This survey of the cultures and societies of Africa is designed to be a broad interdisciplinary introduction to the study of this extraordinary continent. And because we shall examine Africa from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, each of you will have registered for one of the following: African Languages and Literature 277; Afro-American Studies 277; Anthropology 277; Geography 277; History 277; Political Science 277; or Sociology 277.
Since one goal of this course is to introduce students to Africa from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives, we assume no prior knowledge. Nonetheless, your responsibility in this course is slightly different than in most others you have taken. The format requires you regularly to reconcile the different approaches, styles, and perspectives of the course materials (readings, lectures, discussions, video clips, films), making linkages among their various subjects and orientations. You will have plenty of material to work with, and help from the instructor and your teaching assistant, but ultimately it is up to you to weave a coherent understanding of Africa out of the material presented.
For example, when listening to a lecture or reading an assignment, as you are concentrating on the material at hand, at the same time try to think of how the ideas being presented connect to other lectures or readings, either supporting them or, perhaps, contradicting them. Always try to compare and contrast readings, lectures, discussions, and films with each other. Remember throughout that a second goal of the course is for each of you to come away with some understanding of the complexities and diversities of contemporary and historical Africa. You will discover, for example, that generalizations about “Africa” — whether by the media, academics, policy makers, or even the instructor — rarely hold across the entire continent.
By long custom, this interdisciplinary course draws on occasional guest lectures from a variety of Wisconsin faculty members engaged in the study of Africa because the continent’s history, politics, cultures, and societies are so rich, diverse, and complex no single individual can possibly hope to know everything there is to know about the continent — even in an introductory course. I have therefore carefully selected a variety of guest specialists from various disciplines in the social sciences and humanities to cover subjects that they know far better than I do. There will be enough guests to ensure the interdisciplinary orientation this course is known for, but not so many that the course loses focus or coherence. A third goal of the course, therefore, is to whet your appetites to learn even more about Africa after you complete this course by enrolling in some of the other Africa-centric courses that this university, and especially its African Studies Program, are known for.