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African and African American Experiences

Open access resources online.



Maps are powerful visual tools that convey historical cultural beliefs as much as they represent geographical understanding. Medieval T-O maps offer a perspective on how early Europeans viewed Africa...depicting both continents together, under the dominating presence of massive Asia covering the top half of the earth. Some Antique maps of Africa depict European traders in deferential positions before powerful African and Asian leaders, and for centuries after the Crusades Europeans included images of the legendary Ethiopian king Prester John on maps of the areaMaps were also, of course, technical tools that enabled European exploration and mercantile expansion. But Africans provided more map content than they were credited with until recently. "Indigenous Mapmaking in Intertropical Africa" (Bassett 1998) offers numerous examples of how African geographical knowledge undergirded early Western understanding of the continent (see link to series and volume 2, book 3 below).


The Red Sea Kingdom of Axum (in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea) was a key trade hub from the time of the Roman Empire (with archeology indicating it supplied the empire with elephant ivory), declining in the 6th-8th centuries (Devisse and Vansina 1981:778; see link below to General history of Africa vol. 3). Trans-Saharan trade routes provided African gold to Egypt and the Middle East, the Roman Empire, and medieval Europe; domestic servants, slaves, soldiers, and concubines to North Africa; and scare but essential salt to West African empires. Vasco de Gama circumvented the Spice Trade land route when he established the Cape of Good Hope trade route in 1498.

Technological innovations

There are many examples of African technical innovations in addition to the mapping technologies noted in Bassett above (1998). UF archeologist Peter Schmidt demonstrated that the Buhaya people of Tanzania successfully smelted carbon steel by preheating the air pumped into specialized kilns up to 2000 years ago (Avery and Schmidt 1978). Mathmatician Ron Eglash credits Africans with creating binary number systems and fractal structures: "When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the "Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn't even discovered yet" (from his TED Talk: The fractals at the heart of African designs).

Open access resources online


Primary sources available online at UF Digital Collections

Note: these advanced resources may include content unsuitable for the classroom without instructor mediation.

Other primary sources

Africa through a lens (UK National Archives photography) 

Rock Art Archives: Ancient Geometry: Writing Systems, Art, Mathematics

Music resources

South African Music Archive Project (offers many mp3 recordings of traditional music in wide range of styles). Note that page also links to Talking Drum, a newsletter with many articles on teaching African indigenous music in elementary schools.

Other topics for classrooms


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