The Zamani Reader

On West Africa, Britain, and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century


Atlantic Africa

Course Materials for Minor in African History — HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Dear readers, as part of the PhD program here at UC Davis, students in their third year are required to complete a minor in an historical sub-field that is different from their major field. Since my major is officially American History, I chose to fulfill my minor in African History. Per the requirements of the program, I needed to design an undergraduate course in African History, complete with a syllabus and a justification essay explaining the choices I made in designing the class. I completed those materials last December and my minor adviser approved them shortly thereafter. Now, I would like to share those materials with you. Below I have included PDF versions of my course syllabus and justification essay for the class I created. The class is called “HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” I have also included the full text of my justification essay in case you would like to read it in blog form rather than PDF. Please feel free to use these materials in your own course design if you would like.

Syllabus for HIS 116 — Minor in African History for TZR (12-15-17)

Justification Paper for HIS 116 — Minor in African History (12-15-17)

Justification Paper for HIS 116:

Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Introduction to the Course

The purpose of this justification paper is to explain the thought process behind my syllabus in African History. The syllabus is for a course entitled “HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” and it falls under the designation of Special Themes in African History. The course is an upper-division class that is designed to meet twice a week, once on Tuesdays and once on Thursdays. Although the class is specifically designated as a lecture course, it is designed to be a hybrid of lecture and seminar. I will lecture on Tuesdays about a general topic in the history of Atlantic Africa, and then the students will engage in group discussion on Thursdays about readings which pertain to that subject. A 15-minute reading quiz will precede each discussion to ensure that students are doing the reading and to give them a chance to formulate their thoughts beforehand. Most times the discussions will take place in small groups of about 5 students and sometimes they will take place in one large group. Overall, this is a reading intensive class. On average, students will be expected to read between 150 and 200 pages each week. With the exception of a few weeks, students will be reading both secondary and primary sources for each discussion.

Objectives of the Course

For the majority of this justification paper, I am going to walk the reader through my course calendar, discussing the choices that I have made for the weekly lectures and readings. Before I do that, however, I would like to offer some general thoughts on the objectives of the class. First, the class is based on the assumption that young people in the United States today have at least a vague idea that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was integral to the development of the Americas. They may not know that roughly 12.5 million people were forcibly transported from West and West-Central Africa to the Western Hemisphere from the first decade of the sixteenth century to the third quarter of the nineteenth century, but they probably understand that enslavement formed some part of their country’s historical foundations and, thus, influenced their society’s present multiculturalism. But what about the history of Africa itself? Do young people have an equal understanding for how the Transatlantic Slave Trade affected African History? How did the trade affect Africans who did not leave the continent? How did the trade affect the history of the African societies from which enslaved persons were taken? How did it affect the history of the African societies that facilitated the slave trade? Finally, how is the trade remembered in academic discourse and popular culture? Continue reading “Course Materials for Minor in African History — HIS 116: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade”

Review of Rebecca Shumway’s The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Rebecca Shumway. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2011. xii + 244 pp. $90.00. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index.

In The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589, Toby Green wrote, “There was not one Atlantic slave trade, but many trades wreaking many different effects…” Indeed, Shumway’s first book and refurbished dissertation, The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is a study of one such trade and the ethnolinguistic culture it allegedly produced. Shumway uses archives from England and Ghana, oral histories from Ghana, and secondary sources to tell the history of the coastal Fante during the long eighteenth century. Today, the Fante people constitute 2 million of Ghana’s population of 21 million, and historiography typically dates their origin to a paper government—the Fante Confederation—established in 1868 to resist British colonization. In this text, however, Shumway argues that the Confederation had a predecessor, a decentralized republic that she calls the “Coastal Coalition.” Her book uncovers the story of this coalition. Her thesis is that both the coalition and modern Fante identity cannot be understood without reference to three contexts that shaped Fanteland during the long eighteenth century: the unique legacy of the international gold trade; the imperial expansion of the Asante Kingdom in the forested interior; and the rise, peak, and fall of the transatlantic slave trade on the coast.[1]

The Fante occupied a region of southern or coastal Ghana from the Pra River to Accra. It is known today as Fanteland but was an 100-mile stretch of the central Gold Coast in the eighteenth century. Before the late-1600s, Fanteland imported slaves and exported gold, first to Western Sudan and then also to European traders. In this period, the region contained small, independent, and feuding kingships, all culturally and linguistically distinct. Then, Fanteland drastically changed its relationship to the Atlantic World by embracing slave exportation. What followed were wars in which one group—the Borbor Fante—conquered Fanteland to forge the coalition. Ostensibly, the coalition served three purposes: to help Fanteland people cope with heightened violence from the slave trade, to protect their privileges as brokers of that same trade, and to defend against conquest by the Asante, who were also their suppliers. The coalition matured by the 1750s and had a “golden age” until 1806/1807, when it was destroyed by an Asante invasion and the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade. According to Shumway, the coalition was characterized by a lack of centralized political authority, a new warlord elite and priesthood, the dominance of an urban creole merchant class at the African-controlled port of Anomabo, a dissemination of the Fante language, and a transformation of pre-existing “social and cultural institutions,” especially a religious shrine of the Nananom Mpow and the commoner militia units called asafo.[2]

What are Shumway’s main contributions? First, she restores Anomabo in Gold Coast historiography. This port has been overshadowed by Cape Coast and Elmina, which performed much less business. Also, unlike Randy Sparks’ recent book on Anomabo (Where the Negroes Are Masters), Shumway balances internal (read: African) and external (read: European) influences. Meanwhile, she adheres to the thesis of John Thornton (Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World) that Europeans shaped yet had no power to control African commerce. Second, Shumway restores non-imperial peoples as well as non-slavers to the story of the Gold Coast, Africa, and the slave trade. She writes, “the majority of people in West and West Central Africa” resembled Fanteland because they lived in “decentralized or stateless societies” that were neither subjugated nor defined solely by their roles as captors and/or captives. Nonetheless, the literature has privileged empires like Asante. Third, Shumway restores the slave trade and the 1700s to national historiography, which has emphasizes Ghana’s earlier reputation as a gold exporter and later reputation as the birthplace of Pan-Africanism and decolonization. In this sense, Shumway picks up where Ray Kea left off in Settlements, Trade and Polities in the Seventeenth-Century Gold Coast.[3]

How persuasive is Shumway’s argument? While I am convinced that Fanteland was shaped by the three contexts mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, I am less convinced Shumway has accurately described the “Coastal Coalition.” Is it a network “of dependency and mutual obligation” and a “remarkable process of cultural adaptation and community formation,” as she argues, or more of a Fantee empire of territorial expansion to contrast with that of the Asante? Of course, this latter perspective is the traditional one. Understandably, there are problems with both of Shumway’s main categories of evidence. It is hard to know if European records are accurately describing a unified “Fantee nation,” or if they are projecting the idea on a diverse area. Conversely, with the oral histories, it is hard to know whether Shumway is correct to attribute their content to the eighteenth century rather than later periods, as others have done. Regardless, perhaps the book’s biggest weakness (in the opinion of this reviewer) is that Shumway makes a regional claim by giving the most space to one group (the Borbor Fante) and one port (Anomabo). Her brief and final chapter on the broad “social and cultural changes” in the region is certainly the most speculative, but it is also the most innovative and compelling.[4]


[1] Toby Green, The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa , 1300-1589 (Oxford: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 14; Rebecca Shumway, The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2011), 2, 11-12, 153, 157.

[2] Ibid. 53, 108, 132.

[3] Ibid. 4, 8, 43.

[4] Ibid. 12, 88, 89-90.

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