Instructor: Professor Susanne Klausen


For thousands of years, Africa has been a continent comprised of diverse and complex societies, including great kingdoms such as ancient Egypt and small hunter-gatherer groups like the San of southern Africa. It is also a place with vastly different types of geography, ranging from huge deserts like the Sahara to the lush rainforest in the Congo River basin. This course examines the emergence of African societies and cultures from ancient times until the eve of the European Scramble for Africa in the 19th century. Using primary and secondary sources we will explore themes including the following: the role of geography in the history of the peoples of the continent; each region’s unique culture; the trans-Saharan trade system, and how it connected Africa to other parts of the world; emergence of the great West African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai; religious belief; the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and first encounters with Europeans.

Class format

Classes will consist of lectures as well as discussion. You will be assigned readings, including both secondary and primary sources, and watch documentary films.

Aims and Goals

You will leave the course with an excellent understanding of Africa’s ancient history through a wide range of sources. In addition, you will learn to identify and critique long-standing Westocentric notions about Africa and African people. You will also develop skills necessary for critical thinking, such as identifying the difference between primary and secondary sources, analyzing and interpreting evidence, and crafting historical arguments. You will also experience working with others as well as on your own.


Evaluation will be based on a fact test (including a map test), two midterms, group presentation and short essay. All components of the grade must be completed in order to pass the course.