In a shocking revelation, Manu Ampim, a tenured professor of History and Africana Studies at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California, has exposed a disheartening truth about the state’s education system.
California’s Community College system, known as the largest in the United States, serving over 1.8 million students, has omitted Africa from its curricula, leaving students, including history majors, with a critical gap in their education.
Ampim’s research reveals that out of the 116 colleges in California’s Community College system, only 2 (a mere 1.7%) offer a required course on African history for students seeking an Associate of Arts Degree.
While History majors are obligated to study U.S. history and Western civilization, the rich tapestry of African history remains conspicuously absent from the curriculum across the state.
The dire situation is not without exceptions, though. San Diego City College, for instance, stands as one of the two California community colleges that require a course in African history. Moreover, students pursuing Black Studies are compelled to complete courses like Black Studies 145A or 145B.
Contra Costa College in San Pablo takes a unique stance as the only California campus that mandates completion of an African history course for both History and African American Studies majors. Their “History of African Civilizations” course (Afram 210) stands out as the only class in the state that exclusively delves into ancient Africa, without solely focusing on the unfortunate legacy of modern slavery.
However, the issue extends beyond the curriculum. The scarcity of U.S. textbooks on African civilizations exacerbates the problem. The few available texts tend to emphasize more recent issues, such as slavery, colonization, and the 20th-century independence movement, while sidelining the rich history of African civilizations before the continent’s decline in the 16th century.
In response to this void, Manu Ampim has taken a remarkable step. In his newly revised book, “A History of African Civilizations,” Ampim delves into the intricacies of African civilizations and their numerous contributions to fields like writing, medicine, mathematics, architecture, solar calendar systems, and social organization. This book shares its title with the course Ampim teaches each semester at Contra Costa College. Initially conceived as a course reader, Ampim expanded it into a retail book, making it accessible to the general public, students, and fellow professors alike.
What sets Ampim’s work apart is its foundation in first-hand research spanning two dozen countries over 34 years. Ampim emphasizes the significance of studying ancient African civilizations at the zenith of their influence. He posits that these pre-colonial civilizations offer insights into Africa’s past before the devastating impacts of slavery, colonization, and foreign interference.
Ampim’s research also highlights the historical struggle to establish African Studies as a legitimate academic discipline. In 1922, scholar William Leo Hansberry blazed a trail by creating the first “African Civilization section” within the History Department at Howard University. However, Hansberry faced ridicule from his peers who questioned the scholarly merit of his chosen subject. It was only after the efforts of Hansberry and historian Dr. Carter Woodson that various Black scholars in the mid- and late-20th century wrote pioneering books on African civilizations. Yet, many of these works have become outdated and fail to meet curriculum requirements demanding textbooks for transferable courses be published within the past seven years.
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California’s scarcity of courses on Africa can be attributed to a cocktail of disinterest, lack of faculty training, and a dearth of scholarly textbooks. Ampim’s book, however, steps into this void, offering a comprehensive exploration of ancient Africa, starting with the origins of humanity and spanning across the continent’s diverse civilizations.
One of the earliest advanced civilizations Ampim discusses is Ancient Kush, with its political capital in modern-day Sudan. Ampim describes Kush as “the oldest of Africa’s classical civilizations.” The front cover of the book features a bust of the Kushite King Taharqa, who played a pivotal role in Kush’s rich history.
Ampim’s work has not gone unnoticed. Other professors have adopted his book to enhance their classroom instruction, starting from the fall semester. As we embrace the importance of inclusivity and diversity in education, Ampim’s work reminds us that history is incomplete without acknowledging the profound contributions of African civilizations. It’s time to rewrite the narrative and give African history the place it rightfully deserves in our classrooms.