The continent of Africa is the cradle of human beings. African peoples have crafted a dizzying array of cultures, societies, and civilizations in Africa for thousands of years. Today, Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people—more than North and South American combined! Stretching into the distant past, African civilizations have played an influential role in European, Asian, and American histories. Yet, most Westerners know very little about the (pre)history of this continent.
For thousands of years, African civilizations have played an integral role in world scholarship, development, technology, art, and culture. Interactions with African societies has dramatically shaped the course of world history. The effects of these interactions continue to reverberate through the world today. Having a cursory understanding of ancient African civilizations helps us understand how today’s Africans have come to be who they are today. It also helps us recognize how the ways African peoples have impacted societies in other parts of the world.
This course will survey the development of various ancient civilizations that emerged on the African continent prior to 1500 CE. It starts with the assumption that civilization and human development in the early history of Africa resulted from a dynamic process that involved on climate change, migration, technological creations and innovations, sedentary (agricultural) and pastoral (herding) lifestyles, shifting cosmologies (or world views), social stratification, and long-distance trade. Other important themes in this class are the confluence of knowledge production, religion, and art; as well as ancient Africa’s significant, yet often unacknowledged, contributions to global culture and scholarship.