Unit 7 Essay: Using Written Sources to Study African History
Historians who study the continent of Africa often run into problems acquiring and interpreting primary sources when they study Ancient and Medieval Africa. Considering these issues, this assignment asks you
One reason that historians of Africa struggle is the dearth of historical accounts written by Medieval Africans themselves. From about 800 to 1500 CE, many African cultures relied primarily on oral traditions (for example, see:
This paper assignment intends to have you engage with some of the available written sources so you can assess the available information, explaining what conclusions you can draw about the relevant African society and also recognizing the limitations of using the provided primary sources. Most historians who study Africa combine their interpretation of these sorts of primary sources with in-depth knowledge of the region and the use of archaeology, linguistic evidence, and oral testimonies.
Choose the Swahili Coast OR the Western Sudanic Empires. Then, write an approximately 3-paged paper (750 words) to answer the following questions using one of the primary source documents listed for your chosen region. Even though you are answering the question prompts provided, organize your answers into an essay with an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Please limit yourself to our textbook, the information available in this section’s supplementary
Questions to address in your paper:
- What does the primary source tell historians about
in terms of political organization, lifestyles/values, religious practices, the economy and/or its connections with the rest of the world?
the described society
- What potential silences or misinterpretations are present in the primary source?
- Overall, is the primary source a useful tool for historians hoping to learn about this society? Explain.
- The Swahili City-states
Primary source Options (choose one to analyze in your paper):