Time: 9: 10-10am mwf; Rm. La 321 Instructor: Scott S. Reese

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History 220

History of Africa to 1800

Fall 2003 3 credit hours

Time: 9:10-10am MWF; Rm. LA 321

Instructor: Scott S. Reese

Office: BIO 208

Tel.: 523-9049

Email: scott.reese@nau.edu

Office Hours: MWF 10:30-11:30 or by appointment

Africa is frequently portrayed in popular images as “the dark continent” where life and society have remained unchanged for hundreds if not thousands of years. This course is designed to debunk this mythical view of Africa by exploring many aspects of the continent’s frequently ignored history. Our approach will be semi-chronological beginning with the earliest known African civilizations, Egypt, Kush and Axum as well as the Berbers of North Africa. We will then explore the medieval era with a close examination of the Sudanic empires the Swahili coast and Solomonic Ethiopia. The final segment of the course will consider the evolution of various African states on the eve of the nineteenth century and the arrival of European colonial rule. While some time will be spent creating a narrative history of the African past, it will not be our sole concern. More importantly, we will use this narrative to begin to examine deeper issues in African history including identity, gender, religion and economics.

Class format

This class will be run as a combination of lecture and weekly discussions based on the assigned readings and student generated questions. The objective is not only for you to read African history but to use it as a platform for honing your own analytical skills. Lectures on each topic will form an important part of the course. However, a significant amount of class time will be dedicated to informed discussion of the readings, debate and the constructive, respectful critique of your ideas and the ideas of your colleagues.
Course Objectives:

In addition to increasing your knowledge of our past, this course will also provide the opportunity to develop and utilize various skills -- especially regarding analytical thought and writing-- which will be valuable throughout your university career and beyond.  


As a Liberal Studies course this class will follow certain themes and is intended to help you develop particular intellectual skills in addition to studying the history of ancient, medieval and early modern Africa. The Thematic Focus of the course is Understanding and Valuing the Diversity of Human Experience, which falls under the Cultural Understanding Distribution Block. There are a variety of Essential Skills you are expected to develop during the course of the semester including: Critical thinking, Critical Reading and Effective Writing.

  • Students will acquire a basic chronology of African history from the ancient period to c. 1800 via readings and lectures providing students with a greater understanding of the “Diversity of Human Experience”.

  • Enhance oral communication skills through weekly class discussions.

  • Students will enhance their proficiency in critical thinking and writing through exams, the completion of four (4) brief reaction papers as well as formal class discussions.

  • Gain an appreciation of the worth and wealth of other culture through extensive reading and discussion about various African societies.

Required Readings:

Christopher Ehret, The Civilizations of Africa (UVA Press, 2002)

Graham Connah, African Civilizations: An Archeological Perspective 2nd Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Said Hamdun and Noel King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (Markus Weiner, 1994)

Beverly Mack & Boyd, One Woman’s Jihad (Indiana U. Press, 2000)

All the above texts can be purchased at the University Bookstore. Students are expected to bring all required readings to class during the week assigned (you are responsible for following the syllabus, I will not remind you). Additional readings indicated below are on electronic reserve in the library and can be accessed via the following link: http://www.nau.edu/library/courses/history/his220-reese/reserve/

Note: Different readings serve different purposes. We will be using both primary and secondary sources in order to provide as broad an overview of the African past as possible. See the attached Weekly Summary guide for a more detailed discussion.

Assessment of Outcomes and Course Requirements:

We will use a variety of instruments to assess your achievement of the course objectives listed above:

1) Two (2) 50 minute exams

        The objective of the course exams is to test your knowledge of the historical material (e.g. basic chronology, events, persons and trends etc.) Each exam will consist of short response and essay questions based on readings and class notes.  Essays must demonstrate a grasp of the historical material and be expressed in your own words.  Exams, if missed, may be made-up only for documented medical or grave personal reasons. NO DOCUMENTATION=NO MAKE-UP!!

2) Reaction Papers (4): During the course of the semester each participant will be required to write four (4) brief papers (400-600 words) responding to the readings for a given week. Two (2) of these must be completed during the first half of the semester (i.e. weeks 1-7) and two (2) during the second half of the term (i.e. weeks 8-15). In each paper participants will be expected to identify the major themes, issues or questions raised by the author. In addition, students will be expected to provide more than a general synopsis of the readings. Successful papers will also need to include a critique of the author’s work including whether or not his/her arguments are convincing (and why you think they are or are not successful) as well as posing questions of your own for further consideration. These writing assignments are intended to help you hone your ability to analyze primary and secondary historical sources (i.e. sharpen your critical reading and thinking skills) and to help you develop more effective writing.
Essays are due at the beginning of class on Friday. A reaction paper turned in on a given Friday must address the readings for that week. Late papers will not be accepted (e.g. you may not turn in a reaction paper on the following Monday).
A brief guide detailing format and what is expected in a good reaction paper will be forthcoming. These writing assignments are excellent candidates for inclusion in your electronic portfolios.
Note: Papers delivered as e-mail attachments will not be accepted without prior approval of the instructor.
3) Take Home Final Exam

All students will be required to take the final exam that will be in a take home format. The questions on the final will differ from the 50 minute exams in that they will require you to synthesize data from both lectures and readings from throughout the term in order to demonstrate your understanding of the African past. As a result, the objective of the final is not only to test your mastery of the chronology of African history but also a final assessment of the development of your critical thinking abilities. Outside research will, of course, not be necessary.

4) Participation/Attendance and Weekly Summaries

Class attendance is not a graded portion of the course. However, as a discussion oriented course participation is graded. You are required to show up to each class period having read the material and ready to engage it in a meaningful manner.

In order to help insure that you complete the readings but also to assist you in approaching them critically, each student will be required to bring a five (5) point summary of the main arguments of that week’s readings to class every Friday. Each point need be no more than 1-2 sentences but needs to illustrate what you think are the principle foci of the readings. The objective of these exercises is to assist you in developing your critical thinking skills as well as your ability to articulate them in class.
These will be turned in to the instructor at the end of class. Failure to do so will result in the deduction of ½ point from your participation grade for each summary not turned in (e.g. if you miss one week your potential participation grade will drop from 10 to 9.5 automatically. Keep in mind, however, this is not the only determinant of your participation grade.) Summaries will only be accepted by the instructor at the time of the class meeting (i.e. you may not turn in your points before or after class.) Individuals are exempt from turning in summaries during the weeks they turn in their reaction papers. A separate sheet detailing what you need to look for in different readings will be forthcoming.
Finally, it should be noted that missing more than 3 class periods will have a serious impact on your participation grade.
If you must miss class for whatever reason, it is your responsibility to obtain that day’s notes and any other pertinent information from one of your classmates. If circumstances dictate (e.g. family or medical emergency) that you must miss more than 3 classes, it is also your responsibility to discuss this situation with the instructor.

Extensions, incompletes and make-up exams will be granted only in accordance with University policy.

Course Evaluation

Your course grades will be based on the following distribution:

Final Grade

Reaction Papers 40% (10% ea.)

Exams 30% (15% ea.)

Final Exam 20%

Participation 10%

A standard grading scale will be in use

90%+= A; 80-89% =B; 70-79%=C; 60-69%=D; below 60%=F
Failing to complete any major component of the course will seriously jeopardize one’s ability to pass the course.
Note: University standards against plagiarism and cheating will be strictly upheld. Cheating includes, but is not limited to, copying, paraphrasing, or summarizing the work of another (including a fellow student) without proper acknowledgment. ANY course work found to have been dishonestly completed will result in a failing grade for the course.

Weekly Schedule And Assignments

Make certain you have the readings done in advance of each class session. Also, remember, the following is merely a guideline and adjustments may be made to the schedule as necessary.

Wk. 1 Aug. 25-29


Ehret, Ch. 1

Wk. 2 Sept. 01-05 (No Class Monday – Veterans Day)

African “pre-history”


Ehret, Ch. 2 &3

Issues: Agriculture: The only basis for settled society?
Wk. 3 Sept. 08-12
Ancient Africa


Burstein Ancient African Civilizations: Kush and Axum, pp. 25-52 (on e-reserve)

Connah chs. 1&2

Ehret, Ch. 4
Issues: Kush: an Egyptian “knock off”? What are the bases for understanding the rise and development of Kush? Was it distinct from Egypt or just a “cheap” copy? Is it more or less of an “African” civilization than Egypt?
Wk. 4 Sept. 15-19

Ancient Africa


Burstein, pp. 89-100 (on e-reserve)

Connah ch. 3

Ehret, Ch. 5

Issues: How is Axum different from its contemporaries? Do the South Arabian roots of society have any importance for our understanding of what constitutes an “African” civilization?
Wk. 5 Sept. 22-26

Ancient Africa

The Berbers
Brett and Fentress, chs. Intro., 1-2 (on reserve)
Issues: Roman and Berber? Could you be both? What does this say about the notion of identity in ancient North Africa?
Wk. 6 Sept. 30-Oct. 03

1st Exam

Medieval Africa

Merchants of the Sea – the Swahili

Nurse and Spear The Swahili chs. 4, 5 (electronic reserve)

Connah Ch. 6

Hamdun & King Ibn Battuta in Black Africa pp. VII-26

Ehret, Ch. 6 (optional)

Issues: Who are the Swahili? How did the economic basis of their society effect the development of their identity?

Wk. 7 Oct. 06-10
Medieval Africa

Solomonic Ethiopia


Harold Marcus, A History of Ethiopia pp. 1-60 (on e-reserve)

Mahoney, “Between Islam and Christendom: The Ethiopian Community in Jerusalem Before 1517 (on e-reserve)

Ehret, Ch. 7

Issues: Muslim vs. Christians—what was a greater determinate of their relaltions: religion, economics or, politics?
Wk. 8 Oct. 13-17
Medieval Africa

Sudanic Empires


Connah, ch. 4

Hamdun & King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa pp. 27-94

Ehret, Ch. 7

Issues: How Muslim were the kingdoms of the Western Sudan? How African was Islam?
Wk. 9 Oct. 20-24
Sudanic Empires cont.
Readings: Cont from wk. 8
Wk. 10 Oct. 27-31

2nd Exam

Slavery in Africa


Ehret, Ch 8

Issues: Was African slavery more “humane” than its New World manifestation?

Wk. 11. Nov. 03-07

Resistance in the Kongo


Ehret, Ch. 9

Davidson, “Mani-Congo” ch. 4 in Basil Davidson, The African Slave Trade (on e-reserve)
Issues: What was the impact of the Portuguese arrival on traditional African political and social systems?
Wk. 12 Nov. 10-14

State Building and the Zulu Empire


“The Mass Migrations of the mfecane & the Great Trek” (Chapter 4) in History of Southern Africa (on e-reserve)

Issues: What were the underlying causes of the social disruptions of the 18th and 19th centuries in southern Africa?
Wk. 13 Nov. 17-21
Mfecane Reconsidered

Hamilton, The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History Intro., 1, 5,10 (on e-reserve)

Issues: The Zulu—State builders or barbarians?

Wk. 14 Nov. 24-28 (Thanksgiving, No Class Friday)

State Building

Uthman Dan Fodio’s Jihad

Nehmiah Levtzion “TheEighteenth Century Background to the Islamic Revolutions in West Africa” (pp. 21-38) in Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam Nehmiah Levtzion and John O. Voll eds.

Louis Brenner, “Muslim Thought in Eighteenth-Century West Africa: The case of Shaykh Uthman b. Fudi” (pp. 39-67) Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam Nehmiah Levtzion and John O. Voll eds.

(both on e-reserve)

Mack & Boyd-- Begin
Issues: Causes of Jihad.

Wk. 15 Dec. 01-05

The social world of reform


Mack & Boyd-- Finish

Issues: Nana Asmau’ – seminal figure or an early example of political “tokenism”?
Wk. 16 Dec. 08-12

Africa and the World – Final Consideration

Issue: How large a role did Africa play in the pre-modern world?
Directory: ~ssr7

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