500 CE.

Unit 4 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit should take you approximately 20 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 4.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 4.2: 7 hours

☐    Subunit 4.3: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 4.4: 5 hours

Unit4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
- Analyze the impact of environmental change, human migration, and trade on the development of societies in sub-Saharan Africa prior to circa 1500 CE.

  • Summarize the development of Sahelian/Sudanic states and other states in Africa during the period prior to circa 1400 CE.
  • Explain what images of honor, heritage, and gender in the Sonjata epic tell us about Mande perspectives in the period of imperial Mali.

4.1 The Origins of Sub-Saharan African States   4.1.1 Migration and Adaptation   - Reading: About.com: Alistair Boddy-Evans’s “Nok Culture: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Earliest Civilization?” Link: About.com: Alistair Boddy-Evans’s “Nok Culture: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Earliest Civilization?” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Alistair Boddy-Evans’s article addresses a significant archeological discovery that helped to date the origins of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s earliest and most complex ancient societies.  Read the entire article.
 
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  • Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Nok Terracottas (500 B.C.–200 A.D.)” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Nok Terracottas (500 B.C.–200 A.D.)” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This article addresses the same subject as the article in the previous reading.  However, a greater emphasis is placed upon the artistic qualities of the terracotta sculptures, as well as the various cultural readings that can be drawn from them.  Please read the article in its entirety.
     
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  • Web Media: YouTube: acti0ns’s “African History—The Nok” Link: YouTube: acti0ns’s “African History—The Nok” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: This video provides a basic overview of the terracotta discoveries mentioned in both of the articles above, as well as a general history of the Nok themselves.  Please watch the entire video.
     
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4.1.2 The Implications of Trade   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “The Implications of Trade” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “The Implications of Trade” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the linked entry.

  • Reading: National Endowment for the Humanities: “Trekking to Timbuktu: Trade in Ancient West Africa” Link: National Endowment for the Humanities: “Trekking to Timbuktu: Trade in Ancient West Africa” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Using the menu provided on the left-hand side of the screen, navigate to and read the following sections: “Introduction,” “Guiding Questions,” “Learning Objectives,” “Lesson Activities,” and “Assessment.”
     
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4.2 Sudanic States   - Reading: Exploring Africa, “History of Africa during the Time of the Great West African Kingdoms” Link: Exploring Africa, “History of Africa during the Time of the Great West African Kingdoms” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This article discusses three of the kingdoms of West Africa between 800 CE and 1500 CE: the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay.  Please read the entire article.
 
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4.2.1 The Development of State and Society   - Assessment: Xavier University of Louisiana: J. Rotondo-McCord’s “Using the Tests” Link: Xavier University of Louisiana: J. Rotondo-McCord’s “Using the Tests” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Test your knowledge!  Take the exams for the following sections: “Trade,” “Mali,” and “Songhay.”  When you select an answer, the website will let you know whether your choice is correct or incorrect.
 
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  • Reading: African Kingdoms, “Kingdoms of Africa: Cradle of Civilizations and Humanity” Link: African Kingdoms, “Kingdoms of Africa: Cradle of Civilizations and Humanity” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read “The Kingdom of Ghana.”  This section of the article discusses several twentieth-century archeological discoveries, in what are today Mali and southern Mauritania, that illuminated the origins of ancient complex societies.

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  • Reading: Susan J. Herlin’s “Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500” Link: Susan J. Herlin’s “Ancient African Civilizations to ca. 1500” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the “West Africa in Antiquity” section. This section of the article addresses the physical and cultural changes that took place in West Africa between 3000 BCE and 500 BCE.
     
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4.2.2 The Creation of Mali—The Sonjata Epic   - Reading: West Chester University: “Background to D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” Link: West Chester University: “Background to D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This article discusses the topics of geography, religion, society, and politics of what is now Mali.  Please read the entire article.
 
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  • Reading: Cora Agatucci’s “The Epic of Sundjata” Link: Cora Agatucci’s “The Epic of Sundjata” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Cora Agatucci’s article provides both a summary of the epic story of Sundjata and a general historical context in which to read and interpret the story’s text.  Please read the entire article.
     
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4.2.3 Honor and Gender in Mali   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Honor and Gender in Mali” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Honor and Gender in Mali” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the linked entry.

4.2.4 Songhay   - Reading: African Kingdoms: “Kingdoms of Africa” Link: African Kingdoms: “Kingdoms of Africa” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the “Kingdom of Songhay” and “Mali Was in Ruins” sections.
 
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4.3 Varieties of States and Societies in West Africa   4.3.1 The Forest States   - Reading: G.O.M. Jameson’s “A Short History of Africa” Link: G.O.M. Jameson’s “A Short History of Africa”
 
Instructions: Click on the first link to download the PDF. Read chapter 7: “The West African Forest Kingdoms.”
 
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  • Web Media: BBC and The British Museum: “Ife head” Link: BBC and The British Museum: “Ife head” (HTML, Flash Videos, and Java)
     
    Instructions: Please read the entire article (being sure to click on the “…Read more” button in the “Kingdom of Ife” section) and browse through the photos provided in the interactive multimedia viewer.
     
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4.3.2 Confederations   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Confederations” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Confederations” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the linked entry.

4.3.3 Acephalous Societies   - Reading: Exploring Africa: “Types of Government in Pre-Colonial Africa” Link: Exploring Africa: “Types of Government in Pre-Colonial Africa” (HTML)
 
Instructions: This article discusses the variety of polities and structures of government that existed in pre-colonial West Africa.  Read the entire article.
 
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4.4 State and Power in East, Central, and South Africa   4.4.1 Central African Kingdoms   - Reading: Exploring Africa: “History of Central Africa” Link: Exploring Africa: “History of Central Africa” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the “Growth of Trade” section.  This section of the article discusses the growth of trade networks in Central Africa and their socio-economic impacts on the region.
 
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  • Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Kingdoms of the Savanna: The Luba and Lunda Empires” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Kingdoms of the Savanna: The Luba and Lunda Empires” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This article discusses the origins and growth of two major centers of power in Central Africa during the late early-modern period: the Luba and Lunda Empires.  You can also use the menu on the left-hand side of the screen to explore further, but this is not required.  Please read the entire article.
     
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4.4.2 Kingdoms of Kongo   - Reading: The History Files, “African Kingdoms: Central Africa” Link: The History Files, “African Kingdoms: Central Africa” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the “Kongo Kingdom” section.  This section of the article provides a general overview of the origins of the Kongo Kingdom (ca. 1400 CE–1914 CE).
 
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  • Reading: Art & Life in Africa: “Kongo Information” Link: Art & Life in Africa: “Kongo Information” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: This resource provides brief descriptions of various aspects of the Congo, such as its economy, political systems, religion, and types of art.  Please read the entire article.
     
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4.4.3 Mwene Mutapa   - Reading: Afropede@: “Mutapa Empire” Link: Afropede@: “Mutapa Empire” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the linked article, which discusses the origins and growth of the Mutapa Empire between the mid-fifteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries.  Founded in modern day Zimbabwe and extending to the coasts of what is now Mozambique, the Mutapa Empire was the most powerful political entity in the region during its heyday in the mid- to late-fifteenth century.
 
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