Department of History

African History

The African continent is the birthplace of humanity, now home to 54 countries and a population of over 1 billion people.  It is the most culturally diverse continent on the globe, with more than 2,000 languages spoken.  Africa’s environmental diversity ranges equally widely, from temperate Cape Town, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, to the dense equatorial rainforests of the Congo Basin and the vast expanses of the Sahara desert, as well as the bustling megacities and cultural hubs of Lagos, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Cairo.  A continent at the crossroads of the world, African populations have been connected with societies around the Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean and Red Seas since the Middle Ages, and across the Atlantic Ocean for over 500 years.  The historical cultural, political, social, and economic impacts of Africans and African diasporic populations have a truly global reach.

Today, Africa’s 54 nations boast booming economies, dynamic artistic and literary scenes, technological innovation, and political complexity, with even greater global connectivity than in past generations.  Yet many characterizations of the continent and its diverse populations erase its particularities, focusing instead on widespread poverty, disease, or corruption.  Now more than ever, critical, fact-based, and comprehensive study of this central world region is crucial to a sustainable global future. 

Pitt’s offerings in African history give students a solid grounding in the broad, supranational history of African civilizations as well as the key factors shaping its nations’ modern dynamism.

Pitt historians studying Africa and the African diaspora are especially attentive to connections across subregions and to the dynamism of African societies' political and social histories.  Faculty specialize in eastern and central Africa, western and trans-Saharan Africa, and Atlantic Africa, with interests in environmental history, histories of labor and slavery, African and European empires, and the history of health and medicine.  For undergraduates, we offer surveys of the continent’s early and modern histories as well as courses on specific regional and transregional histories in key historical eras. To complement these fundamental courses, we offer topical courses on health and disease, environment and society, and the era of the Transatlantic slave trade.  Graduate students benefit from faculty expertise in comparative imperial history, studies of diaspora and forced migration, health, and political history.

Students also benefit from courses in Africana Studies, Political Science, English/Literature, and offerings in the Less Commonly Taught Languages curriculum in Swahili and Amharic, including a Swahili minor.  The UCIS African Studies Program provides a hub for interested students, offering guidance on internships and courses for the undergraduate and graduate Certificates in African Studies as well as discussion on hot topics in the Let’s Talk Africa series.  New scholarship on African topics is featured annually in the Critical Research on Africa lecture series.


John Stoner
Teaching Professor
Mari Webel
Associate Professor