Depicting Africa

Last week saw the conclusion of the ‘Depicting Africa’ project I had been working on for the past three months with Miss Hannah S from the secondary school City Academy (see previous post). The City Academy students designed tours of the Sainsbury Centre, section by section (Africa, Americas, Oceania, and Art Nouveau) and delivered it to their peers. Favoured objects included the Middle Kingdom hippo, Epstein’s baby head and the Luba-Hemba staff. Children also had an opportunity to talk to student ambassadors about life as university students.

Depicting Africa is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is a collaboration between UEA and City Academy. Over the weeks we have worked with one Year 7 class at City Academy (11-12 year olds) to try and challenge negative ideas they have about Africa and to think, more generally, about how stereotypes hinder people’s opportunities (including the chance of going to university for those able and willing).

The City Academy schoolchildren were paired with peers from the Lycée Ahmadou Kourandaga in Zinder, Niger. They exchanged emails, letters, and spoke on Skype. The City Academy schoolchildren presented news bulletins on the Egyptian cabinet, reflected on Hajj and Christian pilgrimage, researched Madagascar and Ethiopia, thought about what makes a person or an artefacts English, helped cook a Nigerian meal, reflected on angels and light in Christianity and Islam, wrote descriptions of British Museum artefacts from the Hausa area, discussed how one defines ethnic identity and visited the UEA mosque. They designed questionnaires for their Nigérien peers, conducted secondary and primary research, and began to look more critically at news reports which present only the glum from Africa.

At the beginning of the project, we had asked the children to give five words they associated with Africa. ‘Dirty water’, ‘Poor’ and ‘Hot’ came up a lot. At the end of the project we asked them the same question again and, unsurprisingly, the answers had changed (more on this later, after some number-crunching, but ‘polite’ and ‘middle class’ came up).

Over the coming months we will be designing a teaching resource (a DVD with lesson plans, Powerpoints etc.) which will be sent to other secondary schools in the UK.

It is of course never a one-way street. Perhaps it is not just the children who have changed outlook – all of us Africanists (and Africanist sympathisers) who took part have learnt much. Which was part of the point of the project. In terms of skills, responding to deep metaphysical questions in a single sentence for fear of losing your audience was certainly something for me to work on. The impact of the aid sector in shaping children’s images of Africa was also something to reflect upon…


8 Responses to “Depicting Africa”

  1. 1 Dom
    June 7, 2012 at 20:03

    Students seemed to me genuinely interested in looking at objects in the context of their cultural framework. At the same time, it also felt they were keen to explore more personal, affective connections to artefacts. During the sessions in SRU library, the majority of the the students came up with amazing stories about objects, which is something i found incredibly inspiring. Also, they were able to build nice narratives when organising the tours, integrating both factual and emotional/personal elements.
    Domenico Sergi, PhD student, UEA

  2. 2 margit
    June 7, 2012 at 20:05

    For my part, I learnt a lot about tailoring a learning event to its audience; it was a new departure to be addressing a group of eleven-year olds. From their reactions, I also realised just how intriguing the gravestones at Hungate are and how we, as a charity, must make better use of them. Finally, from your comments after the event, it seems that visual and spatial learning experiences are a good way of engaging with children who are not particularly verbal. It was an honour and a pleasure to be part of the project.
    Dr Margit T, Senior Lecturer, UEA

  3. June 7, 2012 at 20:42

    This is brilliant. Europe has such a racist view of Africa…..This offers a fresh start !

  4. 4 Hamza Ahmadou, Lycée Ahmadou Kourandaga Zinder
    June 20, 2012 at 22:41

    The Hausa Youth Impact project you implemented has been a real success in various ways. First, it was a source of exchange to both the kids and us for we all learned something about the British people and the different groups living in different parts of the United Kingdom. Second, it brought together youths of different cultures, having something in common that of being all students ; thus broadening their world wide view and curiosity of knowing more about themselves. Our participation helped our students make friends, use English with natives and discover more about the advantages of internet. Then, that very project helped us all to go beyond certain stereotypes and fears about race and ethnicity.

    Finally, what could the English and Hausa people share about their traditions, culture, and beliefs? What should be the role of youth in such issues ? We could perhaps implement or broaden that project with cross cultural activities to help our youth discover more and not fall in the same traps as their elders as far as historical misinterpretations and wrong data are concerned. The issues of ethnicity and race should no longer be sources of stereotypes,conflicts and violence for the sake of world peace. Photos and blogs are great help, we would like some.

    It was a real pleasure !

    Looking forward to hearing from you, you till then bye !

    Sai anjima

  5. June 12, 2013 at 02:23

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know
    who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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