Fall 2019 HC 231H: Unearthing Medieval West Africa

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Daphne Gallagher

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12761: Wednesday & Friday, 12:00 - 13:20 @ CHA 202

Despite its cosmopolitan cities, extensive commercial systems, and extraordinary wealth, West Africa has been largely ignored in discussions of the global medieval world. In this class, we will focus on how archaeological excavations are expanding scholarly understandings of this understudied region. Through an exploration of sites ranging from 3000-year-old cities to small villages, we will examine processes such as the rise and fall of states and empires, the development of egalitarian political systems, the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt, the construction of monuments, and the impacts of the black death.

On a methodological level, we will discuss how to interpret and analyze archaeological remains as well as the challenges of integrating archaeological data with other types of historical evidence. How does the archaeology of Saharan oasis towns and imperial capital cities compare with their descriptions in medieval Arabic texts? How can oral histories such as the Epic of Sunjaata help archaeologists reconstruct the political system of the Empire of Mali? What do bronze sculptures teach us about religious practices at Ile-Ife? Finally, we will address the contemporary geo-political contexts of archaeological research and current issues such as the ownership and repatriation of antiquities.