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African-American Studies

Free «African-American Studies» Essay Sample

Questions on Early African History

Question 1. Discuss the role of paleontology in Africa’s historiography.

Paleontology refers to the study of fossils as a way of trying to explain the origin of human beings. In the view of the modern world, Homo sapiens are the only human beings in existence. However, according to paleontology, human beings existed in early days in various different forms, known as homo genus (Reid, 2012). Paleontology further reveals that the origin of human beings can be traced to the African continent. In physical appearance Homo genus had a large head due to the large size of their brain. It is believed that the intelligence of the current human beings has been developing over time from the period of Homo genus. In the era of the Homo genus, technology was introduced. It was in their time that the first tools were made. Moreover, rearing of animals also started during the period when Homo genus existed. The difference in the size of the brain of the Homo genus and the current human beings, known as Homo sapiens, is very little. The greatest homo genus brain had a cranial volume of 1000 cubic centimeters, while that of the existing man today is 1500 cubic centimeters (Nardo, 2010). Thus, the difference in cranial volumes of the brains is very slight.


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Question 2. Evaluate the contributions of the evolutionary theory and traditions/myths of origin to the reconstruction of Africa’s past.

According to the theory of evolution, all living things, including human beings, are of a common ancestry. The complex creatures that exist today developed from simple creatures that seized to exist. The theory further argues that men developed from animals. Over time the process of natural selection occurred and was combined with mutation, which happened in order to preserve the good genes, as well as to develop better genes to help in adaptation to the existing conditions (Delmas & Penn, 2012). On the one hand, as it is stated in the theory of evolution, human beings developed from chimpanzees through the mutation of this species. On the other hand, the myths of origin of African communities argue that life started from a supreme being. In some of the myths the Supreme Being was an egg while in others it was a snake. According to the mythical stories, first men developed in Africa. In search for food they started travelling to different parts of the world. The first proof of an early man, developed in Africa, was the fossil found in Israel. In the myths the Supreme Being gave human beings the authority to watch over other creatures (Delmas, & Penn, 2012). Due to the authority given to them, human beings started domesticating animals and cultivating crops. Domestication of animals in early days explains why most Africans practiced agriculture.

Questions on “State Formation” in Africa before A.D. 1880

Question 1. Discuss the role of the environment (geographical location) in the emergence of the Egyptian civilization.

Egypt is located close to the River Nile. The proximity to it makes the stretch of Egyptian land fertile. Most people and animals moved closer to the Nile in the ancient days. Once in a year heavy rains are observed in Egypt. As a result, the Nile River floods and overflows to the Egyptian fields, pushing fertile soils to the land. In the ancient days Egyptians noted this phenomenon, and hence started planting crops such as wheat. Moreover, domestication of animals was also started (Nardo, 2010). It was during this period of human beings, who were cultivating the crops, that the leadership of Pharaoh was started. Egyptians viewed pharaohs as gods. At that time Egyptians also believed in a Supreme Being. A certain region was allotted for him and it was believed that the Supreme Being used to visit it. Architects along with engineers were ordered to construct pyramids. The existence of professional architects and their counterparts, engineers, proves the fact that technology and intelligence was first developed in Africa (Reid, 2012). During the reign of Pharaohs, the first implemented communal project was the construction of canals, used for irrigation activities. It proves that the start of civilization descends from Africa. However, the construction of pyramids as well as the dykes and canals involved manual methods.

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Question 2. Using two African empires as case studies, discuss the role of long distance trade in the emergence and growth of the western Sudanese polities (kingdoms and empires).

A number of Empires existed in Africa in ancient times. Among them are Ghana’s Empire, Mali’s Empire, as well as Songhai Empire. Notably, none of the Empires kept permanent capitals (Gates, 2011). Capitals were shifted from one urban center to another. The unity of the Empires consisted in strong leadership as well as in building societies, which were based on kin. Moreover, each Empire sought to have dominion over a certain route of trade. Contact between the Empires and the world of Islam played a great role in the growth of Western Sudan. Trade between Arabs and Sudan’s Berbers grew due to the existence of the Sahara Desert. The region of the savanna had fertile lands, which enabled the growth of plants and keeping of the animals (Reid, 2012).  Even with the trade of many products, the Empires’ main aim was to have control over the trade of gold as well as salt in Trans-Sahara. The market of gold was mainly targeting African and European leaders. Salt, on the other hand, was sold for making and preservation of food. Due to these growing trading activities, Western Sudan developed kingdoms, on which the tax duties for imported and exported goods were imposed. The most common animals, used at that time for delivering the goods to the trading centers, were camels and horses.

Question 3. With reference to four polities, discuss four factors that aided the process of state formation in Africa before A.D. 1880 (one factor for a polity).

State formation involved a number of factors. Among them was the voluntary formation of the state due to common interests. An example of this is Benin. The formation of Benin is seen as a result of the growth of trade. Merchants cooperated as a way of maintaining a constant and a large scale production of goods for trade. The second factor for state formation is economic stratification. With the need of communities to give protection to privately owned property, the states were developed in some of the African regions. It was due to specialization, which existed in some communities and led to the order, in which some people were working on land, while others were involved in different activities. An example of this is Kenya (Delmas, & Penn, 2012). The third factor is a conquest. This is the process when one city develops its own state, as a way of establishing control over other tribes, which it has conquered. In most cases, the reason for it is to form an inequality between the tribes. It can be described clearly by the state of Egypt. The fourth factor is neo-evolution, which means that different systems of leadership evolve to form a state (Reid, 2012). A number of small tribes and chiefdoms transform gradually to form a state by having a defined structure of hierarchy. In order to be able to maintain order, the states create symbols, which represent power. An example of this is Tanzania.

Question of Motives

  1. Apologists of colonialism.

The use of the idea of bringing civilization to Africa, while colonizing it, was a part of a mission, performed by France and Portugal. In their opinion they had the duty of bringing western civilization to Africa, which was a backward region. To achieve this France and Portugal would have to employ assimilation. However, the reality of the matter is that Africa was not backward, it only had a different way of doing things. The technology, used there, was different but effective (Nardo, 2010). The order of things was communal and functional. Other European powers were spreading western education during the colonization of Africa. Notably, very few children benefited from education programs. Instead people were subjected to slavery. Even before the settlement of Europeans in Africa, Africans had their own forms of education practiced. People were taught cultural practices as well as counting. The first people, engaged in slave trade were the Portuguese. They were later followed by Britain and France. Before the European invasion of Africa, no tribe could take slaves from another tribe (Reid, 2012). Later on missionaries from the European countries invaded African countries with the purpose of ending the slavery. However, this was just an ideology, since their main aim was to introduce their religion to Africans and to make them start praying for their god. Africans had their own way of worshiping the Supreme Being even before the invasion of Africa by Europeans. The introduction of Christianity was, therefore, a way of showing superiority of Europeans’ god over the god of Africans.

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Questions on “Colonialism“

Question 1. To what extent could it be said that the Europeans expanded into Africa in the 19th century for the twin purposes of spreading civilization and ending slavery?

In over 35% of the world Europeans spread their culture through domination in the lands. Initially Europeans entered into the unsuspecting Africans’ lands, claiming to be people, who had the best interests for the Africans. They brought them new seeds for growing and new machinery for using in their farms. Africans, being hospitable towards their visitors and naively wondering about seeing men, who had no color, welcomed Europeans into their countries. Soon Europeans moved their troops to Africa and started domineering over the African lands (Nardo, 2010). It happened in a fast way before the Africans could suspect that the white men, who at first were assumed to be the helpers, sent by their Supreme Being, actually came there to take their land. When Europeans forcefully took the African lands, they begin to industrialize them. It implied that Europeans required people to work both on the land, they had acquired, and on the factories, they had created (Delmas, & Penn, 2012). They sought taking thr slaves. Africans were not happy about being forced to work on their own land without even being paid. In order to try to calm the Africans down, Europeans introduced another group, known as missionaries, who came there with the so-called aim of ending the slavery. However, in reality they spread Christianity as a way of proving to Africans that the god of the Europeans was superior to their god.

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Question 2. Discuss the economic and political motives for European expansion into Africa in the 19th century.

Among the reasons why Europeans colonized Africa was the state of the economy. At that time most European countries were facing depression. European countries saw colonization as an opportunity to utilize the African lands for increasing their production by expansion of their industries. They also saw Africa as a place where they could acquire labor cheaply if not for free (Delmas, & Penn, 2012). Furthermore, Africa was rich in raw materials that were used by Europeans in their industries back in Europe. From the point of view of Europeans, Africans would also provide a new market for products, produced by the European market. In addition, Europeans considered it easy to inhabit Africa by creating the need for money and preventing the butter trade. Once the colonization process was started in Africa, political issues became prevalent. Since European countries such as France had a long term rivalry with Britain, they wanted to prove their superiority to each other by having dominance over more African countries. To the surprise of France and Britain, the need for dominance over African countries was also a part of other European countries’ interests (Nardo, 2010). These conflicts emerged from nationalistic efforts of European countries, which wanted to prove superiority in their continent. The search of land resulted in most of the African countries being dependent on the European authority.

Questions on “Colonialism” Cont

Question 1. “The need felt by some Europeans to stop the internal slave trade and spread civilization and education is often stated as … the main reason for the partition of Africa.”

Slave trade was initially started by Portugal. Slaves were captured in warfare and taken to the market for sale. The aim of selling slaves was to acquire cheap labor for the firms back in Portugal. Upon the realization of it, more European countries started acquiring slaves, by buying them in markets, created by Portuguese. The reason for buying slaves in the markets was the fear that if they entered Africa themselves, they would contract diseases from the Africans. Later on other Europeans realized that it would be easier and cheaper to acquire slaves to labor at their firms if they searched for them personally. In addition, European countries also realized that Muslim Swahilis were also practicing slave trade. Therefore, Europeans then entered Africa with the word of ending the slave trade (Reid, 2012). Upon their arrival to Africa, Europeans found it more beneficial to acquire even the African lands, as it would prove their superiority to other European countries. When they learnt that Britain and France were already in Africa, acquiring its land and cheap labor in the form of slaves, they also started colonization. When they came to Africa, most European countries realized that Africa was rich in raw materials for their industries back in Europe, and hence decided to construct factories in Africa.



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Question 2. What is “colonial situation”? How did the “colonial situation” in Africa lead to the anti-colonial struggle?

Colonial situation refers to the establishment of the domination over a foreign minority group of people, through the assertion of the racial and cultural superiority. A colonial situation occurs when the majority of people show superiority over a native group of people, who are materially inferior. It can be observed through the contact, which exists between the civilizations that use machines, profess Christianity, have powerful economies and rapid life rhythm and the communities that are non Christian, that lack machines, have a decelerating economy and a slow life rhythm (Nardo, 2010). When the colonial situation was imposed on Africa, the native Africans felt distressed that their lands were taken away.  Second, Africans were also upset, because they were forced to work on their own land. Apart from being exposed to the force labor, Africans also were aware of the fact that the raw materials, used for the manufacturing of the products in the foreign industries, were taken from the African lands. Furthermore, after the invasion of Africa, Europeans introduced their education, so that the African elite was developed to begin the struggle. The Elites united locals, using their native languages, and incited them to fight against the colonial powers. In some cases, Africans became angry that they were exploited by Europeans, who made them work long hours and pay taxes.

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Questions on the “Harlem Renaissance”

Question 1. Assess the significance of the Harlem Renaissance in the emergence of a new Black America by the 1940s.

Harlem Renaissance is a creative art culture of people of the African American origin. The movement occurred in the twentieth century. Harlem Renaissance is seen as one of the influential campaigns in the literary history of the African American people. It was through Harlem Renaissance that African Americans started to embrace literary art, musical forms of art, theatrical art, and visual forms of art. Participants of this art movement aimed at presenting the concept of the African American culture, as opposed to the stereotypes that had been created by white people, considering the attitude of African Americans to the African heritage, and to one another (Gates, 2011). The aim of Harlem Renaissance was to free African Americans from moral values that were Victorian, and to familiarize them with the aspects of African life that were earlier presented as shameful by the whites through the reinforcement of racism. The movement engaged in intense debates, dwelling on specific areas. Harlem Renaissance gave the impetus to all literature, written by African Americans in the recent past. Moreover, the movement evoked awareness of all Africans around the globe. Today many movements for civil rights exist due to the Harlem Renaissance, which also caused the high rates of migration of African Americans from rural areas to urban centers.

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