African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela

Course No. 8678
Professor Kenneth P. Vickery, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University
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Course No. 8678
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Course Overview

The story of Africa is the oldest and most event-filled chronicle of human activity on the planet. These 36 half-hour lectures cover 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 21 st century.

For many, Africa is a confusing fog of names, words, and places: Mandela, Biko, Mobutu, Lumumba, Lucy, Selassie, Rhodes, Livingstone, Swahili, Bantu, Boer, Zulu, Mau Mau, Tutsi/Hutu, Lesotho, and Timbuktu, to name just a few.

These lectures are designed to lift the fog and sharpen your understanding of these terms, revealing Africa in all its complexity, grandeur, tragedy, and resilience. As the chronological narrative of this course unfolds, Africa's people, places, languages, and customs will come vividly to life, and you will be able to follow events in present-day Africa in their deep historical context.

Dispelling Myths about the "Lost" Continent

Sub-Saharan Africa—the primary focus of this course—is the region separated from North Africa by the harsh climate of the Sahara Desert, and it is traditionally the part of the continent that has been the most mysterious and most misunderstood by Westerners.

This huge expanse is also the academic specialty of award-winning teacher Kenneth Vickery of North Carolina State University. A Yale-trained historian, Professor Vickery has devoted his career to travel and research in sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of understanding this multifaceted region and teaching others about it—an objective that he brings with charm and a spirit of adventure to this course.

Part of his educational mission is to dispel the myths that still cling to Africa—for instance, that it is a landscape of dense jungle relieved only by stretches of wildlife-teeming savanna. Africa is three times the size of the United States and has impressive geographic variety, including some of the most stunning features on the planet—from spectacular Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River to the largest freestanding mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises massively from the plains of Tanzania.

Professor Vickery corrects many other potential misunderstandings about Africa. For example:

  • The word "tribe" has no fixed meaning. By Western definition, it often conjures up images of primitivism and savagery. But in Africa it is used in a neutral way to connote ethnic identity and is usually, but not always, connected with language differences and the site of ancestral origin.
  • There is no single language called Bantu. There are instead 400 to 500 related languages that extend from Cameroon, the Congo, Kenya, and Uganda in the north to Nelson Mandela's Xhosa people, who are the southernmost Bantu speakers in today's South Africa.
  • Historically, sub-Saharan Africa was not as isolated as is often suggested by references to the "lost" continent. An ancient Greek sailing guide from 2,000 years ago clearly shows that the East African coast—called Azania by the Greeks—was already connected commercially with areas to the north.
  • The present borders of African states are surprisingly stable, considering that they were drawn up largely by colonial powers. The single instance of a legal, formal border change is the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993.
  • Contrary to widespread popular impressions, there is scarcely an official one-party state or military government left in Africa. In places like Zambia, people and parties compete for power with a pluralistic and participatory spirit that was unthinkable in the recent past.

Africa and the World

The story of Africa is not just that of indigenous Africans dealing with home-grown problems. Many influences from the rest of the world have come to bear on the continent:

  • Most notoriously, roughly 10 million to 15 million Africans were transported to the New World as slaves, and many millions more either died in passage or were killed in the process of capture, with an incalculable effect on African demographics. Ironically, African states remained largely sovereign during the entire period of the slave trade, and some actively participated in it.
  • European settlers played a significant role in African history, initially founding posts for provisioning ships plying the Asia trade. Largely in southern Africa, these communities became beachheads for the gradual expansion of a permanent European presence that has many parallels to the European settlement of the Americas.
  • The seizure of Ethiopia in 1935 by Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini led to a dramatic plea for help by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie before the League of Nations. His rebuff by international leaders is considered a seminal moment leading to World War II.
  • During the Cold War, Africa served as a proxy battleground between Western and Soviet blocs, with tragic results foretold in the proverb: "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." A prime example is the Congo, where the newly independent state's radical leader, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated in 1961 at the instigation of Western powers, plunging the nation into anarchy and eventual takeover by the brutal strongman Joseph Mobutu.
  • For thousands of years, Africa has been a linchpin in the world economy with much-desired commodities such as ivory, gold, diamonds, palm oil, petroleum, uranium, and, most recently, coltan, a crucial alloy used in cell phones and other electronics.

The arrival of newcomers in Africa has also been the occasion for mythmaking. Dr. Vickery notes that during the apartheid era in South Africa, the government's official history held that large areas of the country were an "empty land" before the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century. This tradition has been decisively refuted by archaeological evidence showing that indigenous farmers and herders spread across the region by the 11th century.

A more sophisticated misinterpretation of history is that the segregation practiced in South Africa and the American South was a throwback to a rustic, frontier past. One of Professor Vickery's mentors, the late John W. Cell, has made a persuasive case that segregation was an innovative, if brutal, response to urbanization and industrialization and that it represented the modernization of white supremacy.

A Personal Journey

"Over 30 years ago, I first visited Africa," recalls Professor Vickery in Lecture 1. "I took planes, trains, and automobiles; I hitchhiked and rode on the back of trucks carrying tons of fruit through parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.

"I got my first looks at Kilimanjaro and Victoria Falls," he continues. "The places I saw were a revelation. But even more of a revelation were the people I met, who seemed so different from the stereotypes I'd grown up with—people of generosity and humor, but also people living through and intertwined with dramas—family dramas, national dramas, and historical dramas. The stories I heard from old men and women convinced me that here was a place the history of which could become a life's work."

Though he himself is not African American, Professor Vickery has absorbed Africa into his very being; and he is earnest, insistent, and persuasive in conveying his love of the continent and his conviction that Africa repays endless study.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Finding the "Lost Continent"
    To many in the Western world, Africa is the "Lost Continent"—lost from view and lost because of its human and natural disasters. This lecture lays out a road map for "finding" Africa by examining its uniquely long history of human activity. The basic themes of the course are also presented. x
  • 2
    Africa's Many Natural Environments
    Africa's varied geography includes savanna, desert, and rain forest, which are produced by the interaction of latitude, temperature, rainfall, elevation, and topography. This Lecture characterizes these zones by specific flora and fauna and by the potential to support human societies or harm them through disease. x
  • 3
    A Virtual Tour of the Great Land
    Embarking on an imaginary tour of the continent, this lecture starts at the Cape of Good Hope, travels through southern Africa, leaps northward to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Great Rift Valley, the Sahara, and the great rain forests of West Africa and the Congo Basin, and ends with Victoria Falls. x
  • 4
    The Cradle of Humankind
    Humankind emerged first in Africa, as shown by fossils found by Raymond Dart, the Leakeys, Donald Johanson, and others—evidence recently bolstered by DNA studies. What were the first human societies in Africa like? What tools did they use? Are there still people in Africa living in this style? x
  • 5
    Crops, Cattle, Iron—Taming a Continent
    A few thousand years ago, life in Africa was revolutionized by the cultivation of crops and the domestication of livestock. The change was reinforced by the spread of a new and incredibly useful metal: iron. This "Iron Age Package" of innovations led to settled kingdoms and extensive trading networks. x
  • 6
    Kinship and Community—Societies Take Shape
    Family and descent groups in Africa have assumed particular forms. This lecture focuses on monogamy versus polygamy and on the importance of unilineal descent groups, lineages, and clans. The nature of ethnicity in Africa is discussed, as well as the roles enjoyed by—or imposed on—women. x
  • 7
    Like Nothing Else—The Ancient Nile Valley
    Although Egypt lies outside the course's focus on sub-Saharan Africa, its importance cannot be ignored in understanding the history of Africa. This lecture looks at ancient Egypt in the context of the Nile, linking it to centers of culture and power further south, such as Nubia, Kush, and Meroe. x
  • 8
    Soul and Spirit—Religion in Africa
    Religion has always held a central place in African cultures. What are the common characteristics of the hundreds of indigenous religions across the continent, with their multiplicity of deities and spirits? And what has been the long-run impact on Africa of two great world religions—Christianity and Islam? x
  • 9
    Ethiopia—Outpost of Christianity
    For well over 1,000 years there was only one place in Africa where Christianity could be called the dominant religion: Ethiopia. This lecture examines the long and unique history of Ethiopia, including its monastic traditions and astonishing churches carved out of solid rock. x
  • 10
    West Africa's "Golden Age"
    Between about 400 and 1600, the West African savanna was dominated by a succession of major kingdoms and empires. This lecture explores the rise, development, and eventual decline of three legendary states: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Also examined is the once-thriving trade center of Timbuktu. x
  • 11
    The Swahili Commercial World
    Just as major trading states arose in West Africa along the southern shore of a "sea of sand," so in East Africa there emerged a distinctive commercial culture on the shore of a real sea—the Indian Ocean. Between 1000 and 1500, the East African coast entered its own golden age. The Swahili world had arrived. x
  • 12
    Great Zimbabwe and the Cities of the South
    This lecture investigates a series of Later Iron Age sites in the southern African interior that were commercially linked with the Swahili ports in East Africa. Included are the remarkable stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the most extensive stone construction in Africa south of the Nile Valley. x
  • 13
    The Atlantic Slave Trade—The Scope
    The most profound connection between America and Africa is, without doubt, the forced migration of large numbers of African slaves for permanent settlement in the New World. This lecture examines West Africa's place in the immense "Atlantic System" that emerged in the three centuries following Columbus's voyage. x
  • 14
    The Atlantic Slave Trade—The Impact
    How did slave ships obtain their human cargo? Who gained and who lost? How many people were affected, including those who landed in the New World, those who died on the way, and those who perished while resisting capture? How did the Atlantic slave trade influence African populations in the long term? x
  • 15
    South Africa—The Dutch Cape Colony
    With the Atlantic slave trade picking up steam in the 1600s, the Dutch established a post at the Cape of Good Hope to reprovision ships going to and from their commercial interests in Asia. But Cape Town became something else: a beachhead for the gradual expansion of permanent European settlement. x
  • 16
    South Africa—The Zulu Kingdom
    In the decades around 1800, the southern Bantu world underwent dramatic change as centralized kingdoms replaced smaller chiefdoms. This process led to the modern Zulu kingdom under its great founder Shaka Zulu—later demonized as a bloodthirsty destroyer, but equally a builder and creator. x
  • 17
    South Africa—The Frontier and Unification
    In a migration reminiscent of the settlement of the American West—right down to the use of covered wagons—thousands of Dutch Afrikaners left the British Cape Colony and established themselves in the far interior. Unification of South Africa came after the British victory over Afrikaners in the Boer War. x
  • 18
    South Africa—Diamonds and Gold
    In 1867 huge diamond deposits were discovered in the interior of what would become South Africa, followed 20 years later by even more valuable gold deposits. Such enormous wealth set South Africa on the path to what it remains today: a first-world and third-world country wrapped into one. x
  • 19
    Prelude to the "Scramble for Africa"
    This lecture examines developments in the 1800s, between the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the onset of full-blown European colonization. Some remarkable West African entrepreneurs arose to take advantage of the new market realities, including the palm oil merchant-king, Ja Ja of Opobo. x
  • 20
    European Conquest and African Resistance
    In 1884 representatives of several Western powers met in Berlin to discuss the ground rules in the "scramble for Africa." The partition of the continent by European empires was motivated by the search for raw materials and markets, the missionary impulse, and pseudoscientific notions of racial superiority. x
  • 21
    Colonial Africa—New Realities
    By the early 1900s, most of Africa was under European colonial rule. This lecture looks at the characteristics shared by the colonies. All were involved in economic exploitation, infrastructure improvements, and authoritarian rule aided by local leaders. Furthermore, all professed a "civilizing mission." x
  • 22
    Colonial Africa—Comparisons and Change
    Commonalities aside, the experiences of Africans under colonialism were hardly identical. The biggest difference depended on a simple question: How many European white settlers intended to stay? This affected African citizens in countless ways but most directly in whether they retained or lost their land. x
  • 23
    The Lion Awakens—The Rise of Nationalism
    There were two forms of protest against colonial rule: One sought to reestablish the independence that Africans had previously enjoyed; the other looked forward to a new Africa, different from both the precolonial and colonial models. The two types overlapped and coexisted for many Africans. x
  • 24
    The Peaceful Paths to Independence
    The decolonization of most of Africa, like its colonization, occurred rapidly. In 1950 almost no one would have predicted that within roughly a decade, the majority of African countries would celebrate independence. African nationalists were elated to gain power. But how would they use it? x
  • 25
    The Congo—Promise and Pain
    The tragedy of the Congo throws into sharp relief the processes of conquest, colonization, and decolonization. Belgian King Leopold brutally exploited the country as his personal possession. After independence, the Congo fell under the iron hand of Mobutu Sese Seko for 32 years. Today the country wallows in civil war. x
  • 26
    Segregation to Apartheid in South Africa
    As the sun began to set on European colonial rule in much of Africa and on America's own version of segregation, South Africa moved in the opposite direction. When the Afrikaner National Party came to power in 1948, it took several bold steps to entrench and intensify white supremacy forever—or so it was hoped. x
  • 27
    The Armed Struggles for Independence
    In countries where white settlers had something substantial to defend, they were prepared to fight for it. That in turn impelled African nationalists to take up arms themselves, notably in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Angola, and Mozambique. The scars from these conflicts have been slow to heal. x
  • 28
    The First Taste of Freedom
    While wars of liberation ravaged the southern African settler states, most countries in the rest of Africa were enjoying the first years of independence. The visionary new leaders announced great plans for bringing the fruits of independence home to ordinary citizens, and in many cases, they delivered. x
  • 29
    The Taste Turns Sour
    The promise of postcolonial freedom soon began to falter. The new leaders presided over severely hampered economies, and many of the elite were quite happy to settle for enriching themselves. When popular anger threatened stability, rulers turned to one-party states, and armies turned to military coups. x
  • 30
    The World Turns Down—The "Permanent Crisis"
    The mid-1970s were a grim turning point for Africa, marked by international oil shocks and falling prices for exported African commodities. One response was to borrow ever more furiously—and Africa's debt crisis was born. By the 1980s in places like Zambia, development was a bitterly forgotten dream. x
  • 31
    A New Dawn? The Democratic Revival
    As the Soviet bloc collapsed, authoritarian regimes in many parts of Africa faced unprecedented challenges to permit free speech and to loosen the state's grip on economic life. In country after country, civilian rule replaced military regimes, and one-party states gave way to multiparty competition. x
  • 32
    The South African Miracle
    South Africa's democratic breakthrough rivals that of the former Soviet bloc states of Eastern Europe. This lecture recounts the role played by the martyred Steve Biko, the Soweto schoolchildren's revolt of 1976, and growing international boycotts, followed by Nelson Mandela's miraculous negotiated transition to majority rule. x
  • 33
    The Unthinkable—The Rwanda Genocide
    In April 1994, the President of Rwanda was killed when a plane carrying him was shot down. Within hours began the systematic murder of 500,000 members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group. This lecture reviews Rwanda's precolonial and colonial history in an attempt to explain an event that remains, essentially, inexplicable. x
  • 34
    The New Plague—HIV/AIDS in Africa
    AIDS was first identified in the United States in the early 1980s but almost certainly originated decades earlier in Central Africa. Now a global threat, AIDS has had an incomparable impact on southern Africa, where in certain regions 30 percent of the population is infected with HIV—the virus that causes AIDS. x
  • 35
    Zimbabwe—Background to Contemporary Crisis
    This lecture explores the recent sharp decline in the fortunes of Zimbabwe, "the jewel of Africa." In the past quarter-century, the rule of President Robert Mugabe has become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian, culminating in a land-grab of white-owned farms that caused the collapse of the agricultural economy. x
  • 36
    Africa Found
    The course concludes with a brief overview of some major themes: struggles with the environment, ethnic identity, statebuilding, and Africa's evolving relationship with the outside world. Professor Vickery then offers examples of contemporary Africans who give reason to see a brighter future for the continent. x

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Your professor

Kenneth P. Vickery

About Your Professor

Kenneth P. Vickery, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University
Dr. Kenneth P. Vickery is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Advising in the History Department at North Carolina State. University, where he has taught for almost 30 years. He received his B.A. degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors at Duke University and went on to study sub-Saharan African history at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. During his tenure at NC State, he has been a visiting professor at...
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African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 104.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Missionary surgeon in the Congo (DRC) for six years at Wasolo, a remote and poorly resourced outpost with a one doctor hospital, and needed to better understand the political fundamentals. Thus far I have only listened to the lecture on the Congo that focused on Leopold II and his Congo Free State, and President Mobutu whose minions I had dealt with, the scoundrel who absconded with four billion dollars and banked it in Switzerland. Bad as he was, things have since gotten a lot worse!
Date published: 2019-11-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not a History Course Despite the title, this is not a History course. He starts the first lecture by saying he will follow a chronological order but jumps around so much you lose any order. There is more opinion and social commentary than should be included in an educational presentation. If you want to know about the history of Africa, this is not what you are looking for.
Date published: 2019-10-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Biased and Very Narrow Presentation Given it's pretext of Lucy to Mandela this course falls far short of it's objective. While certainly presenting some objective information it is primarily a sermon and very political one-sided commentary on the ills of Africa's exploitation by the rest of the world. Granted Africa, like almost any other continent or region of the world, was exploited and it's people endured hardships accordingly. But I'm sure there is much more to the story of Africa both in the past and in all it's vastness and great resources today. It's the continent we know the least about. It would be so interesting and enlightening to experience a course which was much more objective, far less political and broader in it's presentation. In short it would be nice to have a much better understanding of Africa.
Date published: 2019-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW... DR. VICKERY has 11 journeys to Africa and multiple publications appropriate to this course. The picture he paints is huge, cohesive, and breathtaking. This review hopes to touch on some of the multitude of reasons to get this course. Vickery's initial thrust is to demystify Africa's "isolation" and then consider Africa's ecological and geographic strata. L1-3 visualize the enormity of the land, and changes in fertility over time. The in-video maps are well done and useful. MAN: As Vickery will say often - there are no easy absolutes in Africa. By L6 we see the multiplicity of ethnicities based on tribal identity and/or language. Egypt is discussed as a necessary but not sufficient precondition for Western civilization. Its link to Africa south of Egypt through fabled Kush is explored. RELIGION: The near universality of belief in a supreme being is an interesting sidebar, especially since most theories of human existence begin in Africa. As Vickery discusses African Christians or Muslims, he gives one of his many cautions: the converts' non-rejection of older religious ideas was nearly constant in Africa. So the final religious viewpoint was often a hybrid. Vickery interestingly explains why one might Investigate Ethiopia (L9) to find the Ark of the Covenant. LEGENDARY EMPIRES: Ghana, Mali and the famous Timbuktu become intellectual powerhouses based on Islamic gold and salt trade routes. This fascinating story is easy to follow on the video maps. The Swahili coastal city-states are another legend that we have "heard" but it takes Vickery to tell the tale of great coral stone homes, gold, Arab dhows, and African slaves. The cattle wealth of the Great Zimbabwe and its intricate stone southern cities follows. THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: L13 & L14 are the two most valuable lectures in this course and perhaps in the GC repertoire. If you, like most people, do not know who King Kzinga (Afonso) is, your education will be markedly broadened. Listen to them carefully The non-African slaves of the Cape, the Hottentots, the great Shaka, the British invention of the concentration camp, & the Zulu kingdom are some of the many following topics of interest. In the 1830s, the British outlaw slavery and forced Tippu Tip (Hamed bin Muhammed) to stop exporting ivory and African slaves to areas that included Arabia, Persia, East Africa & Zanzibar. Haven't heard of the Islamic trade in blacks or what happened to the slaves sent East?...check L19 as well as L13-14. Colonialism including the African soldier contribution to WW 2, Nationalism, Mandela, the difficulties of post colonial freedom, Mandela's return, Rwanda, HIV & Mandela's efforts against it, etc are topics much better understood with the background you now have and Vickery's steady tutelage. L36 is NOT the typical review. It is the author's thoughts on the half-full/half-empty state of Africa. As this course is dated 2006, there is need for a follow-up. But the principles gained are well worth your time in studying a country larger than Europe, China, India, Argentina, NZ, and the continental US combined. Have done the course both audio and video, but prefer video because the actors/places/things of this grand stage are better understood with maps/images. My limited "on the ground" information comes from various international study programs and a sponsored nurse in Kenya. It was interesting to see how well Vickery's course corresponds to their viewpoints of the real Africa.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A test of patience Prof. Vickery manages to pack 5 minutes of material into a 30 minute lecture. The only comparable experience I can remember is Bob and Rays routine Slow Talkers of America.
Date published: 2019-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Approach and Overview I did not have a clear organizational concept of what little it turns out I know about Africa, this course helps a lot.
Date published: 2018-09-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Travesty This is the Only TGC Course on African Hi While I'm glad TGC offers a course on African history, it falls extremely short of any kinds of expectations. It is sad that this is the only course offered on African history. What bothers me is that we keep getting course after course on ancient Rome or Greece crammed down our throats but TGC only offers one course on Africa. Not only was it produced 12 years ago but the topper is it has a 3.9 review rating! Shouldn't that be a signal that there is a serious gap in TGC's catalog on this wonderful region? Executives, I suspect there is an audience out there that would jump at a new course on African history. Take a gamble and go for it! Okay here are my specific gripes: 1- The professor could’ve fit more information in the limited space he had but there were long pauses in the delivery of his sentences, and tangents that while sometimes interesting, seemed out of place for an introductory course on Africa that had a lot of ground (literally) to cover with not a lot of time; He even acknowledged this course format would be a new experience for him so I wonder if this just wasn't him at this best; He had a particular annoying habit of grasping at straws for the last word or two to complete a specific sentence/point and you can tell it was a main point he wanted to emphasis but he would end the sentence with some common generic word that would add nothing to what the earlier words of his sentence conveyed; The struggle for that last word made me think it would really drive the point home but instead it was why waste time kicking out 5 "uhh"'s searching for it?!! (sorry for the vent) 2- Not enough on pre-European colonization civilizations (the main topic of interest of mine since I know little or nothing of ancient African peoples); While I acknowledge written historical documents from these civilizations may be sparse compared with other areas of the globe, I am stunned there was next to nothing on the rich mythology from this region at least 3- A lot of topics are spoken about in general, ideological terms vs. specifics that relate to specific African nations or historical events; For example he spent multiple lectures discussing and defining European colonialism and African nationalism in abstract terms yet he spent little time discussing the specific European colonies themselves or what actually happened (which country colonized which area, their names, the sequence of these colonial expeditions, an overview of what the map looked like during this time, etc.); And while he did spend some time on how some countries became independent (Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia) most of the time he did not (for example he would only give the year specific colonies became independent nations but no details of how it came about) 4- Not enough history: he would spend way too much time defining banal things like what the word “watershed” means or how European colonialism required not only the willingness to do it but the ability to do so (he explains how grocery shopping is the same: you have to want to do something and the capability to do it---I couldn't believe a professor actually spent previous minutes discussing this point and example) to the point that I think he realizes he is running out of time in the lecture and would quickly relate the historical events he meant to cover like they were secondary; Yet that is what we want! We want to know about African history and events and not how to define "watershed"!! For me the only real highlight was lecture 29 (explanations for why leaders of the newly independent nations turned more and more authoritative in order to hold onto power). It was one of the few times I found myself full engaged. I can't give this less than three stars because there is some historical content present that is lacking in other courses so I won't be deleting this one from my library (primarily because there is no other African history course!). In case you are interested, the following peoples/kingdoms were covered: - The first humans - Hunters and Gatherers - The first agricultural people - Ancient Egypt - Cush (in Nubia which is modern-day Sudan) - Ethiopia - West African kingdoms (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) - Swahili of East Africa - South African empires (Great Zimbabwe, Dutch colony, Zulu, British colony, and Lesotho) - European colonies and their independence movements to nations (although they were discussed in general terms and not a lot of time spent on specific ones; Exceptions include Kenya, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Namibia) - Congo - Modern day South Africa - Modern day Ghana and Zambia - Rwanda (the 1990's genocide) I wish I had an alternative course to recommend (as I usually do when I provide anything less than a 4 star rating) but there just doesn't seem to be any. I hope TGC rectifies this situation sooner than later.
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview I listened to this one in the car. Decades ago, I had taken the equivalent at university and promptly forgotten much of what I had learned. This was an excellent refresher for me. I also learned a more about the larger history of the continent and her peoples. I would highly recommend it for those who know next to nothing about the history of the African continent. As our world "shrinks," this is an inexpensive way to explore a host of ancient and modern cultures that do shape our today.
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview for beginners A friend of mine married a Nigerian man and I suddenly realized just how little I knew about Africa. Hence this purchase. This series was exactly what I was hoping for. This gave a broad overview which taught me an appreciation for this continent and provided an incentive to learn more. I enjoyed the vast array of quotes as well as the personal annotations. They gave life, interest and variety to the lectures. I appreciated the passion of the professor for the African people. I am grateful for this course. Now that I have completed it I'm going to go right back to the beginning and listen to it all again to reinforce what I have learned and pick up what I missed the first time around.
Date published: 2018-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from cd is good for long trip to work bought for my son and his kids who live in the mostly white part of the T of Penna. & do not have much contact with people like their cousins in Philly. It gives a great history of why African American's have just as much to be proud of as those from other parts of the world.
Date published: 2018-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview Very good course. Unfortunately there is so much to cover that even 36 lectures are not enough for an in depth study. Great as an introduction & many good specific recommendations of books to get more information on various topics.
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't stop watching! I love this group of lectures since it goes so well with all of the other collections I have purchased over the years.
Date published: 2018-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sadly disappointing I'm a huge fan of the Great Courses and have bought and listened to dozens of them, but this was not up to standard. It was shallow across all periods, and the delivery is simply awful. If I hear the author say "and so on" or "and the like" or "if you will" and similar non-substantive air-fillers, I will throw the disk out of my moving car.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from African Experience Thank you for this series. It will help us s we prepare for a trip to South Africa this autumn.
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and personal, but patchy coverage As other reviewers have noted, the coverage of African history in this course is very inconsistent. The focus is primarily on sub-Sharan Africa in geographical terms, and much more focus on early modern and modern history. I agree with this criticism totally, but I still found the course wonderful in several different respects. First of all, this is the first course I have ever heard dedicated to the history of the African continent, other than Professor Brier’s course on Ancient Egypt. Africa’s history is mentioned in other courses primarily in context to history of other players such as the Roman empire, the British Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Phoenician empire, and (of course) the Colombian exchange and the Atlantic slave trade; but it never gets the spotlight to itself. For this reason, this course provided a lot of new insight on how these players affected Africa and not only the opposite perspective. Particularly fascinating for me in this context were the spread of Islam along the Eastern Indian Ocean Coast, and the spread of Christianity to Ethiopia. The other reason I really liked the course was Professor Vickery’s personal engagement with this continent – particularly with Zambia. He makes it clear that his interest in the area is not only academic: he has spent many years in Africa and has strong emotional ties to it. This makes his delivery of its history dramatic, personal and compelling. In this respect, this course was much like Professor Baum’s landmark course on twentieth century China. So, while I agree that the coverage of earlier history and history of most of Africa’s geographies was very sketchy (most lectures until lecture 10), the rest of the lectures were beautifully put together and provided insight for me on a region that was almost pristine in terms of my historical understanding prior to the course. Prime subjects that I found beautifully covered were the aspects of the slave trade in West Africa, and the whole coverage of Southern Africa from the sixteenth century onwards. So, while I agree that the course was not even close to fulfilling the coverage of African history in all of space and time as it set out to do in the title, the geographies and eras it focused on more intensively were extremely well covered in my opinion and provided a lot of new and fascinating insights for me. One or two follow-up courses are definitely in order, focusing on different geographies and on different eras, preferably having much less ambitious goals and less misleading titles.
Date published: 2017-07-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from African torpor African torpor seems to have infected this lecturer. He ekes out a word every two or three seconds, leaving whatever his train of thought may be impossible to follow. Try watching a thoughtful movie entirely in slow motion. You get the idea. This one goes back. As for course content, God only knows.
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A perfect foundation This lecture series is from 2006, so the graphics are dated. The professor is AWESOME, but a bit dry. He covers every angle.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All About Africa Although I lived for two years in Africa and have visited almost all of its countries. I found much that I did not know in these interesting lectures.
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Review of African History I found this course to be outstanding. It was engaging and provided a thorough understanding of the long and often tragic history of this continent and cradle of humanity. While I have been to Africa, South Africa specifically, I long to return and visit some of the other wonderful countries.
Date published: 2016-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course. Highly recommended! I totally recommend this course! It is objective and gives the overall picture of Africa as it unfolds. Having been born in Africa, and having spent the first 35 years of my life on the continent, I know it well, as well as the sentiment, feelings and fears of some of its inhabitants. I am also fluent in the Zulu, Afrikaans and English languages spoken by different nations on the continent and I worked in many different cultures. I worked with the Zulu people, lectured at the University of KwaZulu and wrote my doctoral dissertation about a church serving the Zulus. If I therefore, congratulate Professor Vickery on a excellent course, I think that I have the knowledge to know that he did a first-rate job! He made me aware of many new facts! While realizing the time restraint of working the material into 36 lectures, the following should still have been added: 1. Very little is said about the Khoisan people. Professor Vickery mentioned that many of the “Koi-koi” were absorbed into the “Coloured” population of South Africa. That is true, but the absorption did not end this very distinctive culture: Wikipedia says, “Large Khoisan populations remain in several arid areas in the region, notably in the Kalahari Desert.” In the squeeze between the European and Bantu populations these wonderful people, who live in parts of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola are too often forgotten. Maybe the Teaching Company can do a small course on these people, or go watch the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. You will fall in love with these folks! 2. The two Anglo-Boer wars were given very little attention. I am confident that the psychological influence of this struggle was a major contributing factor for Apartheid. Let me briefly sketch the circumstances that led to the wars and the aftermath: By the time that Britain took possession of the Cape, the Afrikaners were already settled for 150 years. Struggling with the new government forced many Afrikaners, within forty years, to move into Africa’s interior. During the mid twentieth century the South African government brainwashed us about this move. We had to study it at least three times between grade three and eight at school! Dr. Vickery states that these settlers did not move into an uninhabited interior and gives paleontological evidence for it. Yet, the issue is more complex: very few Bantu peoples settled south of Bloemfontein. The climate is, as Professor Vickery indicates, too arid for cattle herders. During the Mfecane the Ndebele killed between one and two million Sotho people north of Bloemfontein and in the Transvaal. After the Ndebele were defeated they settled in Zimbabwe, leaving much of the interior empty. Strangely enough, the South African government never taught this in its propaganda campaign. I first became aware about these events working with Sotho people. (They call it the “difakane”) Thirty years after the Afrikaners arrived, diamonds were discovered in the Orange Free State. Within three years Britain annexed the diamond fields. To this day it is still part of the Northern Cape, not of the Free State. In the mean time the Afrikaner state of Natal was annexed by Britain and the first Anglo-Boer War followed a few years later. Thirteen years after gold was discovered the Second Boer War broke out in 1899 and lasted until 1903. Since my paternal great-grandfather was a soldier from Scotland, I always pity the British soldier who was taken from the cool climate and sent against people who knew the climate and could attack and shoot from horse-back. In order to break the Afrikaners, the Brits rounded many of the women and children up for concentration camps. Although these camps are much less infamous than Hitler’s holocaust, that happened forty years later, they were just as brutal, resulting in the death of a third of the women and children in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. These events had a huge influence on the Afrikaner. My maternal grandmother spent the first years of her life in a concentration camp and my grandfather, a boy of about five years old, lost his mother in a camp. I can still see him, with tears in his eyes, talking about her. Dr. Vickery shows a photo of a white lady being served by a black “maid” and gives this as the reason that the settlers refused to give up power. While this may indeed be a contributing factor, and I knew many who had servants, I also knew many whites who never had servants of any kind. They did this out of choice. But the fear, stemming from the Anglo-Boer wars, was and still is tangible! These wars ended only forty five years before the National party was elected. Seeing the reaction of people who lived through the second World War today (over seventy years after the events) may help people in America to understand the enormous fear. The Afrikaners draw a lager and feared giving up power. I still remember that many of us, students in high school during the mid sixties, were adamant that apartheid was wrong. With fear filling their eyes, some teachers used to say, “We need to do it in order to stay alive.” Many Afrikaners, wrongfully or with reason, still fear for their lives today. 3. A second contributing factor for enduring apartheid may have been the fear of Communism. At about the same time of McCarthyism, white South Africa was gripped by an overwhelming dread. I remember the trepidation when all of the neighbouring states bordering South Africa, became Marxist. A reason that was given that organizations such as the ANC remained illegal during that era, was that many of its leaders studied in the Soviet Union. Joe Slovo, leader of the Communist party was also in the leadership of the ANC. It is very meaningful that apartheid fell in 1994, only four years after the Soviet Union. I do not have enough knowledge to know if contributing factor is really true or not, but can testify that it was vital amongst the citizenry. 4. Dr. Vickery gives Portugal a bad rap about its colonies. Yet Portugal never imposed apartheid laws in its areas. (By the way, all apartheid laws in South Africa came onto the books between 1910 and 1955, the time that the country was under British rule. It became independent in 1961.) I always thought that Portugal treated its people much better than the Brits, but I may be wrong. Dr. Vickery is totally correct in calling the transition to majority rule a miracle. Working in Kwa-Zulu I daily experienced the enormous loss of human life in the “struggle”. The task that I dreaded more than anything else was to help in funerals for Zulu youth. Many of the greatest brains in the Zulu nation were extinguished during this time. This usually was black-on-black violence between the ANC and Inkatha fighting for the votes of the Zulu nation. Very few of us, “whites” were ever harmed. Rioting was a daily occurrence. One day, while I was lecturing on the third floor, a freedom-singing mob of a few thousand were burning out the first floor. Luckily the building did not collapse and I helped my students through a back door. If any of them were caught, they would have been killed on the spot. Afterwards I walked right past the rioters to my car, without anyone paying me any attention! Michael Cassidy of Africa Enterprise later wrote about the deliberations between Buthelezi of Inkatha and Mandela of the ANC. It is worth-while looking up on the internet. That the 1994 election did not erupt into a major blood-bath was a total miracle. Thanks for an excellent course!
Date published: 2016-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Less Dark Continent This course has helped to fill in my previously very sketchy knowledge of African history and culture. First of all, the breadth and depth of coverage was as advertised in the course description and fit with my expectations. I particularly enjoyed the second lecture which pictorially surveyed African geography and climate thus providing a visual backdrop for the remainder of the course. I will never again be satisfied with a historical course that lacks this feature. As a retiree, I watch the Great Courses as much for entertainment as for the educational value so I am always delighted to find a polished speaker with a presentation which is thoughtfully put together. This course gets high marks in these areas. The maps and other visuals were pertinent and well done, although for my taste, more would always be welcome. Professor Vickery is easy to watch and listen to, with measured and natural use of gestures and body language. He uses a lectern and refers to notes, but in a very relaxed, comfortable way that isn't at all detracting. The atmosphere created is that of a returning ambassador speaking after an informal dinner The entire program was well planned and executed. Although the focus of the course was history It would have been interesting to hear more of the professor's opinions about Africa's future.
Date published: 2016-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is a course that means well. It covers a good range of topics and should be fascinating, but unfortunately the lecturer is presenting outside his scope of expertise and as a result it comes across as a shallow overview. Vickery is an expert on southern Africa, in fact he's an expert on a small part of Southern Africa - a community in Zambia. This course requires him to be an expert on the entire continent and that's not a task he seems to feel comfortable with. I do not judge him for that. Professor Vickery is a professional, qualified in one particular area and he is upfront about that. For the purposes of this course, however, his focus, means that the lectures outside his areas of expertise feel thin at best. There is a definite need for a course of this nature, however, this is not it.
Date published: 2016-02-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Information Presented Poorly Even if concentrating only on sub-Saharan Africa, 36 lectures is not nearly enough time. This course covers a huge amount of material and, I readily admit, I did learn quite a bit. So, I recommend this course, but only if you have the patience to listen to this professor. Vickery spends much of his time reading the lectures. I don't usually mind this. One big problem was when he looked up to make eye contact and then lost his place mid sentence. There'd be a pause before he found his place again. At other times, he'll stop reading and sort of wander off and be at a loss for words. During some of the earlier lectures, he quotes extensively from novels! Luckily, he doesn't do this as much in later lectures. Finally, he paused for more drinks than any other professor I've watched. Sometimes, he'd take a drink in the middle of a sentence, totally interrupting the train of thought. Definitely one of the weaker performances I've experienced in the over 100 course I've enjoyed. Despite these issues, I'd prefer not to shoot the messenger. There was still a lot of really good information here from descriptions of the environment to biographies of the various leaders. Some of the high points included his discussion of the events in Rwanda, his discussion of the slave trade, and his various discussions comparing and contrasting the road to independence in various countries. I purchased the DVDs even after reading the many poor reviews of the course. While I agree that the presentation was poor, I'm glad I purchased the course as it helped add significant substance to what I've learned from other Great Courses which touched briefly on Africa.
Date published: 2015-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Overview, Subtly Biased Professor Vickery certainly knows his topic, and his passion for the continent of Africa shines throughout. The course is a nice panorama of African history, with a wide enough lens to capture key epochs and sweeping changes, yet with enough detail to leave the listener with a deeper understanding of watershed moments. The course springs from the starting blocks with wonderful lectures on environments (#2) and a virtual tour of its natural wonders (#3 – which even listening via CD was my overall favorite). Lectures 13 & 14 gave a fairly even-handed discussion of the slave trade and #25 vividly portrayed the sad case of the Congo. Unfortunately, although Professor Vickery states (and I think believes) he has a nuanced view of the African story, he rarely strays from a politically correct narrative. I don’t expect him to praise colonialism, but isn’t it possible that there were some benefits (like western governing structures) that were left behind? You’ll be hard pressed to find anything positive about the colonizers or their effects, but not surprisingly, there is plenty said and suggested laying European blame for African problems – right up to the present day. One example is mentioning that colonial adminstered vaccines in the 50s have been suggested as a possible root cause of HIV/Aids in Africa. The professor drops in unproven ideas and theories like this throughout the course - when they support the blame narrative. Exactly when does the statute of limitations run out on blaming the West, and when does African Nationalist responsibility begin? Similarly, Vickery tows the PC line by referring to Cold War impacts on Africa – without distinguishing between the motives and actions of the US versus the Soviets. Really? If you are a “progressive” / liberal, this course gets is an unqualified five stars. If you’re something else, you can still enjoy it, sans the bias.
Date published: 2015-05-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst ever. This course has the worst presenter ever. He makes distracting remarks , fails to keep on topic. This is quite dull and could have been interesting. This is so bad it should have gone in the trash instead of offered at a discount.
Date published: 2015-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great for car listening So far I have only listened to the first few lectures, something I enjoy when driving long distances alone in my car. I find the presentation of the material compelling and its moderate pace excellent for car use. I look forward to completing the remaining lectures.
Date published: 2015-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you want to understand Africa This dash through the history of Africa provides an excellent introduction to a continent that most of us know little about. This course goes a long way toward remedying that. I say dash because it's quite clear that most course topics could be courses in themselves. One thing that was very interesting was finally understanding various people and events that I recall hearing about when I was a kid. Or, as an adult. The professor clearly knows his topic. He brings his own experiences in Africa (mostly in Zambia) into the discussion to illustrate many of his points about contemporary Africa. One gets a sense of his love for Africa and its people. One recommendation: if you are listening to an audio version of the course, keep an atlas at hand, especially in the early lectures. Although there are maps in the course book, sometimes you will find a wider perspective helpful. The maps are rather muddy in the downloaded version of the course book.
Date published: 2015-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from African Experience: From Lucy to Mandela This is a very interesting course and I did learn many things about Africa that surprised me. However, the professor's delivery style is a little slow so that I found myself repeatedly falling asleep in my comfortable chair trying to listen to him. The professor is very knowledgeable and pleasant but, some how, I felt that I was not receiving all he had to offer because of his delivery style. I did wish that he would have also used more photographs & graphics to illustrate his information as well. I would recommend this course non the less. The politics and personalities the professor introduces are fascinating and the importance of the geography is well explored. Thank you.
Date published: 2014-12-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Sub-Saharan Africa Revealed Video Review: Despite its title, "The African Experience", this course is focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and provides the greatest emphasis to Africa south of the Equator. As one begins this course the lack of much discussion about the Mediterranean North Africa may seem disappointing, but once into the course one understands that there is more than enough ground to cover in an 18 hour course in just the Southern parts of Africa. Dr. Vickery begins with a tour of the physical environment and geographical diversity of Africa which sets an important stage for the story. The sections on the beginning on the rise of humankind (e.g. "Lucy"), the use of tools and resources and the rise of kingdoms in the Nile Valley (Egypt, Kush, and Aksum) and West Africa (Ghana, Mali and Songhai) are quite interesting and (with the exception of Egypt) quite unknown to most Westerners. However, only the civilizations of the Swahili and Zimbabwe (with some references to Ghana and Aksum/Ethiopia) are linked forward to the discussion of Modern History (post approx. 1500AD) which is a bit disjoint. The first 12 lectures on environment, geography and ancient history seem designed more to make the point that Africa had its own long history of human development rather than to make a continuous and direct tie with the Modern History lectures that make up the 24 lectures of the later part of this course. Undoubtedly human origins and the ancient history of Africa are worthy of their own course. This course is largely focused on Modern Sub-Saharan Africa which is where Dr. Vickery's expertise lies. He explains the Atlantic Slave trade from the African side of the equation; how wars between the various African Kingdoms facilitated the capture of slaves and how the "stateless" people of Africa became slavery prey for the warriors of the kingdoms. He also makes the point that the native peoples did not think of themselves as Africans but rather members of their own ethnic tribe (e.g. Kongo, Asante or Yoruba) and others were fair game. Of course, the Europeans who set up slave trading centers along the coasts had a huge hand in the affair and drove high demand which no doubt facilitated the wars and slave raids among the various tribes/kingdoms. The slave trade was one element of the "Atlantic System" (called the "Columbian Exchange" elsewhere) which brought European manufactured goods to Africa, African slaves to the Americas, and slavery provided agricultural products (e.g. sugar and tobacco) and raw materials (e.g gold and silver) to Europe. One consequence of all the shipping to and from Africa was the first European settler establishment in the Cape Colony (of what is now South Africa). Dr. Vickery draws parallels between the early history of South Africa to that of the United States. The saga includes an initial settlement of Dutch sailors, to the import of slaves (from the East Indies and India), to the "Great Trek" eastward across the continent (in covered wagons no less), to wars with the natives (Zulus), to an (almost) Civil War (the Boer War) between the Dutch settlers and the British. Of course, the discovery of first Diamonds, then Gold has a huge impact on this story. The "Scramble for Africa" by Europeans is another story onto itself. The British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Belgians and Germans (up until WW1) get into the act with each exploiting a particular resource in each different colony/country while exploiting the native population in the process. It is an amazing, though tragic, story to learn how two countries (North and South Rhodesia) were named after one British entrepreneur, C.J. Rhodes who crafted a diamond monopoly that survives to this day (DeBeers) while the Belgian King, Leopold, claimed the entire Congo nation as his own personal property. The colonialists left almost as rapidly as they appeared leaving many countries to find their own way in independence. Many of these independence movements happened peacefully when there were little or no European settlers. Where there were settlers it was a much more contentious and bloody hand-off. Dr. Vickery explains the individual circumstances of various colonies in this independence transition while discussing the next chapter of strife: the problems of independent rule. This is whole movement before, during and after independence is the crux of the course and much of what Dr. Vickery explains will be new to many Westerners. In the last few lectures the story of Mandela's rise in South Africa, the Rwanda Genocide, the problems of Zimbabwe, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS are discussed. This course was produced in 2006 when these were topical news. More recent events like the Ebola outbreaks and the Boko Haram in West Africa are necessarily missing. For those of us who are not familiar with the crux of sub-Saharan African history this course is loaded with information. Dr. Vickery relates several anecdotal stories of his own experiences while living in Zambia which give unique flavor to the course. The course does not completely live up to the standard I have seen in TGC courses. First, there is a bit of discontinuity between the ancient African history summary in the first 12 lectures and the more modern history in the later 24 as noted above. While I can understand why North Africa is outside the scope of the course, the Ancient histories of West Africa and Ethiopia presented in the first part of the course do not get much development in the modern history section compared to Southern Africa. Dr. Vickery's presentation style is not very dynamic. He stands behind a lectern and reads from his notes. He often pauses which slow down the tempo. He clearly shows more confidence and better pacing for those lectures where he is more familiar and/or interested in the material (e.g. Zambia and Zimbabwe). His enthusiasm wanes in several of the other lectures. The production quality of the course is "old school" with the "bricks in the window" set. Despite a rather pedestrian quality, I do recommend the video version of this course because the colored maps are important to tell the story and there are several photos and clips which are quite helpful in explaining the material. The accompanying course guidebook is very good, The lecture summaries are in outline form and contain all the important points. There is a timeline, a glossary, biographical notes and an annotated bibliography. To anyone like myself who is not familiar with the history of Africa, I would recommend this course even though I do not feel it is up to the production or presentation quality of most of the other TGC courses I have taken. The content is quite interesting and worth the time investment. I hope that other TGC courses cover the rise of humanoids in Africa and their migration as well as a more comprehensive history of ancient and modern Saharan and Mediterranean Africa.
Date published: 2014-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Devoured It Americans know very little about this beautiful place . This course fills the void.
Date published: 2014-11-09
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