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HIST252: Modern Africa

Unit 1: Background Information for History of Africa from 1880 to the Present   This brief introductory unit is designed to introduce you to the discipline of African history and to provide background information that will serve as reference points throughout the course.  Specifically, the relative ‘novelty’ of African history compels us to consider the origin and state of African history as a legitimate field of academic inquiry.  Understanding the (at worst) dismissal and (at best) marginalization of African history in historiographies is critical to our reading and interpretation of historical texts.  Not only is it essential to recognize and pay attention to the source of the material, but an appreciation for the perceptions of African history by historians and practitioners alike permits us to engage the material in a more thorough and critical manner. 

Additionally, this unit sheds light on various aspects of Africa’s climate and geography.  While it may seem out of place to concern ourselves with geography in a course on African history, the linkage between the two is undeniable.  In fact, geography informs history; geographical realities have significant impact on socio-economic and political developments.  Therefore, a brief introduction to important geographic features will aid your exploration of African historical developments in subsequent units.  Furthermore, you are encouraged to familiarize yourself with a contemporary map of the African continent.  A basic knowledge of the location of African countries, capital cities and geographic features will facilitate your study of African history.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit should take you approximately 5.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 0.5 hour

☐    Subunit 1.2: 0.5 hour

☐    Subunit 1.3: 4.0 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3.1: 0.5 hour

☐    Subunit 1.3.2: 3.5 hours

☐    Subunit 1.4: 0.5 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

  • Identify Africa’s countries and major geographic features on a map.
  • Explain the emergence of African history as an academic discipline.
  • Describe major connections between Africa’s geography and historical developments.

1.1 What Is ‘African’ History?   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “What Is ‘African’ History?” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “What Is ‘African’ History?” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please download the reading linked above and read the entire prose piece.  It provides you with a succinct overview of the development of African history as a field of scholarly study as well as the specific challenges associated with research in African history.

1.2 Major Periods in African History   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Major Periods in African History” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Major Periods in African History” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please download the reading linked above for a brief overview of the eight major periods in African history.

1.3 Africa’s Climate and Geography   1.3.1 Key Elements of Africa’s Geographic Landscape and Climate Patterns   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Key Elements of Africa’s Geographic Landscape and Climate Patterns” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Key Elements of Africa’s Geographic Landscape and Climate Patterns” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please download the reading linked above for a brief overview of principal features of Africa’s natural environment and the ways in which they influenced historical developments.

1.3.2 The Map of Africa   1.3.2.1 Political Map   - Web Media: University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 2008 Political Map of “Africa” Link: University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 2008 Political Map of “Africa” (JPG)
 
Instructions: Examine the map; you may want to click on the map to increase its size or even save the jpg file to disk, which will also allow you to increase its size.
 
The political map of Africa is relatively new.  Only since the end of colonialism and the emergence of new countries on the African continent has Africa’s political map solidified into its present form.  In fact, this 2008 map is already outdated as Africa’s newest country—South Sudan—gained its independence on 9 July 2011 (this is reflected in the reference map below).  Please note the fragmentation of the continent in terms of the sheer number of countries as well as the peculiarities of their shapes.  Specifically, there are a total of 55 countries in Africa (those who do not recognize Western Sahara as an independent country put the number at 54).  Some countries are rather oddly shaped.  The Gambia in western Africa, for example, extends for 220 miles along the Gambia River and is no more than 18 miles wide; it has a small coastline and is otherwise surrounded by Senegal.  Lesotho, on the other hand, is completely surrounded by South Africa.  Also, noteworthy is the unusually high number of landlocked countries (countries that lack direct access to the sea).  Africa has 15 landlocked countries; these countries are among the world’s least developed countries due to, in part, their vulnerability with respect to transportation.  Such peculiarities point to the artificiality of Africa’s borders.  These borders are recent and typically unrelated to cultural or political realities as they are a direct consequence of colonialism.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.3.2.2 Physical Maps   - Web Media: Michigan State University’s Exploring Africa: “Unit 2: Studying Africa through the Social Studies: Module 6, The Geography of Africa: The Physical Map of Africa” and University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 1986 “Africa Natural Vegetation” Map Link: Michigan State University’s Exploring Africa: “Unit 2: Studying Africa through the Social Studies: Module 6, The Geography of Africa: The Physical Map of Africa” (HTML) and University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 1986 “Africa Natural Vegetation” Map (JPG)
 
Instructions: The first link takes you to a website of Michigan State University’s Exploring Africa curriculum.  Click on the map on the left side to access a larger JPG version of the map.  The second link is a direct link to the map.  Examine these maps; you may want to click on the maps to increase their size or even save the .jpg files to disk, which will also allow you to increase the size.  The second map is also available as a PDF file.
 
The first map depicts Africa’s relief and drainage system.  It illustrates the continent’s description of plateau continent.  “High Africa,” the parts of the continent south of an imaginary line stretching from northern Angola in the west to northwest Ethiopia in the east, is characterized by plateaus and plains 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level.  “Low Africa,” the parts of Africa north of this imaginary line, is marked by low plains usually under 500 meters above sea level.  The color shading on the map reflects these differences in elevation.  In essence, the geological age of the African continent, in conjunction with the dynamics of plate tectonics, led to the creation of these plateaus, which are characterized by sharp, steep edges (most prominently witnessed in east Africa’s Great Rift Valley).  The second map shows Africa’s natural vegetation zones.  Note the vegetation zone of southern Africa as this is instrumental in explaining African-European interactions in this part of the continent.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

1.3.2.3 Reference Map   - Web Media: University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 2011 Reference Map of “Africa” Link: University of Texas: Perry-Casta?eda Library Map Collections’ 2011 Reference Map of “Africa” (PDF)
 
Instructions: The link takes you to a listing of Africa maps available in this map collection.  Select the 11th map from the top (the first reference map listed) and open the PDF file.  This map depicts Africa’s countries (note the inclusion of South Sudan), major rivers, lakes, and deserts.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpages above.

1.3.2.4 Map Exercises   - Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Map Exercises Items to be Identified,” “Map Exercise 1,” “Map Exercise 2,” “Map for Map Exercise 1,” “Map for Exercise 2,” “Map Exercise 1 Answer Key,” and “Map Exercise 2 Answer Key” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Map Exercises Items to be Identified,” (PDF) “Map Exercise 1,” (PDF) “Map Exercise 2,” (PDF) “Map for Map Exercise 1,” (JPG) “Map for Exercise 2,” (JPG) “Answer Key to Map Exercise 1,” and “Answer Key to Map Exercise 2” (PDF)
 
Also available in:
Map Exercise 1 (.doc)
Map Exercise 2 (.doc)
 
Instructions: Please download the documents in the order listed above.  The first document contains the names of all African countries and their capital cities as well as a list of key African geographical features.  You are expected to familiarize yourself with this list and use it to complete the map exercises.  “Map Exercise 1” and “Map Exercise 2” are documents you can use to record your answers.  The maps that are provided to you are blank maps that contain numbers.  Please match these numbers with their corresponding countries and capitals or geographical features (see Map Exercises Items to be Identified).  You may check your answers after you have completed the exercises by using the answer keys.
 
Terms of Use: The map used above is in the Public Domain.

1.4 Historical African Place Names   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Historical African Place Names” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Historical African Place Names” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please download the reading linked above and read the reference list for an overview of changes to African place names.  This reference list might be helpful as you progress through the following units.