African History: History of West Africa

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This course is an introduction to some of the major themes and debates in the study of West African history. Students will gain an appreciation for the diversity, depth, and dynamism of West African history. Students are encouraged to think broadly about historical processes, lasting changes, and the movement of people and ideas across geographic and intellectual space. The course is rooted in West Africa, but it places West Africa and West Africans at the center of dynamic global movements. We will study how Africa and Africans shaped many world orders, from Islam to the Atlantic World to the Third World. This course begins with the great West African empires and continuing through the eras of slave trades, the formation and consolidation of the Islamic and Atlantic worlds, and the end of colonization. We conclude with some post-colonial questions and debates with great bearing on independent Africa. Throughout the roughly 700 years this course spans, we will ask questions about long-term processes of change. How have states and state power changed over the course of the seven hundred years or so this course covers? Equally importantly, how have people’s relationships to states changed? How did Africans build new forms of power and authority? How did they resist others? How did different dividing lines—ethnic, gender, race, and class—change over time in African social, political, and cultural life?

3 credits

Course Code: SS 339

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.