Precolonial Mali from the Sundiata Epic

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Chapter 3: Africa’s Past and Historical Sources. Parker, John, and Richard Rathbone. African History : A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,




Week 4.1

For this week, please take a moment to discuss what we can learn about precolonial Mali from the Sundiata Epic. What kind of social world was it? How do we know?

(consider: government structure, technology, housing, family structure, religion, etc).

Make a list of at least ten statements about pre-colonial Mali, giving evidence (a quote or paraphrase) from the text for each.





4.2 TimbuktuAfter completing the other material for this week, watch the BBC documentary linked from the description and respond to the discussion questions in the description.View Full Description

So far this week, we have learned about how historians who wanted to study the history of Africa were limited by the kinds of archives and documents that were available. Written records of the colonial period were relatively easy to access. However, there were no written records produced by the local people themselves. For this reason, specialists in African History (in universities in African nations, and in the US and Europe) developed a method for studying history using oral sources. You practiced some of these same methods in Forums 4.1.


However, in the last 15 years, understandings of what kinds of sources are available for studying the history of African civilizations before European conquest has changed. One of the most important reasons for this is that Malians in Timbuktu began to reveal their secret collections of manuscripts from the old libraries of the Islamic university in this city.

I was in Dakar when some of the librarians in this video were working on the preservation and archiving efforts described here. If you are interested in seeing a large collection of digitized manuscripts in African languages, you might be interested in the online Ajami library, hosted by Boston University.

After watching the documentary, write a forum post listing five things you learned from the documentary that contradict or substantially disagree with something we learned in the other readings for this week. What does this evidence tell us about the history of the civilizations of Mali before European conquest? 



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