I.  Activating Prior Knowledge

Have you ever been on a trip to a strange place? What kinds of things did you see and do? Did you keep a journal of your experience? These experiences make us more aware of the world and the people around us.

II.  Setting A Purpose for Reading

Between 800 and 1076, the kingdom of Ghana was rich and powerful. It controlled the trans-Saharan gold and salt trade. This document contains two excerpts  from Arab scholar Al-Bakri in 1067.  The excerpts describe the king’s court in ancient Ghana as well as an explanation for Ghana’s wealth.

III.  Reading the Text (Read, Re-Read, and Read Again)

Excerpt One:
"The court of appeal is held in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses with gold embroidered trappings. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the subordinate kings of his country, all wearing splendid garments and with their hair mixed with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before the king, and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of the pavilion are dogs…[wearing] collars of gold and silver, studded with a number of balls of the same metals."

Stop! What was the author trying to convey?    

Excerpt Two: (Note: This excerpt is a secondary source entitled, Through African Eyes.)

"The Arab traders of this region wanted gold as much as the Wangara wanted salt, but both had to pass through Ghana to trade … Ghana controlled the land …. [and] it had the military forces … to maintain peace in the area, thereby assuring safe trade for the Arabs and the Wangara.

Ancient Ghana was an extremely complex empire. It possessed many of the characteristics of powerful nations today: wealth based on trade, sufficient food to feed its people, income derived from taxes, social organization that ensured justice and efficient political control, a strong army equipped with advanced weapons, and a foreign policy that led to peace and cooperation with other people."

Stop! Based on the article, what were three reasons why Ghana’s empire was successful?

Works Cited

Noonan, Theresa C. Document-Based Assessment for Global History. Portland: J. Weston Walch, 2007.

IV.  Personal Reflection - Respond to the following questions.

1.  What evidence of wealth did Al-Bakri describe?
2.  Based on the two articles, what evidence of an advanced political structure did Al-Bakri describe?
3.  How do we know that the Ghana empire was an advanced civilization?

V. Peer Reflection - Read three classmates' responses and respond to what they have written.

I.  Activating Prior Knowledge

Think about your own personal history. What if someone said that several of the events of your life that shaped who you are today, never happened? How would that alter your perspective of yourself? When you deny or alter the events of the past, does it alter or shape our understanding of the past? Does it alter our understanding of the past for better or for worse?

II.  Setting A Purpose for Reading

When studying African history, it quickly becomes apparent that while there once existed a rich and diverse culture throughout the continent of Africa, it equally becomes apparent that much of this history has been lost. Why have we lost so much African history?

III.  Reading the Text (Read, Re-Read, and Read Again)

One of these subtle methods (of coercion) is to be found in the account of history. The history of Africa, as presented by European scholars, has been encumbered with malicious myths. It was even denied that we were a historical people. It was said that whereas other continents had shaped history, and determined its course, Africa had stood still, held down by inertia; that Africa was only propelled into history by the European contact…In presenting the history of Africa as the history of the collapse of our traditional societies in the presence of the European advent, colonialism and imperialism employed their account of African history and anthropology as an instrument of their oppressive ideology.

Stop! According to the author, how did European scholars impact African history?    

Earlier on, such disparaging accounts had been given of African society and culture as to appear to justify slavery, and slavery, posed against these accounts, seemed a positive deliver of our ancestors. When the slave trade and slavery became illegal, the experts on Africa yielded to the new wind of change, and now began to present African culture and society as being so rudimentary and primitive that colonialism was a duty of Christianity and civilization. Even if we were no longer, on the evidence of the shape of our skulls, regarded as the missing link, unblessed with the arts of good government, material and spiritual progress, we were still regarded as representing the infancy of mankind. Our highly sophisticated culture was said to be simple and paralyzed by inertia, and we had to be encumbered with tutelage (teaching). And this tutelage, it was thought, could only be implemented if we were first subjugated politically.    

Stop! How was the history or lack of history used against the Africans during the period of the slave trade?

The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class. But if the history of a nation, or a people, cannot be found in the history of a class, how much less can the history of a continent be found in what is not even a part of it - Europe. Africa cannot be validly treated merely as the space in which Europe swelled up. If African history is interpreted in terms of the interests of European merchandise and capital, missionaries and administrators, it is no wonder that African nationalism is in the forms it takes regarded as a perversion and neo-colonialism as a virtue.    

In the new African renaissance, we place great emphasis on the presentation of history. Our history needs to be written as the history of our society, not as the story of European adventures. African society must be treated as enjoying its own integrity; its history must be a mirror of that society, and the European contact must find its place in this history only as an African experience, even if as a crucial one. That is to say, the European contact needs to be assessed and judged from the point of view of the principles animating African society, and from the point of view of the harmony and progress of this society.    

Stop! African history has often been told through the eyes of Europeans and not by Africans themselves. In many African countries, students are taught from history books written by Europeans in European countries. Why does the “eyes” in which we look at a culture matter?

When history is presented in this way, it can become not an account of how those African students referred to in the introduction became more europeanized than others; it can become a map of the growing tragedy and the final triumph of our society. In this way, African history can come to guide and direct African action. African history can thus become a pointer at the ideology which should guide and direct African reconstruction.    

This connection between an ideological standpoint and the writing of history is a perennial one. A check on the work of the great historians, including Herodotus and Thucydides, quickly exposes their passionate concern with ideology. Their irresistible moral, political and sociological comments are particular manifestations of more general ideological standpoints. Classically, the great historians have been self-appointed public prosecutors accusing on behalf of the past, admonishing on behalf of the future. Their accusations and admonishings have been set in a rigid framework of presuppositions, both about the nature of the good and about the nature of the good society, in such a way that these presuppositions serve as intimations of an implicit ideology.

Stop! According to the author, what is the role of a historian?

IV.  Personal Reflection - Respond to the following questions.

1.  Why have we lost so much African history?
2.  How has the European perspective of African history impacted the civilizations and countries of Africa?
3.  Think about American history. Does the author’s statement, “The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class.” apply to our history?

V. Peer Reflection - Read three classmates' responses and respond to what they have written.