Unit 1 African Beginnings


Africa, the ancestral homeland of African Americans, covers 11,700,000 square miles, or one-fifth of the world’s land area, and is the second largest continent. With a population of about 700,000,000, or about 60 persons per square mile, Africa is sparsely populated by world standards, having a little over half of the world’s average (102 persons per square mile), Two-thirds of the continent lies in the tropics, and it has three major deserts: the Kalahari (South), Namib (South), and Sahara (North). The Sahara’s desiccation occurred between 5,000 and 3,000 B.C. and resulted in a marked decline in its human and animal life. In the West, Central and Southwest regions, Africa has dense, sprawling rain forests that are often incorrectly referred to as jungles. Lakes and rivers are central to African life as sources of livelihood, commerce, and basic transportation. Africa’s major rivers are the Nile (at over four thousand miles the world’s longest) in the Northeast; the Zambezi in the Southeast; the Congo in the Southwest; and the Niger, Benue, and Senegal in the West.

The word Africa was used by the ancient Romans to refer to their colonial province in the area that is present-day Tunisia and eastern Algeria. Its possible derivations are the Latin word aprica, meaning “sunny”, and the Greek word aphrike, meaning “without cold.”

Archeological finds suggest that Africa is the cradle of humankind. The earliest fossil remains of humans, however one defines human, have been found in eastern and southern Africa. For example, if being human is defined as bipedality (“walking upright”), then the remains found in Ethiopia in 1974 of a four-million-year-old apelike creature apply. If defined as “making tools” (tools from stones that were sharpened or flattened), then the fossilized remains unearthed in 1986 in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge are particularly significant. About two million years old, they were those of Homo habilus, the first toolmaker. (Even more recent studies have led to the conclusion that humans first learned to fashion sophisticated tools in Africa, not in Europe, as many experts had thought. These tools, carved from the ribs of large mammals, include double-pointed blades with carved barbs and single points with ridges that could have been used for attachment to spear shafts. They were discovered in Zaire along its border with Uganda and are said to be between 75,000 to 90,000 years old.) If “using fire” defines being human, then the one-million-year-old remains found at Kenya’s Lake Turkana of Homo erectus, the first creature to both make “hand axes” (pear-shaped, chipped-stone tools) and use fire, are critically important. Finally, it can be noted that the earliest remains of Homo sapiens, “thinking/ talking man” or modern man, about one hundred thousand years old, have also been found in East Africa.

Although no one disputes the substantial evidence that the earliest human ancestors evolved in Africa and that migration from Africa at some point led to the global distribution of humans, there is some disagreement about when, where, and how early humans became transformed into modern humans. One group of anthropologists and paleontologists holds that Africa was the place where, between two hundred thousand and one hundred thousand years ago, Homo sapiens evolved. From there, this group believes, these earliest modern humans began an out-migration, moving first into the Middle East and southern Europe and, by about sixty thousand years ago, into the rest of the world. As different groups encountered different climatic conditions, racial differences gradually developed. Thus, according to this group, races began to split apart only after their common forebears had already attained the status of Homo sapiens in Africa. This “out-of-Africa” theory has gained valuable support from molecular biologists whose forte is tracing genetic lineages. Their research has shown that the maternal ancestry of every person living today is traceable to an “African Eve,” a woman who lived in Africa one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand years ago. Also, finding a greater number of mutations in the genes from people of African descent, molecular biologists have concluded that Africans have been diversifying longer and, therefore, represent the earliest modern branch of the family tree.

A second group, supporting the “multiregional” school of thought, argues that Homo sapiens did not emerge solely in Africa, that modern humans arose independently in different places in Africa, Europe, and Asia. This group thus stresses an earlier migration from Africa, which occurred about one and a half to two million years ago. It involved Homo erectus, an early human creature, spreading out from Africa and colonizing much of the globe. From Homo erectus, according to the multiregionalists, there emerged regional groups, relatively isolated, that evolved into several archaic versions of Homo sapiens. The multiregionalists thus believe that racial divergences occurred roughly a million years ago, during a more primitive phase of human evolution. They contend that racial groups evolved for long stretches in relative isolation and possibly at different rates, moving from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens either simultaneously or at different times. In support of their position, they point to fossil findings in an Israeli cave showing that modern-looking Homo sapiens lived in the Middle East as long as ninety-two thousand years ago.

In addition to occupying a very special place in the unfolding of the human evolutionary process, Africa’s early history is marked by the emergence of agriculturalists. Evidence suggests that this occurred as early as 5,000 B.C. with the cultivation of rice and millet in the North by pre-dynastic cultures that flourished in Egypt and in the West by the Nok people, who also developed an iron industry. Pre-dynastic Egyptian cultures, established by Africans from the areas of present-day Sudan and Ethiopia who followed the northward flow of the Nile, included as of 4,000 B.C. the Tasians (hunters, fishermen, and farmers); Badarians (pottery, jewelry, ivory, and copper craftsmen); and Amratians (builders of papyrus boats). In the fourth millennium B.C., after hunting had been abandoned in favor of farming, Lower and Upper Egypt were united. The Upper Nile’s King Narmer (Menes), the first pharaoh and first to start a dynasty, achieved this unification sometime between 3400 and 3200 B.C. and thus inaugurated the Old Kingdom (circa 3200 to 2050 B.C.). During the third and fourth dynasties the great pyramids were constructed as royal burial chambers. The first was designed and built by Imhotep, adviser to the pharaoh Zoser; in addition to being an architect, Imhotep was a physician whose knowledge of embalming and mummification enabled him to be the first to write about the human circulatory system. The pyramid he had built about 2650 B.C. at Saqqara, in Lower Egypt, is the oldest standing building in the world.

The economic and physical costs of constructing the pyramids fueled dynastic decline and ushered in the Middle Kingdom (2050 to 1750 B.C.). This was followed by the New Kingdom (1565 to 1085 B.C.), the era of Jewish bondage and the period during which Egypt reached the height of its imperial power. After 1090 B.C., civil wars left Egypt too weak to fend off invaders from Kush, western Asia, and Europe. Alexander the Great, the Greek conqueror, occupied Egypt in 331 B.C., and pharaonic rule ended three hundred years later when the Romans defeated Queen Cleopatra.

Ancient Egypt was the most impressive of the early civilizations. The annual overflowing of the River Nile stimulated along its banks a sedentary way of life noteworthy in at least three respects. First, no early civilization lasted longer than ancient Egypt’s five thousand years. Second, no other early civilization is associated with so many achievements (such as writing; the study of astronomy, geometry and geography; a 365-day calendar; irrigation systems; architecture; sculpture; beds and chairs; and wigs). Third, Egypt marked the greatest confluence of early cultures. Situated at the crossroads between Africa, Asia, and Europe, Egyptians had contact with the Mesopotamians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Kushites (Nubians), Greeks, and Romans. There is even evidence to suggest that the ancient Greek civilization, considered the primary basis for European civilization, was influenced considerably by the ancient Egyptians, especially in religion and art.

Links between some Africans south of the Sahara and the ancient Egyptians have been identified. The legends of some ethnic groups (for example, Dogon, Yoruba, Bakuba, and Watutsi) speak of a migration from the general direction of the Nile Valley. Also, objects found in other parts of Africa resemble Egyptian ones and are therefore viewed as having originated in Egypt (headrests, musical instruments, ostrich fans). Further, there are words common to the Egyptian language and the languages of such African groups as the Yoruba and Wolof. Yoruba and Wolof words are among those West African words that have been found among the black residents of’ the Gullah Islands (Sea Islands) off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

Historically, African societies have been extremely diverse. Some “stateless societies” have featured very simple political structures and have been technologically underdeveloped. Exemplifying this are societies whose economic activities center on hunting and gathering; they include the BaMubuti (so-called Pygmies) of the Ituri Forest in Zaire and the Khoi-San peoples (so-called Bushmen and Hottentot) in southern Africa. Pastoral and nomadic societies like the Nuer of the Sudan, the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania, and the Karamojong of Uganda have also usually been stateless. And there have been African stateless societies based on settled agriculture. Examples of such societies are the Dogon of Mali, the Kru of Liberia, the Tiv and lbo of Nigeria, the Kikuyu of Kenya, and the Baule of Ivory Coast.

Other African groups developed high levels of political organization, such as complex empires and centralized kingdoms. Kush (Nubia), located to the south of Egypt, existed between 2000 B.C. and 350 A.D.; with its ruins of palaces, temples, and numerous pyramids, it constitutes an early example of an African civilization highly advanced both politically and materially. Although it was conquered and influenced by Egypt during its early history (Egyptian administrators and priests, craftsmen, and artists introduced Egyptian techniques and art forms), around 920 B.C. an independent Kushite dynasty arose and eventually conquered all of Egypt; between 716 B.C. and 654 B.C. Kushitic rule constituted the twenty-fifth Egyptian dynasty. Kush lost Egypt to the Assyrians in 654. From that time on Kush was ruled by a single dynasty for a thousand years, a record unequaled on the African continent.

Kush was one of the richest gold-bearing areas of the ancient world. Kush is also important because, with its fall in the fourth century A.D., many Kushites migrated southward and westward, taking with them such concepts as state organization and specialized skills such as iron smelting and metalworking. Since the language of the Kushites has not been deciphered, there is much that is not known about this urban, materially advanced, literate state. We do know, however, that it had dynamic relations not only with its immediate neighbors but, through trade, with an international community. In the first century A.D., after the Roman conquest of Egypt, Kush sent ambassadors to Rome, and Emperor Nero sent Roman emissaries to Kush. Around 350 A.D. Kush fell to Axum, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia and the name by which that kingdom was initially known.

Later notable examples of higher forms of political organization are the great medieval West African empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. While all were highly centralized politically and located in the grassland zone of the Western Sudan, they also shared two additional characteristics: participation in the trans-Saharan trade, and interaction with the Islamic world.

The trans-Saharan trade was crucial to the development of all of these empires because, geographically near both the forest region and North Africa, they were able to serve as middlemen for these two areas; they provided a convenient meeting ground for the exchange of goods. It was thus important for each empire in the course of its imperial expansion to bring under its control the key trading centers where goods were exchanged. This control paralleled an attempt to control the sources of the more important items of trade, especially gold.

Gold was by far the key staple in the trans-Saharan trade for, until the exploration of America, the Western Sudan was the world’s principal source of gold. After gold, slaves were the next most important export of the Western Sudanic states. Other exported items included spices, kola nuts, shea butter, hides, civet, musk, and ivory. In exchange for its commodities the Western Sudan received such items as salt, horses, cloth of all kinds, copper, silver, beads, glassware, dried dates and figs, and manufactured goods.

With trade came new ideas, especially Islamic ideas; the centers of trade became centers for the propagation of the Islamic faith.

Islam was initially introduced into the Western Sudan by nomadic Muslim groups (for example, Berbers) and traders (Berber, Arab, and native) who worked the internal routes of the Western Sudan. The adoption of Islam enabled wandering traders in particular to find hospitality, as well as a sense of community, among fellow Muslim traders in communities along the trade routes. As these traders moved farther into the interior, they carried Islam with them, stimulating a process of Islamization that ultimately involved the conversion of some chiefs and political rulers. The embrace of Islam by such leaders did not necessarily lead to the rapid Islamization of the bulk of the population. Many rulers in fact maintained a middle position between Islam and the traditional African religion, while others turned completely toward Islam. Still others fell back on the tradition, which was generally characterized by a belief in a life force that permeated both the animate world of plants and animals and the inanimate world of natural objects (mountains, rocks) and phenomena (thunder, lightning, wind). The tradition also involved spirit possession, many deities, and the veneration of ancestors.

The spread of Islamic influence and ideas extended beyond purely religious matters. For example, although administration in the Western Sudan evolved from indigenous systems of government, Islam played a part in the development of better administrative practices. Muslim scholars, jurists, and administrators brought with them the most modern ideas of government from the Muslim world; they acted as interpreters, scribes, and treasurers to most of the rulers of the Western Sudanic empires, Additionally, what we know of these empires comes from contemporary accounts furnished mainly by Muslim sources.

Ghana (300-1076) was the first of the three great empires to emerge. Composed of a northern subgroup of the Mandingo, the Soninke people, its origins are shrouded in obscurity. It was certainly in existence by the beginning of the eighth century and had reached the height of its power by the tenth century. It was during this century that it, with the capture of the town of Awdaghast, gained full control of the southern section of the western trans-Saharan trade route.

In 1076 Ghana was conquered by the Almoravids, desert Berbers who zealously preached a strict and ascetic form of Islam. Although Ghana was able to regain its independence with the collapse of the Almoravid movement, it was conquered again in 1203 by the Susu people. With their defeat in 1240 by the Mandingo people, under the energetic ruler Sundiata, Ghana became part of the Mali empire.

Mali (1050-1488) emerged from the unification of a number of Mandingo chieftaincies and was already in existence in embryonic form in the early eleventh century. Sundiata is generally regarded as the founder of the empire; his defeat of Ghana in 1240 inaugurated a career of conquests that led to the emergence of Mali and his own transformation to a Mansa, or emperor. By the time of his death in 1255, Mali covered an extensive amount of territory and controlled the sources of most of the important articles of trade, such as the salt mines of Taghaza, the copper mines of Takedda, and the gold mines to the south. Sundiata also brought under Mali domination such important trading towns as Walata, Jenne, and Gao.

The second most important personality dominating the Mali empire was Mansa Musa, who ruled between 1312 and 1337. During his reign Mali reached its peak in prosperity, fame, and territory. His fame outside the Sudan was due mainly to his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-25, during which he visited Cairo and left a strong impression; his generous gifts and expenditure of gold caused the latter to be devalued in Egypt. The pilgrimage of Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim, also served to attract to Mali more traders and Muslim scholars, who in turn helped further the economic and cultural development of the empire, especially in the commercial city of Timbuktu. The most famous of Mali’s cities, it was here that the Sankore mosque (university) was established; its possession of an impressive array of Greek, Roman, and Arabic manuscripts ultimately made it a leading center of Islamic learning. By the end of the fourteenth century Mali’s period of greatness was over and neighboring groups (such as the Mossi, Tuaregs, and Berbers) were successful in their attacks on the empire’s trading centers (including Timbuktu, Walata, and Jenne). The start of the gradual disintegration of the empire coincided with the rise of new Sudanic states, one of which was Songhay, the last of the great empires of the Western Sudan.

Songhay (1355-1591), composed of the Songhay people, had by the end of the fourteenth century freed itself from Mali domination. In the next century it started to expand its frontiers at the expense of Mali. Most of this expansion took place under Sunni Ali (1464-1492); in a series of campaigns he succeeded in bringing within the Songhay empire most of the important trading centers of the Sudan. Upon his death, one of his former soldiers, Askia Muhammad, was able to oust Ali’s son and establish a new dynasty (1493-1528). Like Mansa Musa, Askia Muhammad was a devout Muslim; under him Islamic influence became an even greater force in the Western Sudan. In trying to establish the Islamic law code in the Sudan, he devoted considerable time to training a class of Muslim judges capable of interpreting the law. He also maintained close connections with notable scholars from North Africa. At the same time he patronized Muslim scholars within the empire and raised the Muslim intelligentsia into a feudal class by granting them lands. As a result of such patronage, by the end of the sixteenth century Timbuktu had emerged as an even greater center of Islamic learning.

In spite of his achievements, in 1528 Askia Muhammad was deposed by his sons, an event that set in motion the rapid disintegration of Songhay. Between 1528 and 1591, the empire, in the absence of a fixed law of succession to the throne, was beset with intrigues, plots, and civil wars following every succession. Such a state of disorganization aided the sudden destruction of Songhay in 1591 by an invading power from the north — the Moroccans — who had the advantage of superior weapons in the form of firearms and cannons. To place it in some kind of time perspective, note that the fall of Songhay occurred roughly one hundred years after Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

Additional evidence of highly sophisticated political structures in traditional Africa can be found in the ruins at Great Zimbabwe, the center of government of Monomopata, the southern African empire that existed between 1425 and 1490. The eleven rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, dating from the twelfth century, and the castles of Gondar, Ethiopia, the most imposing of which was erected in the mid-seventeenth century, also provide evidence of African societies that had advanced stages of technology.

If there was no monolithic African culture or single “African way of life” in the past, this is equally true today. Present-day Africa is home to over one thousand different ethnic groups (often called “tribes”). The traditional cultures of these groups vary in terms of such traits as language, economic activities, and lineage (patrilineal or matrilineal). Still, these cultures possess certain similarities (for example primacy of communal rather than individual interests; patriarchy; polytheism; polygamy; respect for elders; and an oral-aural tradition). Thus the often used phrase “diversity within unity” can be used to describe Africa culturally, both in a historical and contemporary sense.

In at least two vital ways Africa continues to have meaning for persons of African descent in America. Africanisms, cultural traditions derived from Africa (also called “African survivals”), constitute one of these. They permeate important aspects of black American culture such as foodways, music, dance, folklore, and religion. Spirit possession in religious worship, an emphasis on verbal communication and performance, and improvisation in musical expression are particular Africanisms common to contemporary African-American life. Black Americans are also profoundly affected by a prevailing negative image of Africa. A view of the continent’s inhabitants as uncivilized and noncontributors to human progress is still used to validate the claim by some non-black Americans that blacks are their intellectual inferiors and are thus undeserving of rights and privileges accorded American citizens.



The history and culture of Africa are of immense importance to the history of humankind in general and the history and culture of African Americans in particular.

Materials and Preparation

Students should read either chapters 1-3 in The African American Experience: A History (“Egypt, Kush, and Axum,” “Great Empires of West Africa,” and “The West African Heritage”) or chapters 1-3 and chapter 44 in African American History (“Africa: The Land and People,” “Ancient Egypt,” “Three West African Kingdoms,” and “African Legacies in America”).

Students should also read the excerpt from Ali A. Mazrui’s The Africans: A Triple Heritage and that from James E. Blackwell’s The Black Community: Diversity and Unity.

Students should study the two maps of Africa (Map 1and Map 2) and the photo of the Great Sphinx.

The teacher should read chapters 1 and 2 in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (“Land of Their Ancestors” and “The African Way of Life”).

Time Period

Each of the activities that follow will take one class period.



  1. Assess the significance of the civilization of ancient Egypt, an African civilization, for the history of humankind.
  2. Have students locate Egypt on Map 1. Ask students if they usually associate Egypt with Africa. Have them explore reasons for their answers.
  3. Have students look at the photograph of the Great Sphinx as an example of a great achievement of the Egyptians. Based on the readings have them identify other achievements of the ancient Egyptians.
  4. Evaluation: Have each student write a 500-word essay on a particular Egyptian achievement, pointing out its usefulness or significance in today’s world.


  1. Recognize that Africa historically has produced both societies featuring elaborate centralized political structures and advanced stages of technology and stateless societies with less advanced technologies and that both have been defined as civilizations.
  2. Ask students to provide a meaning of the term civilization.
  3. Have students use Map 2 to locate the highly developed states or empires of Kush (Nubia), Monomopata, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, and the habitat of such stateless groups as the Dogon, Kru, Tiv, lbo, BaMubuti, Khoi-San, Masai, Nuer, and Kikuyu. Ask the students whether either of the two contrasting types of society has been predominant in a certain geographical area of Africa.
  4. Divide the class in half and, based on the excerpt from Ali A. Mazrui’s The Africans: A Triple Heritage, let each group represent one of the two types of African societies to which the term civilization has been applied. In a debate let each group argue the merits of its particular society.
  5. Evaluation: Have the students write a short play wherein the characters, African historians, debate which type of African society is a civilization.


  1. Identify three areas of African American cultural life where African survivals exist.
  2. Have students define the term “African Survival” (“Africanism”).
  3. Based on the excerpt from James E. Blackwell’s The Black Community: Diversity and Unity, divide the class into groups, each representing a particular realm of African American life in which African survivals are found (such as music, dance, language, religion, foodways). Have each group discuss two examples of Africanisms in its particular cultural realm.
  4. Evaluation: Ask the students to imagine they are journalists. Have them write a 500-word article on some aspect of African American life that reveals the presence of an Africanism.

Supplemental Activities

  1. Visit a museum that has a collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts (such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia)
  2. Visit a museum that has a collection of African art (for example, the New Jersey State Museum, Newark Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, or University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology).
  3. Have students prepare an exhibition for the classroom that is composed of photographs of artifacts representing the material culture of Africans (such as masks, stools, musical instruments, baskets, or pottery).
  4. Show students the following two sixty minute segments from the documentary series The Africans (obtainable from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Media Resource Center, 28 West State Street, Sixth Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608 (609-695-4838):
    • “The Nature of a Continent”
      This segment examines Africa as the birthplace of humankind and discusses the impact of geography on African culture and history, including the role of the Nile in the origin of civilization, and the introduction of Islam to Africa from Arabia.
    • “A Legacy of Lifestyles”
      This segment explores how African contemporary lifestyles are influenced by indigenous, Islamic, and Western factors. The program compares simple African societies with those that are more complex and centralized, and examines the importance of family life.
  5. Show students the following two segments from the documentary series Ancient Lives (obtainable from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Media Resource Center, 28 West State Street, Sixth Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608 (609-695-4838):
    • “The Village of the Craftsmen”
      This segment introduces the land of Egypt at the height of its power: its people, the pharaohs who are buried in the great tombs, and the craftspeople who built these tombs. The program shows the contrast between the lush greenery near the Nile and the aridity of the desert, between the land of the living and that of the dead; Tutankhamen’s tomb and its discovery by Howard Carter; who the villagers were, why their village flourished at the time of Egypt’s greatest power, and why we know so much about them (23 minutes).
    • “The Valley of the Kings”
      This segment features a visit to the tombs of Ipi the workman and Kha the architect, which illustrates the daily round of ancient Egyptian life. Other highlights include: art as a communal activity in ancient Egypt; the tools, furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, and foods of Ipi and Kha, and the money with which they were paid; how the Egyptians divided the person into body, soul, and image; the colossi of Memnon; the tomb of Tutmose III and what its hieroglyphs and paintings mean (29 minutes).

Key Persons

Sunni Ali. The first ruler of Songhay.

Imhotep. Engineer, physician, adviser to pharaoh Zoser and designer of the first pyramid, the oldest standing building in the world.

Askia Muhammad. The first major ruler of Songhay.

Mansa Musa. Mali ruler who made a famous hajj, or pilgrimage, to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, in Arabia, in 1324.

Sundiata. Founder of the empire of Mali.

Annotated Bibliography and Suggested Reading


Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. 1975. A History of the Maghrib.
Best English-language history of North Africa from the pre-Islamic era to the present. The author focuses on land, culture, and politics.
Bovill, E. W. 1968. Golden Trade of the Moors.
Classic account of the early trans-Saharan trading societies and the impact of race, religion, and the economics of the region.
Collins, Robert 0., ed. 1971. African History — Text and Readings.
Regionalized primary source collection of African, Arab, and European accounts of the continent’s history.
Davidson, Basil. 1959. The Lost Cities of Africa.
Short, general survey of African empires and their impact on each other and the world.
Denoon, Donald. 1972. Southern Africa Since 1800.
Short, historical account of European and African interaction in the region, with a focus on South Africa.
Diop, Cheikh Anta. 1974. The African Origin of Civilization.
Classic account of African beginnings and humankind’s evolution from the continent.
Fage, J. D. 1969. A History of West Africa: An Introductory Survey.
A short discussion of early African kingdoms, notably Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, with greater emphasis on European and Arab influence on the region.
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. 1991. The New Atlas of African History.
An excellent account of the history of Africa as revealed in over one hundred two-color maps accompanied by explanatory commentaries.
Harris, Joseph E. 1987. Africans and Their History.
Best short, general survey of African history from the earliest times to the present. The author focuses on black contributions to world civilization.
Jackson, John G. 1970. Introduction to African Civilizations.
Examines African origins of humankind, the rise of ancient Egypt and West African kingdoms, and black Africa’s contributions to world history, including intercontinental exploration.
July, Robert. 1975. Precolonial Africa.
Excellent economic and social history survey of different societies before and during the European presence.
Kwamena-Poh, Michael, et al. 1982. African History in Maps.
Best short, English-language collection of maps of Africa.
Mazrui, Ali A. 1986. The Africans: A Triple Heritage.
The companion volume to the PBS television series of the same title. It examines, in a provocative manner, Africa’s triple heritage of indigenous traditions, Islamic culture, and Western influence, showing how the conflict or synthesis of these forces has determined the Africa of today.
Olaniyan, Richard, ed. 1982. African History and Culture.
An anthology in which African scholars ably interpret a wide range of aspects of life on their continent.
Turnbull, Colin. 1976. Man in Africa.
Short, informative anthropological study of African peoples and their customs.
Van Sertima, Ivan, ed. 1983. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern.
A fine collection of essays written by black and white scholars that identifies the scientific contributions of blacks.


Ayisi, Eric 0. 1979. An Introduction to the Study of African Culture, 2nd ed.
Focuses on family life, sex, marriage, and religion, with a particular emphasis on the Akan-speaking peoples.
Bohannan, Paul and Philip Curtin. 1971. Africa and Africans.
Short, broad overview of the culture, economics, and history of the African continent.
Davidson, Basil. 1965. A Guide to African History.
Elementary short survey of African kingdoms and European interaction with the African continent.
McEvedy, Colin. 1980. The Penguin Atlas of African History.
Fine collection of simple maps accompanied by an excellent short narrative historical survey.
Shinnie, Margaret. 1970. Ancient African Kingdoms.
Short, informative examination of the Sudanic, forest, and coastal empires of Africa. It also discusses the ruins at Great Zimbabwe.


Map 1–Africa, 1995  (PDF)

Map 2 – Some African Empires and Stateless Societies(PDF)

Photograph of the Great Sphinx (PDF)

Ali A. Mazrui– The Africans: A Triple Heritage

James E. Blackwell– The Black Community: Diversity and Unity

Table of Contents | Unit 2

Digitized by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
All rights reserved.
Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Thursday, September 18, 2003