The story of Africa is the oldest and most event-filled chronicle of human activity on the planet. And in these 36 lectures, you'll explore this great historical drama, tracing the story of the Sub-Saharan region of the continent from the earliest evidence of human habitation to the latest challenges facing African nations in the 21st century. By learning with these lectures, you'll finally be able to bust myths and correct potential misunderstandings about Africa. For example, in Africa, the word "tribe" is used in a neutral way to connote ethnic identity. Another example: Sub-Saharan Africa was not as isolated as is often suggested by references to the "lost" continent; in fact, an ancient Greek sailing guide from 2,000 years ago clearly shows that the East African coast was already connected commercially with areas to the north. The primary focus of these eye-opening lectures is Sub-Saharan Africa, the region separated from North Africa by the harsh climate of the Sahara Desert and traditionally the part of the continent that has been the most mysterious and most misunderstood by Westerners. But by traveling on this exciting learning experience (one imbued with a pervasive spirit of charm and adventure), you'll finally be able to strengthen your understanding of this beautiful, multifaceted region.
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The lost continent gets found in this excellent overview course by the Teaching Company. All in all, this is a great course. Well presented and masterfully prepared. I would have liked more chronology and a bit more focus on the details of events (as I already understand the larger trajectories), but the professor was quite ambitious and careful in his selection of material. All of the Great Courses are a RIDICULOUSLY high value.
My biggest complaint would be that the course was too short to provide the level of coverage I would have liked. It really should be two separated into 2 separate courses: one for the pre-colonial period and one for the post-colonial period through to today.
For one thing, the discussion of ancient African societies is broad in scope, but shallow in depth. I wish there was more detail on Nubian culture, especially the kingdom of Kush and Ta Seti A closer look at Axum and Ethiopia, the dynasties and mysteries (was their a Gudit and who was she?). Interactions between these states and the rest of the ancient world (a role and context very underrepresented and unappreciated in traditional western historical analyses), and so forth. Likewise for the West African states, Kongo and Great Zimbabwe.
But, this really isn't a history course. Or, it is, but it is also so many other things. It's history, sociology, anthropology, geography, linguistics, etc. The professor sometimes gets side tracked on interesting and relevant questions (e. g. what is a state?) and these take up time that might have otherwise gone to giving more detail about Africa's history. Don't get me wrong, I truly appreciate the importance of these questions to the subject at hand (e. g. how we define a state impacts how we evaluate one culture/society's historical importance, and this even more pertinent a consideration when looking at Africa's history as in, say, the Middle East). I also really love a comprehensive, unified approach to history, because it is the only way to get context and understanding.
Unfortunately, there are lots more high quality resources on those tangential questions than there are about the history and role of some of these civilizations. Also, the modern conflicts are greatly summarized. Don't expect to come out of this case able to make sense of the recent conflict in the Congo, nor that in Sudan (in fact, modern Sudan is lumped in with NORTH Africa, and thus isn't covered save a lecture that discusses the role of it and Egypt in early African state formation). Liberian Civil War? You are told it happened, but not much else. There's too much to talk about, even without waxing philosophical on the nature of statehood or the value judgments implicit in the term "civilization".
Africa, much like Asia, traditionally gets isolated out into it's only little bubble of academic study. "History" is the history of the "West", focusing on Greece > Rome > Europe. Then you end up with "China studies" or "South American studies", and indeed "African studies". It's really not helpful in my opinion to separate out these regional spheres into little bubbles. We get overwhelmed by too much content to cover (try teaching a single class called "Neanderthal to the Netherlands") and ironically we lose some of the big picture (how our bubble truly fits in with all the other bubbles in the larger themes of world history). Sure, we see some lines that get drawn pointing out and/or back into those bubbles, but we draw clear lines of where one thing stops and another begins. This course doesn't play to that kind of dogma (much the opposite), but it can't help but bend under the burden of having to account for an entire continent (and a large one), both history and so much else. We end up missing the detail that might put into focus not only the local events (just what happened in Somalia over the past 30 years?) but how those local events bleed across regional lines (Ethiopia played a really interesting role in the geopolitical power struggle for Arabia between Byzantine Rome and Sassanid Persia, and Nubia had some quite interesting interactions with Assyria, Persia, and Rome). We get some very vague sense of this, but that is all.
More time (2 48 lecture course), would of course could have helped the problem, but better yet would be a bunch more courses! So hopefully there are enough people interested to badger the Teaching Company to do some more African History courses, with a finer level of detail and some more localized focus to supplement this one. We don't need another course on Greece or Rome, we need to fill in some of our knowledge gaps and Africa is a huge knowledge gap for me and many others! Email them!
All of that is really a form of praise in disguise. Thank you, Teaching Company, for having courses like this, and please keep going in this direction!
One word of warning: the Teaching Company courses all come with a downloadable PDF (the "Course Book" or "Course Guide"). At least when you buy them online from the Teaching Company. Unfortunately, not when you get the course here at Audible. The course book is a complete outline of the course material, lecture by lecture. Very handy for review, or even just to remember which lecture was the one where they discussed ______. The coursebooks also list references, suggested reading, contain supplemental material (pictures, maps, diagrams, tables, charts, etc) and a glossary that make them very handy. Again, these aren't just free, but a standard part of the course when you buy them directly from the Teaching Company. But not here at Audible. Do us all a favor and email Audible and the Great Courses and let them know we would love to have these made available to us (especially since Audible already has a means of providing supplemental PDFs that accompany the audio books they carry; I imagine this just wasn't considered when the two formed the partnership between them).
The chapters in Audible are also not correctly titled for the lecture titles. You can't just pull up the TOC and see "aha, the next lecture is on Great Zimbabwe. Awesome!" You're left lost in the lost continent. So you have very limited ability to navigate around the course. You can't go back and just easily to the lecture on African geography, because you can't tell which chapter that was. If you had the course book, you could at least look it up and then know what chapter number it was, but as I mentioned already that isn't provided (you can tell how much I want my coursebooks, huh!). But it would also be nice if the Audible app would list the actual chapter titles as well.
I am a lover of history and this was a great find. Out of the handful of "great courses" I have listened to, this one is definitely the best. The professor is knowledgeable, articulate, insightful, and balanced in his perspectives. He covers most of the major aspects of african history from prehistory to the present and I did not feel disappointed in any regard. (Note that this book does only cover sub-saharan africa however and not the north african coast, except in reference). Definitely go for it if you are at all interested!