This page lists African history research paper topics and ideas and provides links to example papers on African history.
Africa’s contentious role in world history has varied with the perspectives of those writing it; the Eurocentric views place Africa in a minor, isolated role, while the Afrocentric view credits black civilization in Egypt with many cultural advances. African studies since the 1950s have provided new insight to the history of the continent, often stressing its interrelatedness to other continents and regions. See African History Research Paper.
When technological advances made Africa’s interior readily accessible in the late nineteenth century, the nations of Europe raced to colonize the continent. Colonial administrations enticed or coerced Africans into producing goods for export, until native conscripts brought home the concept of “freedom” from World War II. The late twentieth century saw the end of colonial rule in Africa, yet its effects remain. See Colonial Africa Research Paper.
Equatorial and Southern Africa
The growth of the equatorial and southern portion of Africa, once referred to as the Bantu expansion, began about 4000 BCE with the adoption of an agricultural way of life in West Africa. The eventual development of states and towns, as well as cultural, technological, and economic changes, progressed for thousands of years and still continues today. See Equatorial and Southern Africa Research Paper.
In 1945 the Fifth Pan-African Congress convened with the goal of ending colonialism in Africa. By 1960 Africa had experienced successful independence movements in several countries, and many military overthrows of government ensued. A general unity has not yet settled on the continent, however. Efforts to build a “United States of Africa” after colonialism have been hindered by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and religious disputes. See Postcolonial Africa Research Paper.
African American and Caribbean Religions
The African slave trade had a huge impact on the transformation and spread of African religions worldwide. Numerous ethnic groups taken from Africa shared similar belief systems, which carried over to the New World. Though beliefs and practices often persevered within groups, forced migration and interaction with Europeans helped develop and change African American and Caribbean religions into what they are today. See African American and Caribbean Religions Research Paper.
Various traditional religions found in Africa are based on belief in one Supreme Being, while others embrace Earth deities, secret societies, and possession cults. Christianity and Islam, commonly practiced, came to Africa in the first centuries CE and the eighth century, respectively. Modern religion in Africa is a distinct blend and balance of traditional beliefs and new religious systems. See African Religions Research Paper.
The African Union is an international organization of African states. Formally established in 2002, it succeeded the Organization of African Unity, which was founded in 1963. Originally designed to advance the pan-African cause, the African Union still seeks to promote socioeconomic integration across the African continent, with the aim of achieving greater unity and solidarity between African countries and their peoples. See African Union Research Paper.
Treating the three very distinct areas of Africa, Asia, and Europe as a single entity—Afro- Eurasia—can foster a greater understanding of themes and events that overlap and cross those conventionally defined borders. As a term Afro-Eurasia is a useful geographical category; it should not replace Europe, Africa, and Asia as named areas on the world map, but rather be used as a tool in the historian’s methodological kit. See Afro-Eurasia Research Paper.
Aksum was the capital of an important kingdom in northeast Africa, including most of what is now Ethiopia, during the first millennium CE. With a mix of African, Mediterranean, and southern Arabian cultures, it was also the religious center of the earliest Christian state in Africa. See Aksum Research Paper.
The racial segregation in South Africa known as apartheid, in place for nearly fifty years, faced resistance from the beginning, causing the country to loose its U.N. vote and its Olympics slot. Apartheid finally ended in 1991, and South Africa has been working to repay and repair emotional damages incurred by the white minority’s supremacy over the black majority. See Apartheid Research Paper.
Since ancient times trade routes from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia disseminated ideas, objects, and cultures—as well as Christianity and Islam—to the African continent. African art, which reflects all of these influences and exchanges, is an important lens through which to view world history, and an important field of study in its own right. See African Art Research Paper.
Centered in what is now south-central Nigeria, the long-lived Benin Empire influenced much of Africa through military power and trade beginning in the eleventh century. Ruled by a sophisticated mixture of monarchy and oligarchy, the people of Benin enjoyed a standard of living that rivaled any of the world’s great cities, until the British conquered them in 1897. See Benin Research Paper.
With few exceptions, the spread of plants, animals, and diseases was limited to geographically bound regions for much of the Earth’s history. Humans facilitated biological exchange, intentionally and accidentally carrying species across natural borders. As opportunities for human travel increased, so did the opportunities for biological exchange, often with dramatic consequences. See Biological Exchanges Research Paper.
When peoples of a culture are forced to leave their homeland for political, economic, social, or other reasons, some do not fi t neatly into their new host countries. Many of these groups are classified as diasporas: communities not fully integrated into a settlement. Diasporas play an increasingly important role in politics, conflict, and trade as millions of people are detached from, yet emotionally linked to, distant homelands. See Diasporas Research Paper.
Africa’s Nile River allowed Egypt to emerge, beginning from the sixth millennia BCE, as one of the world’s first hydraulic civilizations. Building canals and dikes, Egypt developed a redistributive economy and a complexly ordered, unified society under one king by 2950 BCE. Even as a part of other empires in other eras, Egypt became an icon of Western civilization, with a distinctive artistic canon recognizable today by the general public. See Egypt Research Paper.
Published in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano . . . Written by Himself tells the story of an African man enslaved by the British during the mid-eighteenth century. Whether it is based strictly on Equiano’s life or on others, the book spares no sense of the horror and inhumane treatment slaves suffered. Equiano fought for the abolitionist cause from 1789 until his death in 1797. See Olaudah Equiano Research Paper.
Historians debate the significance of Hatshepsut, one of few female rulers of ancient Egypt. Traditionally she has been viewed as a schemer who usurped the throne, while more recent scholarship acknowledges the complex difficulties she would have faced as a female ruler some 3,500 years ago. Her seemingly uninhibited access to natural and human resources, however, allowed her to engage in a substantial building program throughout Egypt. See Hatshepsut Research Paper.
Archaeologists and historians believe that the Hausa States emerged around the late 900s CE in present-day Nigeria; by the eleventh century their walled towns were flourishing centers of trade. High levels of education, accomplishments in crafts and trade, and civic organization characterized the Hausa and left a lasting legacy; the Hausa are active in the politics of present-day Nigeria. See Hausa States Research Paper.
Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is widely regarded as the greatest Arab-Muslim historian and sociological thinker of the premodern period. His writings have been compared to those of intellectual giants such as Aristotle, Thucydides, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Machiavelli, and Vico, as well as to world historians of the twentieth century. See Ibn Khaldun Research Paper.
From roughly the eighth to the nineteenth century the Kanem-Bornu state system of northern Africa was strategically located at the crossroads of a trade and cultural network in the Lake Chad basin. As a major center of Islamic learning and scholarship it was instrumental in the spread of Islam to the west, south, and east. Commercially it was a leading source of salt (alum) and slaves to the Mediterranean lands of Christendom. See Kanem-Bornu Research Paper.
Portuguese interest in the central African kingdom of Kongo began in 1493 with copper, and soon turned to slave trade. The Kongo achieved wealth and power by participating in this rising global economy, but declining local communities were exposed to French and Belgian colonization in the late 1800s. Sudden decolonization in 1960 and an unusual wealth of natural resources have resulted in the long-term destabilization of the region. See Kongo Research Paper.
Stories of Mali’s origins were handed down through oral history, many of which were transcribed by the North African scholar Ibn Khaldun circa the 1350s. As an empire Mali flourished in Africa from the first half of the thirteenth century to the early fifteenth century, controlling territory from the mouth of the Senegal River on the Atlantic to the salt mines of Tadmekka in the Sahara. See Mali Research Paper.
Mansa Musa, also called Kankan Musa, ruled the West African empire of Mali at its height. Under his reign, Mali expanded its territories and strengthened its control of West Africa’s salt and gold trades. See Mansa Musa Research Paper.
Mehmed II, the twice-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-to-late fifteenth century, instituted new laws codes that served as the core of Ottoman legal system well into the seventeenth century. During his reign he accepted into his service talented men of various nationalities and religions. See Mehmed II Research Paper.
From the third century BCE, and for almost seven hundred years thereafter, Meroe was the most important city in northeast Africa, fostering extensive cultural and economic interaction between sub-Saharan Africa and Greco-Roman Egypt. Its tradition of urban life and state-level social and political organization survived the fall of the city and influenced Christian kingdoms that dominated the Nile Valley south of Egypt during the Middle Ages. See Meroe Research Paper.
For over a thousand years, from the fourth century to the fourteenth century CE, the medieval Nubian kingdoms and their peoples dominated a wide span of Africa, stretching 1,200 kilometers from the plains of the Blue Nile (present-day Sudan) in the south to Aswan, Egypt, in the north. See Nubians Research Paper.
Pan-Africanism is a political and social movement that has historically encouraged both a political agenda of African unity and a broad cultural orientation of black identity in Africa and the African diaspora. Its ideology has roots in the early nineteenth century, while its specific political program emerged in 1900. See Pan-Africanism Research Paper.
Pastoral Nomadic Societies
Pastoral nomadic societies view the husbandry of grazing animals as an ideal way of making a living and consider the regular movement of all or part of their societies to be a normal part of life. Although this lifestyle produces a low population density, and the total number of nomads has always been relatively small, the impact of nomads on world history has been profound. See Pastoral Nomadic Societies Research Paper.
Postcolonial analysis is a mode of inquiry into the nature and aftereffects of European colonial rule in different parts of the world, from the Americas to India and Africa. It has emerged since World War II as one of the most dynamic if not controversial modes of inquiry to be articulated in the humanities. See Postcolonial Analysis Research Paper.
Ramses II, also known as “Ramses the Great,” was one of the most famous pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty of Egypt (1570–1070 BCE). He established numerous building projects, conducted aggressive war campaigns, and created international ties that are still discussed today. See Ramses II Research Paper.
Saladin, who ruled over Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in the late twelfth century, was revered in the Muslim Middle East for his military prowess, bravery, piety, largesse, and integrity, and he was romanticized for the same qualities in medieval literature of the Western. He remains today for Arabs a historical figure of near-mythic proportion. See Saladin Research Paper.
Shaka Zulu (1787–1828) created an African kingdom that stood as an influential military and economic power at a time when European nations were encroaching on African sovereignty. Shaka’s instincts and innovative leadership skills helped to build the mightiest kingdom in sub- Saharan Africa in the early nineteenth century. See Shaka Zulu Research Paper.
The trading of slaves had its origins when agricultural societies increasingly needed to defend lands and borders; it proliferated as growing empires expanded their own. Transatlantic slave trade, with its infamous Middle Passage, ensnared roughly 11 million people between 1443 and 1870; historians caution that using only slave-ship records to account for such numbers leaves out millions who perished in forced marches to factories on the African coast. See Slave Trade Research Paper.
For nearly a century (c. 1808–1903) the Sokoto caliphate in West Africa extended a particular form of Islamic rule across much of the Sudanic region south of the Sahara and north of the West African forest zones. The state continued under British rule with more moderate leaders willing to submit to British authority, but the traditions of political Islam espoused by Sokoto’s founder, Usman dan Fodio, still remain in northern Nigeria. See Sokoto Caliphate Research Paper.
The Songhai Empire of the western Sudan came together from peoples whose livelihoods depended on the Niger; by the tenth century the empire thrived along both riverbanks and the bordering lands. During the sixteenth century, the Songhai city of Timbuktu (Tombouctou) was a great center of learning with hundreds of Qur’anic schools and many learned scholars. After some eight hundred years it lost independence to an invading Moroccan army. See Songhai Research Paper.
Although the Sahara is the largest hot-weather desert in the world, it is not entirely barren, and thus held economic attractions for the populated regions of Africa that surrounded it. Trans- Saharan trade in the global economy flourished in gold and slaves, and camel caravans were ubiquitous until railways and roads diverted most export to the oceans. See Trans-Saharan Trade Research Paper.
Because he is one of the world’s most passionate nonviolent activists against apartheid in South Africa, Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s name is synonymous with the struggle against that racist movement. He has served the Anglican Church in a number of roles culminating in archbishop, and continues to make international appearances on behalf of racial equality. See Desmond Tutu Research Paper.
The Wagagu Empire was a leading military and political state in West Africa during the first and second millennia CE. Although recognized for developing an advanced agricultural irrigation system and later as the seat of an influential Islamic religious/philosophical culture, Wagadu is best known for its central role in the early intercontinental commercial and trade system, especially for gold production and distribution. See Wagadu Empire Research Paper.
Distinctive shifts in African modes, causes, and experiences of warfare can be traced to European colonialism and the rise of the transatlantic slave trade. Traditional African warfare was transformed by fighting against colonialism, and in fighting as European agents on behalf of colonialism. But contrary to popular myth, warfare is no more intrinsic to Africa and Africans than any other places or peoples. See African Warfare Research Paper.
The state of Great Zimbabwe flourished circa 1290 to 1450 in southern Africa. The ruins of its capital, which was built from massive walls of stone, reflect the grandeur and exquisite workmanship of the original. The state was ruled by a small political elite that also controlled networks in the Indian Ocean trading economy as an exporter of gold. See Great Zimbabwe Research Paper.
See other History Research Paper Topics.