A number of classes taught at the University of Chicago feature Africa prominently, see below for a sampling. Check the Course Catalogue for current offerings. African Civilization is taught on an annual basis, as is the Colonizations Core, which may also be of interest to students studying Africa.

FALL 2023

ANTH20701/HIST10101/CRES20701/MDVL10101: Introduction to African Civilization I | Ayodeji Olugbuyiro

Part one considers literary, oral, linguistic, and material sources to investigate African societies and states from the early Iron Age through the emergence of the Atlantic World. Case studies include: the empires of Ghana and Mali, the Swahili Coast, Great Zimbabwe, Nok of Nigeria, and medieval Ethiopia. We also consider religious and spiritual transformation, including Islam in Africa, as well as the origins and effects of European contact, and the emergence of the transatlantic trade in enslaved human beings. Students examine these times and places through primary sources (such as cultural artifacts, visual representations, myths, and memoirs) which illuminate African perspectives on these different places and times. Assignments: oral presentations, document analyses, essays, and team projects.

ARTH22305: Spiritual and Protective Lives of Objects in African Art | Janet Purdy

This seminar explores visual culture and historical arts of Africa primarily from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is not an exhaustive geographical and temporal survey of the continent’s object-making traditions, but rather, an introduction through a number of case studies highlighting religious practices and uses for art and objects of devotion and everyday life. Investigations will consider objects’ tangible and intangible elements to examine their spiritual and protective dimensions through various lenses: organized religions, including Islam and Christianity, local belief systems and ritual practices, social or political organizations, and other cultural distinctions. Such contextualization will contribute to students’ recognition of the diversity and historical depth of the continent’s arts and cultures. We will visit objects in local museums and special exhibitions for in-person, close looking and to fuel discussions surrounding the role of museums and museum display and interpretation.

HIST20111/GNSE21111/CRES20111/HLTH20111/RLST20111: History of Death | Katie Hickerson

From the treatment of mortal remains to the built environment of cemeteries, tombs, and memorials, the dead have always played a role in the lives of the living. This course examines how beliefs and practices surrounding death have been a source of meaning making for individuals, institutions, religious communities, and modern nations. It will ask students to consider how examining death makes it possible to better understand the values and concerns of societies across time and space. This course will consider case studies from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, North America, Europe, and Asia, from the Middle Ages to the Vietnam War. It introduces students to the methods and debates that animate the historical study of death—coming from histories of the body, social history, and the study of slavery—and ends by asking the question: “Is it possible to have a global history of death?”

LING28345/LING38345: Language, Identity, and Development in Africa | Fidele Mpiranya

With more than a quarter of the languages of humanity, the linguistic diversity of Africa represents a richness in terms of world heritage and linguistic description, but also a challenge for trans-community communication and for the integration of small minorities in larger national communities. Additionally, the persistent use of former colonial languages in most official functions may constitute an impediment, with regard to productive communication between educated elites and ordinary community members and the involvement of the latter in national development. The present course addresses these different issues in a descriptive perspective and through open discussions about potential resolutions in terms of language valorization and language planning. At the end of the course, the students will be able to classify African languages of wider communication in their respective families and identify key features of the latter; identify and discuss potential issues and / or advantages relating to the use of those languages in connection with endogenous development of African communities.

SWAH25200/SWAH35200: Swahili I | Fidele Mpiranya

Swahili is the most popular language of Sub-Saharan Africa, spoken in most countries of Eastern and Central Africa by more than 50 million people. Swahili is characterized by the typical complex Bantu structure. However, it is particularly easy to pronounce and fast learned. The Elementary Swahili series is designed to help students acquire communicative competence in Swahili and a basic understanding of its structures. The course presents basic phonological, grammatical, and syntactic patterns of Kiswahili. Through a variety of exercises, students develop communicative functionality in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Emphasis is put on dialogues and role-plays, individual and group presentations, and the use of audiovisual and web-based resources. Swahili culture and African culture in general are an important component of the course. At the end of the elementary course series, the students are able to communicate efficiently in everyday life situations, write and present short descriptive notes about elementary pieces of verbal creation (documentaries and video series in Swahili). This course allows fulfilling the non-Indo-European language requirement.

SWAH26800/SWAH36800: Intermediate Swahili I | Fidele Mpiranya

Students focus on broadening their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in this course.



RLST 28328: Africa’s Byzantine Heritage: Religion and Art in Pluralistic Societies | Karin Krause

This quarter-length course is conceived around themes and artifacts of an innovative special exhibition titled Africa & Byzantium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that we will be visiting together (Feb. 16–18, 2024). It will be the first time a museum has showcased the important contributions of Africa’s multiethnic societies to the cultural and religious life of the Christian Empire of Byzantium. In addition, the Met boasts a world-renowned permanent collection of Byzantine artifacts, several of which we will be studying as well during our field trip.

The Byzantine Empire (4th cent.–1453) encompassed large parts of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Middle East, with North and East Africa forming part of the empire from the fourth century CE to the Islamic conquest (early 7th cent.). Under Islamic rule, the African continent’s Byzantine-Christian legacy continued to be influential and has a rich afterlife to this day.

The field trip will enable students hone their competence in visual analysis through close-up study of artworks representing a range of artistic media and techniques. The classroom sessions will illuminate the historical and cultural framework in which the artifacts are situated. Africa’s Byzantine heritage is an emerging field of study and in this course students who wish to pursue their own research projects will have ample opportunity to do so. Students will also attend weekly discussion sections led by the TA. PQ: Students enrolled in this course will participate in a *mandatory* three-day field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Feb. 16–18, 2024). Travel and lodging will be fully covered through a Curricular Innovation and Undergraduate Research grant provided by the College.

Please email Ryan Eykholt with any questions.