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Map of Alkebu-lan 1260, by the Swedish artist, Nikolaj Cyon (with his watermarks).

Students Lobby for Course on The Glory of Africa

Written by
and
October 9, 2020
Students Lobby for Course on The Glory of Africa
Map of Alkebu-lan 1260, by the Swedish artist, Nikolaj Cyon (with his watermarks).

During this time of political unrest, with mass protests of people demanding justice for their rights and identities, Trent University has announced that it will be offering “HIST 3901: The Glory of Africa”, a history elective on the concealed history of Africa, by the Winter semester. This course is for students, by students, and it was all thanks to the effort of the Trent African and Caribbean Student Union (TACSU).

According to their Instagram, the TACSU “serves to promote, preserve and protect African and Caribbean heritage and culture,” and what better example of activism than to lobby a new course. The TACSU raised their concern after realizing that the only course being offered this semester in relation to Black history was one that focused on slavery. The fact that this was the only course given concerning Black History was problematic as it disregards the progress and beauty of pre-colonial African history, before its disruption by European colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. This further prompts the belief that pre-colonial history is insignificant. As Wacera Muriuki, Director of Events for TACSU, puts it in an IGTV video, “(the course) seems to push the narrative that the only relevant history to do with Black people is slavery… for so many of us we seem to have accepted subconsciously that slavery marks the beginning of Black history, when in reality slavery interrupted Black history.” In an interview, Dr. Katrina Keefer, a scholar on identity of slavery and of Africa, who voluntarily chose to lead this course, added to this, stating:

"I believe deeply in the importance of studying and learning about the many complex and varied slave trades that have existed throughout human history, as they have had a terrible impact on the world we now live in, it troubles me unceasingly that the public equates Africa with slavery so often. Africa is the birthplace of our species. Africa was home to some of the greatest civilizations in history. Africa is a massive, diverse, extraordinary continent with rich cultures and innovative peoples, and to see that magnificence reduced over and over again to a dreadful trauma alone is frustrating."

Recently, Black Lives Matter has gained momentum and incredible support, and the voices of many have been raised against the violent treatment and denigration of Black lives all across the globe, especially in the U.S.A. In times like these, when we are coming together in support of our brothers and sisters to dismantle embedded racism within our systems, institutions should provide the tools that will enable us to unlearn harmful attitudes and ideas, and re-educate us on who we are and where we come from.

It is worthy to note however, as Wacera Muriuki stated in a written interview, that Trent greeted the idea with support and carefully listened to their request, quickly moving forward to make accommodations and provide a solution for this matter. Trent has also taken a further step forward in bringing new incentives to the cause of anti-racism, such as the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Sub-Committee and the Anti-Racism Task Force. As the diverse community we are and continue to strive to be, we should all agree that the histories of our nations and cultures do not start after colonial contact and thus, we should make an effort to teach and learn about this. Autonomous societies, rich cultures, strong economies and structural systems were already in place before European contact. Thus the dismantling of universally enshrined colonialist ideas, and the relearning of this history, is one of the key objectives that the TACSU promoted when lobbying this elective course to Trent.

Dr. Keefer invites all students to join this course, asserting that

"I believe that students deserve to learn not only of the wrongs that have built the terrible unequal systems we resist today, but more importantly, that students must learn of the beauty and importance of the time that came before global slavery so affected the continent. Africa was filled with kingdoms that astonished European visitors for their complexity, beauty, cleanliness, and order in the Middle Ages. It is time to remember the glory of Africa."

HIST 3901 needs a minimum of 12 students to sign up for this course to be taught, so if you are interested in discovering a history that for so long has been concealed and forgotten, be sure to sign up.

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