In this course, we will examine how ancient Africa has been imagined in the past, by African, early observers, and contemporary scholars. We begin with prehistory and the myths and misrepresentations of Africans that have come out of early European imaginings of Africa. Ideas about "pygmies" and "bushmen" have often been used to write about an Africa without a past or to inscribe people on the continent in a static, primordial past. We examine the problems of these representations and the ways that scholars are now unpacking the complicated histories of early African societies. However, this course covers a broad span of time and space on the continent. For this reason, we will only be able to touch upon some of the larger issues for thinking about ancient Africa.
We will move roughly chronologically from human origins to end our journey in the period of early European contact. Changing technologies, means of production, the manipulation of the environment, and trade are all bound up in these histories. As we trace a history of early Africa in the world, we will also pay close attention to gender. As we examine these issues, we will consider several methods for writing early African histories: linguistic, archaeological, ecological, and oral traditions.