Africa is the world's second largest continent, yet in North America, Africa is the continent many students may know the least about. Evidence exists that some ancient African technology rivaled the technological advances that other cultures spent thousands of years perfecting, and much contemporary culture and heritage stems from Africa. Unfortunately, much of Africa’s culture and its social climate have been shaped by the continent’s geography and of other continents’ influence on the area. Students can use the following essay topics and questions to begin dialogues about Africa's history.

Geography of Africa

To understand Africa’s social and political climates, students need to examine the geographical impact each area endures. You can divide Africa into eight separate regions: the Sahara, Sahel, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Savannah, the Swahili Coast, the rainforest, the great lakes and Southern Africa. Ask students the role that climates and landscape have played in Africa’s history and how the lives of Africans differ among the climates. Africa has three main rivers: the Nile, the Congo and the Niger. Students can discuss the importance that the location of Africa’s rivers have on tribal locations, tribal culture and political climate, and the role each river played in Africa’s social, political and cultural climates.

People of Africa

Parts of the world may consider Nelson Mandela one of South Africa’s most widely recognized past presidents. Mandela fought for social, political and basic human rights for South Africans through his work as a lawyer, a politician and during the 27 years he spent in a South African prison. Students can research how South Africa’s political and social climate changed via Mandela’s influence. Desmond Tutu received the Nobel peace prize in 1984 for his work in human rights. A student of theology, Tutu devoted his life to creating an educational system and equal rights in South Africa. Students can discuss how South Africa has changed since Tutu won the peace prize.

Historical Events

Some of the world’s oldest recorded history dates back to ancient Africa. Ancient Egyptians recorded their burial techniques, and some historians consider these techniques to rival the techniques used today. Students may investigate how Egypt’s location near the Nile affected its social and technological development. In the 1990s, many witnessed some of the world’s most violent warfare during the previous 20 years in Rwanda, caused by the feudalism that had been in place for hundreds of years. The conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutsu has finally settled, and Rwanda has begun to again thrive. Students can discuss how this conflict shaped Africa and how they think it will continue to shape Africa’s future.

Arts and Culture

Many countries can attribute their musical and artistic styles to styles that date back centuries. Traces of African cuisine exist in nearly every contemporary cultural cuisine. Ask the students how researchers can trace these styles back to African cultures. Ask the students how the slave trade affected African art and culture and how it affected cultures worldwide.