Unit 7 Essay: Using Written Sources to Study African History – Western Sudanic Empires

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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 try
your hand at interpretation and articulate some potential challenges
with using the available written historical record to discuss African
pasts.

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: griots),
and did not emphasize written recorded histories. Therefore many of
the written accounts we have regarding African societies during this
time frame were recorded by visitors to the continent. Relying on
accounts written by outsiders means that there aren’t necessarily, but
there can be misunderstandings of African practices, glaring silences,
and even overt judgment casting African societies in a negative light.

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.

Instructions

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 materials, and the linked primary sources as you
work on your paper. Don’t forget to cite these sources in your paper’s
internal citations/footnotes and bibliography! Refer to the Guidelines for Writing Essays found in your syllabus.

Questions to address in your paper:

    • What does the primary source tell historians about the described
      society in terms of political organization, lifestyles/values, religious
      practices, the economy and/or its connections with the rest of the
      world?
    • 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. https://go.view.usg.edu/content/enforced/1383535-C… – link to the PRIMARY source that needs to be used and/or cited from.
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