I want my students to understand the civilizations that were already in place. The newcomers saw Africa as a place to be tamed, but in reality, social life, economy and politics were running quite effectively.

Cymone Fourshey

"If you only know Africa by the way Western media portrays it, it might seem frightening," says Professor Cymone Fourshey, history and international relations. "But Africa is a magnificent continent — and with 55 separate countries, each with many languages and distinct histories, it's a lot more varied than many people think."

Fourshey, who conducts research on hospitality in Tanzania, begins in the 1400s when she teaches African history. "Many courses begin with the 1800s because that's when the Europeans entered the interior," she explains. "I want my students to understand the civilizations that were already in place. The newcomers saw Africa as a place to be tamed, but in reality, social life, economy and politics were running quite effectively.

"Pop culture is something Fourshey encourages her students to study closely. "Whether you're talking about present-day pop culture or what was considered pop culture centuries ago, what you're seeing is how everyday people resist the status quo," she says. "A good example is public transportation from Algeria to Zambia. Modern Christians and Muslims are decorating their taxis and minivans with religious images, declarations by prophets and antigovernment slogans. This is a very progressive form of expression and says a lot about society and culture.

"One of Fourshey's most popular courses examines the subject of piracy. "Many people associate the 17th- to 19th-century Caribbean with piracy," she says. "But it's been a part of global history for millennia. We look at Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia - and of course with cyber-piracy, we consider the entire globe."

Fourshey notes that piracy was considered a legitimate profession in some societies. Today, she says, if you consider piracy from the point of view of a Somali pirate, you see environmental and economic issues. "Their waters are being polluted and overfished by outsiders," she explains. "To them, piracy is a reasonable response."

As a final project, Fourshey's students work in small groups to explore a topic of interest, country or ethnic group in depth. "Their final presentations must be team-based, have a creative element, be interactive and provide an accurate historical reconstruction," she says. "I've seen groups create movies, games, poetry, rap songs, books and even a quilt."

Posted Oct. 7, 2015

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