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The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela

An award-winning and Yale-trained historian reveals Africa in all its complexity, grandeur, tragedy, and resilience so you can understand the events in present-day Africa through their deep historical context.
The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 119.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Failed Potential This is a broad and sweeping overview of the culture and history of an important continent – Africa – although that overview does not view all parts of Africa evenly. It addresses Southern Africa much more than West Africa or the Muslim nations of Northern Africa The course includes both national/people group lectures and topical lectures. There are multiple lectures on South Africa and Zimbabwe and also single lectures on Ethiopia and the Congo. Topical lectures include AIDS and the Rwanda genocide. This course had the potential to be good. The subject is of historical, modern political, and commercial importance in our world. There has been much drama in Africa. Yet, relatively little is known by the general (Western) public about Africa. Except for the courses on Egypt, this is the only offering by The Great Courses (TGC) focusing on Africa in contrast to the many courses on Greece, Rome, and European history. Unfortunately, the course falls flat, primarily because Dr. Vickery is not up to TGC standards as a lecturer. His presentation style is a bit stiff. He does not connect with the electronic listener. He loves his subject and is knowledgeable about his topic but he seems a bit ill-at-ease in front of the camera. The course guide is average by TGC standards. It is in outline format as opposed to paragraph or bullet format. It has many useful maps embedded in the lectures. It averages about 5 pages per lecture, which seems to be a little low by TGC standards. It has a useful timeline, a glossary, biographical notes, references to internet resources, and a bibliography that includes a note on how the resource might be useful. I used the video version. There were some useful graphics such as maps. However, I think that the audio version would be just about as good. The course was published in 2006.
Date published: 2023-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and enjoyable I have no idea if this is outdated as another reviewer stated, nature of the beast is that you cannot recount history past the date of creation. Not sure what the copyright date of the course is. But I learned so much about Africa and African history that I had no knowledge about before hand. The American school system concentrates on European and American history, and more or less ignores most African history. This course whetted my appetite to learn more about this huge, complex continent. The first part of the course dragged a bit, but we persevered and both I and my wife very much enjoyed the rest of the course. The more I learn of Europeans on this continent, the more abhorred I am about their hubris. But then again it is the same story wherever on the globe they decided dominate the local populations. If you want a survey of a complex history frequently ignored in our schools, this is for you.
Date published: 2022-10-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This was a very helpful introductory course I found this a very helpful introduction to a complex topic. I would definitely recommend it to others as a starting point for further study.
Date published: 2022-09-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting and informative history of Africa I'm about half way through and it's quite informative. There are however some glaring errors that, whilst appearing minor, reflect badly on the integrity of the information. In an early lecture an example picture of an African compared with an Indian elephant were both Indian - African elephants have much larger ears! In lecture 13, when discussing the slave trade, the lecturer repeatedly confused latitude and longitude - longitude is pole to pole, latitude is parallel to the equator! How did such a fundamental misunderstanding get through the proofing stage? It is suggested that the Bantu people may have migrated to the far south of Africa prior to European colonisation. There is no evidence of this at all. The Cape had long been inhabited by the San and Khoekhoe peoples - no Bantu. Only in the late 1700s did European colonists gradually expanding eastward up the coast encounter the Xhosa, who were being pushed south by the Zulu, in the region of the Great Fish River resulting in the Xhosa wars of the late 1700s. There were no other Bantu tribes in the Cape colony.
Date published: 2022-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview I was looking for a review of Africa. I frankly know very little about its history and was interested in an such an overview. I thought the professor did exactly that. With any 36-session course, there are some lectures that were of more interest and some of less but I feel like I have come away with a much greater understanding of Africa - the history, geography, politics, effects of colonialism. My only suggestion is that the course needs to be updated for developments in the last 15 years.
Date published: 2021-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An enlightening course My husband and I have been watching the videos almost nightly. We are leaning so much about a continent we new little about. We have actually ordered a couple of the books he has mentioned during his lectures.
Date published: 2021-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from well done summary - instructor has easy style good course - a lot of info in 36 lectures - you come away with high level understanding of africa's history and composition and why many of the problems you read about currently are happening - instructor has nice easy delivery and goes slowly enough so the info can be digested comfortably - his expertise and attachment to the subject is obvious and heartwarming
Date published: 2021-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deeply respectful This is a deeply respectful series of lectures from a scholar who committed his life to educating others about Africa’s history. His message is realistic but hopeful. I listened to his lectures over about 3 months while reading a book on Africa's Geography ( written by an African) and a book of Africa in World History (written by an American Arthropologist and a historian). All elaborate on prehistory to post-colonial periods. I thought all authors under emphasized the impact of the political and religious imperialism (Jihads of the Word and the Sword) of Islam and how West Africa and the Swahili coast might have developed differently without its dominance. I learned a lot about Mali, Ghana, Songhai and the impact of the Bantu migration. Also the interaction between Oman, Iraq and India with the east coast of Africa. He detailed the tragic history of indigenous, middle eastern and Indian as well as Atlantic slavery and some of the long term effects on African development in modern history. He was highly critical of the Portuguese and (possible the worst) Belgians in the Congo. He appropriately labeled and condemned the ‘systemic racism’ of N and S Rhodesia as well as South Africa. The story of colonial settlers and their impact of the original inhabitants is similar to that of the Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, Spanish in Central and South America, British expansion in Ireland and Turks in Armenia. Mostly bad. This is a sensitive and accurate lecture series that is better to sip over time than to binge. Listen and make your own decision.
Date published: 2021-05-23
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The story of Africa is the oldest and most event-filled chronicle of human activity on the planet. This course traces the story of the sub-Saharan region from the earliest evidence of human habitation to the latest challenges facing African nations in the 21st century. Africa's people, places, languages, and customs will come vividly to life, and you will be able to follow events in present-day Africa in their deep historical context.


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.


North Carolina State University

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.

By This Professor

Finding the

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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

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