Most courses about Africa devote a great deal of attention to either medieval Africa (the Mali empire, for example) or modern Africa (colonial Gold Coast, for example).  But what about the crucial and fascinating period in between?  This was the dynamic era when Africans engaged vigorously with a global economy, devised structures that enabled them to dictate to outsiders the conditions of trade and struggled over the complexities of slavery.  Women were often powerful and respected, Islam was the bedrock of numerous major trade centers, and the arts flourished.

We have wonderful sources for major empires and trade centers during this period, including life stories, letters, court records, hagiographies, and legal correspondence.   We will focus upon a limited set of cases of the experiences of actual people to explore this period including the indomitable Queen Njinga, two hapless princes from Calabar, the saintly Walatta-Petros, and the great Askia Muhammad.  We will also counterbalance those narratives with those of the less fortunate, including a graphic history about a woman named Abina, whose status as either wife or slave was unclear and the life narrative of Msatulwa, a slave who nevertheless engaged in trade and was highly valued in the chief’s court.