The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it but lacking at times I pride myself on being one of the few people who has some accurate knowledge of the history of Africa. This course was sort of like a general overview of the history of the continent that does not dwell to much on specific areas or time periods. I think that this is a course for people who really want to know more about African history but for me, I think a new one might be in order
Date published: 2020-12-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Truly awful This course is both uninformative and unlistenable. Heed the negative reviews and be skeptical of the positive ones. I recommend the negative review that details Professor Vickery’s verbal tics. It may seem mean-spirited, but the unfortunate reality is that Professor Vickery is unbearable to listen to, and even if he wasn’t, this is a uniquely uninformative course.
Date published: 2020-10-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A little dry The lecturer has good information, however the presentation is dry. He also uses 'etc.' and 'so forth' often. This leaves much wondering what I am missing. More graphics would be helpful.
Date published: 2020-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative I am only on lecture four but this course is very interesting and encompasses the geography and cultural features of this large continent.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from African Experience from "Lucy" to Mandala I am a profesor with 40 years experience at a major university. I find this professor to be passionate and knowledgeable. He presents in orderly fashion and sequentially which is a plus. However, he belabors many simple points with excess description and repeats many words that are synonyms. I found myself drifting many times because of the lag in getting to the point. If he corrects this issue, it would be a first rate course that I would recommend.
Date published: 2020-05-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but adjust the video playback speed This course covers a lot of history and a large continent so it misses some details. There are other resources if you want to go into more depth. He talks rather slowly so I sped up the video playback to 1.25 or and 1.5 and voila; an eminently enjoyable lecture.
Date published: 2020-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Jumping Off Point(s) I finished this course about two years ago. Much criticism has been directed at the course being too broad, much like Africa itself. I needed the general overview to help focus where I wanted to go with African studies. I have since finished quite a number of books on African history inspired by these lectures, drilling down on the stories I found most interesting. I am sure that many specific courses could be provided for regions or peoples within Africa that would fill 36 lectures each.If such courses were provided by the Great Courses, I would be interested in much of them. Prof. Vickery's choice of subjects, and his delivery of the subject matter was entertaining. It would be impossible to specialize in other than a small region in such an immense and varied place as Africa. He succeded in lighting a fire in my search for more on this amazing continent.
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lucy to Mandella Im still absorbing the course. However, Ive been very pleased with the additional information; it fills in a lot of blanks and Im looking forward to the remainder of the course
Date published: 2020-02-25
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Finding the "Lost Continent"
1: Finding the "Lost Continent"

To many in the Western world, Africa is the "Lost Continent" - lost from view and lost because of its human and natural disasters. This lecture lays out a road map for "finding" Africa by examining its uniquely long history of human activity. The basic themes of the course are also presented.

32 min
Africa's Many Natural Environments
2: Africa's Many Natural Environments

Africa's varied geography includes savanna, desert, and rain forest, which are produced by the interaction of latitude, temperature, rainfall, elevation, and topography. This Lecture characterizes these zones by specific flora and fauna and by the potential to support human societies or harm them through disease.

32 min
A Virtual Tour of the Great Land
3: A Virtual Tour of the Great Land

Embarking on an imaginary tour of the continent, this lecture starts at the Cape of Good Hope, travels through southern Africa, leaps northward to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Great Rift Valley, the Sahara, and the great rain forests of West Africa and the Congo Basin, and ends with Victoria Falls.

28 min
The Cradle of Humankind
4: The Cradle of Humankind

Humankind emerged first in Africa, as shown by fossils found by Raymond Dart, the Leakeys, Donald Johanson, and others - evidence recently bolstered by DNA studies. What were the first human societies in Africa like? What tools did they use? Are there still people in Africa living in this style?

31 min
Crops, Cattle, Iron - Taming a Continent
5: Crops, Cattle, Iron - Taming a Continent

A few thousand years ago, life in Africa was revolutionized by the cultivation of crops and the domestication of livestock. The change was reinforced by the spread of a new and incredibly useful metal: iron. This Iron Age Package of innovations led to settled kingdoms and extensive trading networks.

30 min
Kinship and Community - Societies Take Shape
6: Kinship and Community - Societies Take Shape

Family and descent groups in Africa have assumed particular forms. This lecture focuses on monogamy versus polygamy and on the importance of unilineal descent groups, lineages, and clans. The nature of ethnicity in Africa is discussed, as well as the roles enjoyed by - or imposed on - women.

31 min
Like Nothing Else - The Ancient Nile Valley
7: Like Nothing Else - The Ancient Nile Valley

Although Egypt lies outside the course's focus on sub-Saharan Africa, its importance cannot be ignored in understanding the history of Africa. This lecture looks at ancient Egypt in the context of the Nile, linking it to centers of culture and power further south, such as Nubia, Kush, and Meroe.

30 min
Soul and Spirit - Religion in Africa
8: Soul and Spirit - Religion in Africa

Religion has always held a central place in African cultures. What are the common characteristics of the hundreds of indigenous religions across the continent, with their multiplicity of deities and spirits? And what has been the long-run impact on Africa of two great world religions - Christianity and Islam?

30 min
Ethiopia - Outpost of Christianity
9: Ethiopia - Outpost of Christianity

For well over 1,000 years there was only one place in Africa where Christianity could be called the dominant religion: Ethiopia. This lecture examines the long and unique history of Ethiopia, including its monastic traditions and astonishing churches carved out of solid rock.

31 min
West Africa's Golden Age
10: West Africa's Golden Age

Between about 400 and 1600, the West African savanna was dominated by a succession of major kingdoms and empires. This lecture explores the rise, development, and eventual decline of three legendary states: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Also examined is the once-thriving trade center of Timbuktu.

31 min
The Swahili Commercial World
11: The Swahili Commercial World

Just as major trading states arose in West Africa along the southern shore of a "sea of sand," so in East Africa there emerged a distinctive commercial culture on the shore of a real sea - the Indian Ocean. Between 1000 and 1500, the East African coast entered its own golden age. The Swahili world had arrived.

31 min
Great Zimbabwe and the Cities of the South
12: Great Zimbabwe and the Cities of the South

This lecture investigates a series of Later Iron Age sites in the southern African interior that were commercially linked with the Swahili ports in East Africa. Included are the remarkable stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the most extensive stone construction in Africa south of the Nile Valley.

31 min
The Atlantic Slave Trade - The Scope
13: The Atlantic Slave Trade - The Scope

The most profound connection between America and Africa is, without doubt, the forced migration of large numbers of African slaves for permanent settlement in the New World. This lecture examines West Africa's place in the immense Atlantic System that emerged in the three centuries following Columbus's voyage.

29 min
The Atlantic Slave Trade - The Impact
14: The Atlantic Slave Trade - The Impact

How did slave ships obtain their human cargo? Who gained and who lost? How many people were affected, including those who landed in the New World, those who died on the way, and those who perished while resisting capture? How did the Atlantic slave trade influence African populations in the long term?

32 min
South Africa - The Dutch Cape Colony
15: South Africa - The Dutch Cape Colony

With the Atlantic slave trade picking up steam in the 1600s, the Dutch established a post at the Cape of Good Hope to reprovision ships going to and from their commercial interests in Asia. But Cape Town became something else: a beachhead for the gradual expansion of permanent European settlement.

32 min
South Africa - The Zulu Kingdom
16: South Africa - The Zulu Kingdom

In the decades around 1800, the southern Bantu world underwent dramatic change as centralized kingdoms replaced smaller chiefdoms. This process led to the modern Zulu kingdom under its great founder Shaka Zulu - later demonized as a bloodthirsty destroyer, but equally a builder and creator.

30 min
South Africa - The Frontier and Unification
17: South Africa - The Frontier and Unification

In a migration reminiscent of the settlement of the American West - right down to the use of covered wagons - thousands of Dutch Afrikaners left the British Cape Colony and established themselves in the far interior. Unification of South Africa came after the British victory over Afrikaners in the Boer War.

30 min
South Africa - Diamonds and Gold
18: South Africa - Diamonds and Gold

In 1867 huge diamond deposits were discovered in the interior of what would become South Africa, followed 20 years later by even more valuable gold deposits. Such enormous wealth set South Africa on the path to what it remains today: a first-world and third-world country wrapped into one.

30 min
Prelude to the Scramble for Africa
19: Prelude to the Scramble for Africa

This lecture examines developments in the 1800s, between the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the onset of full-blown European colonization. Some remarkable West African entrepreneurs arose to take advantage of the new market realities, including the palm oil merchant-king, Ja Ja of Opobo.

30 min
European Conquest and African Resistance
20: European Conquest and African Resistance

In 1884 representatives of several Western powers met in Berlin to discuss the ground rules in the scramble for Africa. The partition of the continent by European empires was motivated by the search for raw materials and markets, the missionary impulse, and pseudoscientific notions of racial superiority.

31 min
Colonial Africa - New Realities
21: Colonial Africa - New Realities

By the early 1900s, most of Africa was under European colonial rule. This lecture looks at the characteristics shared by the colonies. All were involved in economic exploitation, infrastructure improvements, and authoritarian rule aided by local leaders. Furthermore, all professed a civilizing mission.

30 min
Colonial Africa - Comparisons and Change
22: Colonial Africa - Comparisons and Change

Commonalities aside, the experiences of Africans under colonialism were hardly identical. The biggest difference depended on a simple question: How many European white settlers intended to stay? This affected African citizens in countless ways but most directly in whether they retained or lost their land.

31 min
The Lion Awakens - The Rise of Nationalism
23: The Lion Awakens - The Rise of Nationalism

There were two forms of protest against colonial rule: One sought to reestablish the independence that Africans had previously enjoyed; the other looked forward to a new Africa, different from both the precolonial and colonial models. The two types overlapped and coexisted for many Africans.

30 min
The Peaceful Paths to Independence
24: The Peaceful Paths to Independence

The decolonization of most of Africa, like its colonization, occurred rapidly. In 1950 almost no one would have predicted that within roughly a decade, the majority of African countries would celebrate independence. African nationalists were elated to gain power. But how would they use it?

30 min
The Congo - Promise and Pain
25: The Congo - Promise and Pain

The tragedy of the Congo throws into sharp relief the processes of conquest, colonization, and decolonization. Belgian King Leopold brutally exploited the country as his personal possession. After independence, the Congo fell under the iron hand of Mobutu Sese Seko for 32 years. Today the country wallows in civil war.

30 min
Segregation to Apartheid in South Africa
26: Segregation to Apartheid in South Africa

As the sun began to set on European colonial rule in much of Africa and on America's own version of segregation, South Africa moved in the opposite direction. When the Afrikaner National Party came to power in 1948, it took several bold steps to entrench and intensify white supremacy forever - or so it was hoped.

31 min
The Armed Struggles for Independence
27: The Armed Struggles for Independence

In countries where white settlers had something substantial to defend, they were prepared to fight for it. That in turn impelled African nationalists to take up arms themselves, notably in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Angola, and Mozambique. The scars from these conflicts have been slow to heal.

31 min
The First Taste of Freedom
28: The First Taste of Freedom

While wars of liberation ravaged the southern African settler states, most countries in the rest of Africa were enjoying the first years of independence. The visionary new leaders announced great plans for bringing the fruits of independence home to ordinary citizens, and in many cases, they delivered.

30 min
The Taste Turns Sour
29: The Taste Turns Sour

The promise of postcolonial freedom soon began to falter. The new leaders presided over severely hampered economies, and many of the elite were quite happy to settle for enriching themselves. When popular anger threatened stability, rulers turned to one-party states, and armies turned to military coups.

30 min
The World Turns Down - The "Permanent Crisis"
30: The World Turns Down - The "Permanent Crisis"

The mid-1970s were a grim turning point for Africa, marked by international oil shocks and falling prices for exported African commodities. One response was to borrow ever more furiously - and Africa's debt crisis was born. By the 1980s in places like Zambia, development was a bitterly forgotten dream.

31 min
A New Dawn? The Democratic Revival
31: A New Dawn? The Democratic Revival

As the Soviet bloc collapsed, authoritarian regimes in many parts of Africa faced unprecedented challenges to permit free speech and to loosen the state's grip on economic life. In country after country, civilian rule replaced military regimes, and one-party states gave way to multiparty competition.

31 min
The South African Miracle
32: The South African Miracle

South Africa's democratic breakthrough rivals that of the former Soviet bloc states of Eastern Europe. This lecture recounts the role played by the martyred Steve Biko, the Soweto schoolchildren's revolt of 1976, and growing international boycotts, followed by Nelson Mandela's miraculous negotiated transition to majority rule.

30 min
The Unthinkable - The Rwanda Genocide
33: The Unthinkable - The Rwanda Genocide

In April 1994, the President of Rwanda was killed when a plane carrying him was shot down. Within hours began the systematic murder of 500,000 members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group. This lecture reviews Rwanda's precolonial and colonial history in an attempt to explain an event that remains, essentially, inexplicable.

30 min
The New Plague - HIV/AIDS in Africa
34: The New Plague - HIV/AIDS in Africa

AIDS was first identified in the United States in the early 1980s but almost certainly originated decades earlier in Central Africa. Now a global threat, AIDS has had an incomparable impact on southern Africa, where in certain regions 30 percent of the population is infected with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS.

31 min
Zimbabwe - Background to Contemporary Crisis
35: Zimbabwe - Background to Contemporary Crisis

This lecture explores the recent sharp decline in the fortunes of Zimbabwe, the jewel of Africa. In the past quarter-century, the rule of President Robert Mugabe has become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian, culminating in a land-grab of white-owned farms that caused the collapse of the agricultural economy.

30 min
Africa Found
36: Africa Found

The course concludes with a brief overview of some major themes: struggles with the environment, ethnic identity, statebuilding, and Africa's evolving relationship with the outside world. Professor Vickery then offers examples of contemporary Africans who give reason to see a brighter future for the continent.

31 min
Kenneth P. Vickery

I come to this subject with great affection, born of my own experiences there. I come to it with great enthusiasm because of the fascination that I think the raw materials of African history offer.


Yale University


North Carolina State University

About Kenneth P. Vickery

Dr. Kenneth P. Vickery is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Advising in the History Department at North Carolina State. University, where he has taught for almost 30 years. He received his B.A. degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors at Duke University and went on to study sub-Saharan African history at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. During his tenure at NC State, he has been a visiting professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Meredith College. In 1993, he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship and served as a Fulbright Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Economic History of the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. Professor Vickery is also an acclaimed author. His book Black and White in Southern Zambia: The Tonga Plateau Economy and British Imperialism, 1890ñ1939 was a finalist for the Herskovits Prize, given annually by the African Studies Association for the outstanding book in African studies. He has published numerous articles and reviews in such publications as Comparative Studies in Society and History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, the Journal of Southern African Studies, and American Historical Review . An award-winning instructor, Dr. Vickery was inducted into the Academy of Outstanding Teachers at North Carolina State in 1986. In 2005, he was named Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor, the university's highest teaching honor.

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