1 Introduction

African Origins—History and Culture

Module Introduction

Module 1 explores the rich histories and diverse cultures of West African peoples from antiquity to the early nineteenth-century. In the process, it addresses such questions as:

  • Who were the African people who migrated to the Americas, voluntarily and involuntarily?
  • What regions of Africa did they come from?
  • What were their African societies like?
  • What were their cultural patterns and everyday lives like before they came? (3)

It is important to learn about the history and heritage of African Americans that extends back into antiquity because throughout slavery and afterwards, people of European descent advanced what anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits called the “Myths of the Negro Past. (Drake 1990:1–14).” These myths were advanced particularly and primarily about African Americans as rationales to justify slavery, and later discrimination and segregation. (3) They advanced these myths, which portrayed Africa as a primitive and backward place, a ’Dark Continent,’ to justify slavery and create ideas of race and racial inferiority. Module 1 reveals how erroneous these myths were. It demonstrates how West Africa, the area that became the center of the Atlantic slave trade, nurtured and grew technologically and intellectually advanced, and economically powerful, civilizations well before the arrival of European slave traders. (1)

Learning Outcomes

This module addresses the following Course Learning Outcomes listed in the Syllabus for this course:

  • To provide students with a general understanding of the history of African Americans within the context of American History.
  • To motivate students to become interested and active in African American history by comparing current events with historical information.(1)
Additional learning outcomes associated with this module are:

  • The student will be able to discuss the origins, evolution, and spread of racial slavery.
  • The student will be able to describe the creation of a distinct African-American culture and how that culture became part of the broader American culture. (1)

Module Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Discuss the distinguishing features of West African civilizations.
  • Refute ideas of Africa as a “Dark Continent.” (1)

Readings and Resources

Learning Unit: West African Histories and Cultures (see below) (1)


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African American History and Culture Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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