African History, Primary Sources, Information Literacy

University of Ghana, Legon
University of Ghana, Legon

 Synopsis of Course Design Activity

I am working on an activity that will explore the differences between primary and secondary source materials, hopefully highlighting the skills necessary to evaluate and manipulate these sources for academic use. These sources will be understood through the disciplinary structure of African History. Further, I hope to encourage a further examination of information literacy by highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of these materials as well as broaden the discussion of what it means to be a primary source.

Materials will be drawn from primarily Aluka as well as some freely available content. Students will be encouraged to use academic databases (whether proprietary or open source). The Aluka database contain a mixture of materials under strict copyright as well as openly available material that require only attribution licenses.

Course Design


  • To explore the use of primary and secondary sources in the field of African history and related disciplines and their application to academic research
  • To develop research and information seeking skills for original academic research of a professional caliber
  • To explore history as a visual medium drawing from multiple related disciplines

Target Audience

  • the students are assumed to be undergraduate level History students at four year research universities

Target Discipline(s)

  • History (primary)
  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Art and Art History
  • Cultural Studies

Learning Outcomes

  • Critically evaluate primary and secondary sources for use in research in History
  • Examine African history from a multi-faceted perspective, including materials about Africa and by Africa
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the perceived and the actual influence of African on the development of neighboring locales (the modern Middle East, Europe)
  • Critically evaluate African influence from a geographical perspective with media including maps, photography and other visually-based materials
  • Examine and further develop information-searching practices consistent with university level scholarship
  • Critically evaluate and use online academic resources


  1. Pre-discussion questionnaire about primary, secondary sources, and Africa to begin reflection (see Appendix #1)
  2. Introduction and reflection on primary and secondary sources (see Appendix #2)
  3. Reflective post on African History (see Appendix #3)
  4. Class materials and synchronous class presentation on selected materials (by instructor) and group discussion (see Appendix #4)
  5. Assign group activity to be constructed on individual group Wiki page (see Appendix #5)
  6. Group constructs resource page for their assigned activity after identifying relevant materials (see Appendix #6)
  7. Group reports in to larger class (see Appendix #7)
  8. Discussion of African history and influence on neighboring locales (see Appendix #8)
  9. Reflective post about primary sources and their use with African History (see Appendix #9)

Creative Commons Applicable License

Due to the copyrighted nature of the actual materials under discussion (primarily the materials from Aluka and perhaps academic content from proprietary databases, there would be some limitations to the openness of the Creative Commons License applied to this work.

However, I am choosing to separate the actual learning activities from the materials themselves for the purposes of this discussion. It is my understanding that acceptable substitutes of African maps, African Rock Art, and African academic content could be found in other sources with less restrictions on their use and re-use. Therefore, assuming that substitutes could be found, I would choose the following Creative Commons License:

  • Attribution — You must give the original author credit.
  • Non-Commercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
  • Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a licence identical to this one.

I am drawn to these three qualities for a variety of reasons. Attribution is important regardless of copyright restrictions in that it acknowledges the source of the content as well as the intellectual path the research was drawn from. If original research is to be defended for its validity, it is important to know where it originated from.

I chose the non-commercial portion of the license because these activities are designed solely for educational use and are permissable to be recycled in the US under Fair Use and in the UK under Fair Dealing (assuming these materials fell within the research and private study for non-commercial use category). I am a proponent of both Fair Use and Fair Dealing and hope it will be expanded to include non-traditional forms of research and education as well.

Share Alike is a good approach to all materials that a creator has left open for reuse. I believe derivative works are perfectly acceptable (indeed encouraged), but just so long as all derivative works are shared equally as well. Legality aside, that just seems like a measure of intellectual and academic respect.


1. Pre-discussion questionnaire about primary and secondary sources to begin reflection

Information Literacy

  • What is a primary source?
  • What is a secondary source?
  • What is a peer-reviewed source?
  • Where you find each of these online?
  • What is the difference between Google and Google Scholar?
  • What disciplines rely on primary sources?
  • What primary sources do you produce daily?
  • Name five sources that you would use to conduct research on Africa.

Africa and History

  • What is Africa?
    • Is it a geographic location?
    • Is it a common culture?
    • Is it a common language?
    • Is it a common history?
  • What are some modern depictions of Africa in the media?
  • What are some historical depictions of Africa in the academic context? What do you know historically of Africa?
  • What do you associate with Africa (however trivial)?
  • What is a significant African cultural heritage site?

2. Introduction and reflection on primary, secondary sources, and African History

Students will use the discussion board to discuss three broad themes

  • Their responses to the information literacy portion of the questionnaire
  • Their responses to the Africa and History portion of the questionnaire
  • Their definition of Africa

3. Reflective posts on African History

Students will write two blog posts reflecting on the following:

  • Their experiences with primary sources to date
  • Their experiences with African history to date answering the following question: What are the most important events from African history?

4. Class materials and synchronous class presentation on selected materials (by instructor) and group discussion

Class Materials

Students will ingest the following materials before the synchronous discussion

Synchronous class presentation on selected materials (via GoToMeeting and Skype)

  • Initial synchronous group discussion on reactions to and importance of the materials
  • Pool two articles retrieved by each student onto class Wiki for later discussion. Each student is responsible for providing an overview of each article and its importance to the class discussion

Display the following Rock Art examples and elicit discussion for each:

Rock Art Example #1

  • Where was this taken?
  • What can we infer?

Rock Art Example #2

  • Where was this taken?
  • What can we infer?

Rock Art Example #3

  • Where was this taken?
  • What evidence of ceremony or ornamentation can be found in this image?

Discuss Rock Art as primary source

  • Are these images suitable for academic research?
  • What type of materials would compliment them?
  • Would the articles you found be suitable to compliment these images?
  • What other forms of media would further prove complimentary?

Record and publish transcript to the discussion board

5. Assign group activity to be constructed on individual group Wiki page

  • Assign students to groups of four or five
  • Assign each group a dedicated Wiki page for their project
  • Instruct students that they are to construct a Wiki page dedicated to one cultural heritage site from Africa as found on
  • Each constructed Wiki page should contain:
    • An Introduction to the site along with geographical location
    • A discussion of the purpose of the site for its inhabitants
    • An analysis of the site’s importance to Africa and neighboring locales
    • A narrative- a collection of materials, preferable digital media, that tell the story of the site to someone unfamiliar with it
    • Bibliography including a mixture of primary and secondary sources, properly cited in APA format.
  • Evidence of collaboration and construction of the Wiki page should be encouraged through the Comments section of the Wiki

6. Group constructs resource page for their assigned activity after identifying relevant materials both on Aluka and through their collaborative academic research.

  • Individual groups can choose to meet each other in synchronous sessions on Skype to discuss the project further.
  • Instructor will be available for assistance or to review progress as scheduled by the group.

7. Group reports in to larger class

  • Each group will be required to present their findings to the larger class at synchronous sessions scheduled by the instructor (using GoToMeeting and Skype).
  • These will be scheduled on a first come, first served basis.

8. Discussion of African history and influence on neighboring locales

  • Students use the discussion board to discuss the importance of these cultural heritage sites on both Africa and neighboring locales.
  • Further, students use discussion boards to discuss the efficiency of primary vs. secondary sources in evaluating the importance of both heritage sites and Rock Art.

9. Reflective Blog post on African History and the importance of primary sources answering the following questions:

  • What contributions has Africa made to our larger cultural heritage and history?
  • Why are primary sources so important to African History (indeed, history in general)?
  • Why are primary sources so difficult to evaluate?
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