Why is the study of Africa critical to the student of the 21st century?
The study of Africa is central to the deeper understanding of world history, American history, as well as contemporary America. The relationship between the United States and Africa predates American Independence. The profits from the trans-Atlantic slave trade helped capitalize industries while the labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants lay the economic foundations of the nation.
The earliest Africans in the U.S. also shaped the cultural, religious, and social landscape of the nation’s cities and rural areas and the foundations of the culture that today we term “American Culture.” America’s relationship with Africa did not end with the slave trade. Diplomatic relations with Liberia and the Belgian Congo and trade with southern and eastern Africa kept Africa on the nation’s political and economic radar, while pan-Africanism and religious evangelism took black and white Americans to many parts of Africa. The twentieth century brought more multi-dimensional and sustained connections between Africa and the U.S. Those connections were shaped by the Cold War as much as the social movements that redefined American society. In the twenty-first century, the relationships between Africa and the United States remain multi-dimensional and dynamic. The reach of satellites, cable, and the Internet puts America into millions of homes on the African continent. Simultaneously, American cities and rural communities are being transformed as recent African migrants establish homes and communities in the United States. The study of Africa is not important only to today’s student who cares about Africa in world culture and international relations or the urgent issues such as HIV/AIDS that recognize no borders, it is important equally to students who want to understand their neighbors.