Graduate students only
This course focuses on the study of oral history in Africa—spoken recollections about the past that scholars record when interviewing individuals—and oral tradition—spoken memories passed generationally. We will focus on what spoken memories and the transmission of cultural values and information passed through generations in Africa reveal about the social, cultural and political cultures and histories of the continent, including in the African diaspora. As an old African proverb goes, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground,” alluding to the vast wealth of memories and knowledge that humans share through word of mouth. By the end of the course, students will have a better knowledge of the roles that oral traditions play in African societies and for African immigrants and how diverse scholars use oral history interviews to construct interpretive historical narratives. Students will also think critically about how oral history should be put into practice and develop the skills to design and execute and analyze oral life history interviews.
The coursework includes readings and written critical responses. Because the study of oral history and traditions crosses multidisciplinary boundaries, course materials will draw from diverse disciplines and sources, including films, music, podcasts, documentaries, “conversational autobiographies,” and scholarly texts. Readings include Oral Tradition as History (1961) by Jan Vansina, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (1960) by D.T. Niane, The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe (2011) by Nwando Achebe, and excerpts from U.S.-based oral history projects and collections on African immigrants. The latter include the African Immigrants in the Bluegrass Oral History Project, Extended Lives: The African Immigrant Experience in Philadelphia, and the Minnesota Immigrant Oral Histories collection. The lecture schedule will include several “Scholar meets ACS students” sessions in which various guest speakers will share their research on related course topics with students.