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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 19: Africa and the World, ca 1400-1800

One major theme in world history between 1400 and 1800 was the growth of an Atlantic trading network that connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas through a vast system of exchanges. Africa's largest contributions to these exchanges were human slaves sold to plantations in the Americas. The emergence of the Atlantic slave trade had huge implications for all the civilizations and cultures involved. In Africa, these exchanges affected the growth of states, the spread of religious movements, and internal trading patterns. The following Internet activities will explore both these developments - the growth of the slave trade and its impact on both sides of the Atlantic, and internal developments within Africa during this period.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • On the West African coast, in an area commonly known as the Slave Coast, the kingdom of Benin emerged between 1400 and 1800. Much of what we know about this kingdom comes from its impressive world of art. Go to Benin Chronology. Read the text and click on the images to learn details about their composition and meaning. (Make sure to click on "Brass" to learn about how Benin sculptors created brass objects.  How were Benin royal heads used? How accurate are they as portraits? How did contact with other cultures influence the development of Benin royal art?
Activity Two:
  • At the same time the kingdom of Benin flourished on the western coast of Africa, a chain of powerful empires arose in the western Sudan. Important states in this region included Mali, Songhai, Kanem-Bornu, and the Hausa city states. While examining these sites (be sure to focus on developments between 1400 and 1800), keep in mind the following question: What advantages did the geography of this region give these states in their relations with the rest of the world? For further information on this region, go to Islam in West Africa. What was the role of Islam in these states? Analyze the relationship between the spread of Islam and the politics of the western Sudan.
Activity Three:
  • Another important kingdom of this era, the Kongo, lay further south from Benin and the western Sudan. To learn more about this state, read the overview provided in The Kingdom of Kongo. Because of the large number of people from this region who were sold into the Atlantic slave trade, the Kongo religion spread throughout the Atlantic world. Go to Religion of the Kongo and Kongo Religion. What are the main characteristics of the Kongo religion? How has this religion shaped the history of Africans living outside Africa? Summarize your answers to this questions in a few paragraphs.
Activity Four:
  • Great controversy surrounds the Atlantic slave trade. One of the greatest debates concerns its demographics. Contemporary scholars do not agree on the number of people involved in the slave trade, nor on the methodology used to calculate this number. Many activists today, particularly in the United States, argue that because of the misery and dislocation suffered by Africans and peoples of African descent, compensation is necessary. Go to African Reparations Movement and read "The Legal Basis of the Claim for Reparations" and "Reparations and A New Global Order: A Comparative Overview." What are the demands of people advocating compensation for the descendants of slaves? Why are reparations for the slave trade more difficult to obtain than those of other reparations movements? How does the slave trade affect contemporary race relations and world politics? Summarize your reflections in a brief essay (4-6 paragraphs).
Activity Five:
  • The slave trade had great effects on both sides of the Atlantic, generating major changes in demography, economics, society, and religion. In short, every aspect of life was affected for native inhabitants in the Americas as well as for voluntary and involuntary immigrants. One important development was the growth of large communities of peoples of African descent throughout North and South America and the Caribbean islands. These communities remain very important and influential today. For more insight on Africans in the Americas, go to Slaves and Slave Systems and African Diaspora. Define diaspora. According to these sites, what parts of the Western Hemisphere are commonly considered to be part of the African diaspora? What African cultural continuities can we identify within Diaspora communities in the Americas today?
Activity Six:
  • Few countries in the Americas did not experience slave revolts. The most widespread and successful, however, was the Haitian Revolution. What was the role of France in the Revolution? What role did race play in creating alliances and counteralliances among groups? In what ways did Africans resist slavery? Was resistance successful or unsuccessful in affecting the future of slavery? Write an essay that explores these last two questions. Provide evidence of your conclusions from the above documents.