Accessibility statement

Medieval Africa


Module leader: Stephanie Wynne-Jones


On the African continent, the medieval period was one of unprecedented dynamism and growth. During the centuries from c. AD800 to 1500, societies across the continent developed into complex, urban entities which were interconnected at multiple scales with their neighbours and with the wider world. Africanist archaeologists rarely use the term ‘medieval’ and refer instead to the Later Iron Age of the continent, yet the archaeology of this era shares many of the themes and concerns of medieval archaeology across the globe.

These centuries are particularly characterized by the development of an interconnected world. In Africa, the investigation of this cultural growth is accompanied by debate as to the nature of external influence on other aspects of society. Issues surrounding trade are therefore important, and the investigation of the many civilizations of this time has been coloured by the question of indigenous vs. foreign innovation. In addition, African societies have a unique relationship with the historical record, appearing in the accounts of travellers from other parts of the world, as well as possessing their own vibrant oral historical traditions. The combination of these factors creates a fascinating study in its own right, as well as a new position from which to reflect back upon contemporary developments in Europe and elsewhere.


The ‘Medieval Africa’ module aims to give students an understanding of the archaeology of the centuries between c. AD800 and 1500 across the African continent. This will include a major theme of complexity and state formation, viewed in several different regions, including: the Inland Niger Delta of West Africa; the ‘forest kingdoms’ of Ife and Benin; Great Zimbabwe; the Ethiopian highlands; the Swahili coast of East Africa; and the Great Lakes region. The seminars will also address the impact of aspects such as trade, religion, history, and technology on the societies of this period.

By providing critical analysis of these societies, the seminars will enable students to reflect back on some of the fundamental concepts of archaeology, such as notions of power and authority, the nature of urbanism, the relationship between history and the material record, and the experience of religion in daily life. The seminars will rely on inter- and multidisciplinary approaches, allowing students to explore the relative values of archaeological, architectural, art historical, and historical study of the same subject area.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:  

  • Demonstrate that they are familiar with the literature on the archaeology of Medieval Africa
  • Exhibit a firm understanding of the major debates relating to these societies, and to issues related to the overarching themes
  • Show familiarity with a wide range of case studies
  • Demonstrate in depth knowledge of a topic of their choosing
  • Pick out the key issues in their chosen topic
  • Prepare a worksheet which sets out key reading and issues for presentation, debate and discussion, and support the group in the preparation of the seminar
  • Chair a seminar, engage interest in the topic, stimulate debate and structure discussion
  • Have a critical awareness of the process of collective debate on a specific topic
  • Be able to judge the general 'success' of the seminar, and to be able to reflect on this, through a written summary of a seminar
  • Present PowerPoint or Prezi presentations on other subjects within the general theme and contribute informed ideas and information to the other seminars 


In this module you will develop key skills in presentation and chairing which should be of immense value in your future careers:

  • Self management: in this module you need to develop the ability to take initiative and you will need the will to succeed! There will be a lot of self management required whilst you plan your topic through the spring term- you should be spending about 3-4 days a week on this module and balancing this with finalizing your dissertation (and any other commitments)
  • Communication: communication skills are vital and they will be assessed- through the previous 2 years you will should have practiced and developed these skills in order to present clear and succinct PowerPoints. Your writing skills will be tested further in your self assessment document. Most importantly, you will have the chance to chair a seminar and you will need to be able to judge when to listen to your team mates, and how to encourage and stimulate debate, particularly from quieter members of the group
  • Team working: it is essential you can bring the team together to tackle your topic in depth and to create a stimulating and enlightening debate. It may be a wise move to set up your own study groups.
  • Problem solving: you will be faced with a lot of reading and it is essential that you develop the skills for retrieving information from relevant sources as well as critical evaluation
  • Creativity and innovation: this module enables you to be creative in your ideas of what topic to develop and how you plan to run the seminar
  • World of work awareness: this module will set you up for similar situations in the world of work where you might need to chair a meeting and will have to keep the team to the point and to time- you should understand the pressures of such meetings and think about ways of coping with them
  • Social, cultural and global awareness: many of you will be considering the international dimensions of your chosen subject, and in many cases you might want to think about the diversity of issues from other cultures and countries, as well as ethical issues related to your research
  • Application of IT: you will be tested on your effective use of PowerPoint as well as word processing skills. You will also be expected to use the internet effectively with your research
 14th century map of West Africa (SWJ)