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Publisher's Summary

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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2006 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2006 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The African Experience: From 'Lucy' to Mandela

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Africa Found!

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.

60 people found this helpful

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This Book Is Not About African History

This book is about Europeans history in Africa, not Africans as agents in their own story. A completely Eurocentric and white washed interpretation of African history. Shame on Audible and Vickery for colonizing African history. For example, on the chapter about African religion, the history of Christianity in Africa is the focus. This is the same trend in each chapter. Sad

37 people found this helpful

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A Great Overview of African History

Any additional comments?

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!

10 people found this helpful

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Primarily covers religion and politics

Lecture primarily covers African politics disease and religion in the post Christian thru
20th, very little mentioned in the area of archeology or prehistory

15 people found this helpful

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The History of European Influence in Africa

It starts off with courses explaining some theories regarding fossils and primitive communities in Africa, but seems to jump around a lot and skip to European colonization and slavery. It is still informative, but is more likely to be seen as a study of the folly of European colonization in Africa.

25 people found this helpful

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Very engaging professor telling engaging story that I wish was longer

I've listened to several of the great courses and this was above average. He gives you a good overview of what is going on in different parts of primarily sub-Saharan Africa through time. Like most Americans my knowledge of African history is lacking and this was a good synopsis. There was much more emphasis placed on Africa after circa 1500 than prior. Perhaps that is because there isn't nearly as much known about earlier time periods. To my recollection the professor didn't really discuss sources of pre-modern history so I don't know what sources are available. I have always wondered why sub-Saharan Africa was late to develop large cities and governments and I was disappointed that the professor didn't give his perspective. I will definitely listen to this lecture again in the future.

5 people found this helpful

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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 sepcific 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 superfluous...so 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.

4 people found this helpful

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The African Puzzle Piece

Any additional comments?

After making a list of all the history books I've listened to in the past few years, I realized the one huge hole in my understanding of the world was Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. That's a big piece of the puzzle, and this course completes it squarely. You will not only touch on fantastic ancient strongholds such as Kilwa and Great Zimbabwe, but you'll also gain the confidence to fully command current events such as farm seizures by the ZANU-PF under the Mugabe regime. A must-read for anyone interested not only in Africa, but the world writ large from history to politics to economics.

4 people found this helpful

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Well laid out and delivered.

The Professor clearly loves his subject country, and its peoples, and communicates that without shying away from the unpleasant aspects. This was a good introduction to a subject that I knew very little about, less in fact than I thought I did!

2 people found this helpful

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African history!

Fantastic Odyssey stretching from the origins of the Atlantic slave trade through the ending of colonialism. The speaker sounds authentic and tells the story with authority and enthusiasm. Never a dull moment. About to listen again. A must buy

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jonathan
  • 08-28-14

Compelling and Highly Informative

I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture course which packed a huge amount of information in a very compact form, and presented it in a very entertaining way. The lecturer clearly has a huge knowledge base but combines it with relevant and fascinating anecdotes. This course exposed my huge ignorance about all things African, but by the end of it I feel a slight expert, and a lot of events from the last 20 years or so suddenly make much more sense. This course is very highly recommended to anyone with curiosity about Africa.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-11-19

A masterpiece

This is a long series of lectures requiring a commitment on the part of the listener to listen from start to finish but that will be amply rewarded in terms of a deep understanding of Africa it past present and the challenges facing the continent in the future. The author and narrator is a master of his subject and gifted speaker and I would look forward to listening to any further lectures that he plans to give

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sol
  • 08-12-18

Remarkable!

This course was very informative, comprehensive and well structured. I'm West African and I'm ashamed to admit that I was completely ignorant about the history of our southern and eastern neighbours before embarking on this course.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ingrid
  • 01-11-17

Simple overview

The audiobook gives an overview of Africa south of the Sahara. It was a helpful first introduction on my part.

2 people found this helpful

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  • David Jackson
  • 01-31-18

Different and informative

I've read a few histories of Africa, and I was afraid that this was going to be mainly a rehashing of what was stated in these. That fear was however, totally without basis, as this series turned out to be totally different in its approach from anything I've experienced earlier. Although the first few lectures were perhaps a bit difficult to get through, it soon became highly engrossing. Really happy I bought this one.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 08-20-17

surprisingly interesting

I ignored this lecture for years unfortunately but the history of the continent in the 19th and 20th centuries is fascinating. highly recommended

1 person found this helpful

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  • Simon
  • 05-15-15

Fun but too superficial

Well told but I can't remember many specifics as everything is skipped over so quickly. I enjoyed it while it was on, though.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Josh
  • 07-25-21

Fascinating course!

really good course. a very good starting point for anybody looking to learn about sub-saharan africa.

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  • Celso
  • 02-06-21

touching

what an amazing journey, and it will serve you well to clear some misconceptions and give a broader knowledge of what lies on the hills of this amazing Continent.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • W Charris
  • 12-23-20

imperfect but worthy introduction

Main takeaway: Africa is too big for one course! Solid introduction to its history though

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  • Stan
  • 06-24-16

Good survey of sub-Saharan Africa

The problem is that this immense task necessarily feels superficial. Choices must be made about coverage and depth. Having almost no knowledge myself, it served as a good introduction. Well planned, well structured, well presented. Highly recommended for introductory purposes.