Spring 2024

Africa before the European Conquest

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-311  |  History, as HIST-284


Sean Redding (Section 01)


(Offered as HIST 284 [AF/TC/TE/TR/P] and BLST 311) The African continent has been called by one historian the social laboratory of humanity. Art, trade, small-scale manufacturing, medical knowledge, religion, state systems, history, and legend all flourished before the formal political take-over of the continent by European powers in the late nineteenth century. We will explore this varied history of states and cultures in the African past.  The course will focus primarily on the period between 1400 and 1885 by discussing four topics in depth: labor systems within African societies and the impact of both the trans-Atlantic and east African trades in enslaved people; the impacts of religion and political power on the rise and fall of the central African kingdom of Kongo; the genesis of the Zulu state in southern Africa and historical debates about the regional impact of the Zulu state’s expansion; and the changing roles of women as economic, political, and social actors. We will discuss some of the differences between oral historical narratives and written ones to understand how Africans actively interpreted their histories and how later historians have re-interpreted, re-written, and occasionally silenced these earlier narratives. Two class meetings per week.

Spring semester. Professor Redding

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: By the end of the semester, students will have: • critically analyzed a range of primary and secondary sources to investigate the history of Africa before 1885 • engaged in both open and structured discussions with their classmates and professor • developed the skills to write persuasively about specific topics and provide evidence to support their arguments in written assignments • analyzed the historical construction of several state systems and social differences in Africa • identified how social categories, including ethnicity, religious beliefs, and gender, changed over time and explained how these categories informed people’s experiences in the precolonial context.


Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2018, Spring 2024