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Book Review


Trevor R. Getz, A Primer for Teaching African History:  Ten Design Principles.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 2018. Pp. vii + 149. Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Index.  $22.95 (paper).


     In A Primer for Teaching African History: Ten Design Principles, Trevor Getz proposes using Africa as a template for historical skill development and as a lens for a student's personal maturation. African history may be unfamiliar to many instructors at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.  Getz urges a readjustment of one's purview to a less Eurocentric model to one in which students are empowered and provided with the space to examine and challenge the development of their own identity. The book is comprised of ten chapters.  The first six chapters pertain to course development, student background knowledge, and give considerations on how to encapsulate an entire continent into one course.  In chapters seven through ten, Getz offers a rich array of potential resources and activities. These last three chapters also provide a brief but solid overview of current pedagogical trends, juxtaposing classroom practicality against the theoretical constructs at the beginning of the book.

     A vital first step when teaching a new course is its design and conceptualization. This book presents points to give all history instructors pause as they examine the potential unintentional messages within the design of their syllabus. Regardless of one's area of scholarly focus, Getz sees course design as an opportunity to examine the preconceived notions and historical omissions that all too often accompany instruction on Africa. Various options for organization are presented, including ways to thematically or geographically organize African history. Getz clearly presents how Africa is replete with examples of topics ranging from human-environment interaction to governmental power, various linguistic boundaries, and mineral wealth existing in the continent, along with many others. The author dives into the deep-seated presence of racial tensions throughout the continent.  With the reader, he ponders how the African diaspora should be cataloged in a course, all while cautioning against the discriminatory power of victimizing Africans and remaining vigilant against having similar storylines creep into one's course. Decisions of how to categorize, for example, the often-isolated histories of Egypt and Ethiopia, must be made prior to instruction on the continent. Reasons for the delineations regarding these ancient societies are worth investigating in themselves.  Getz, while exploring numerous ways to periodize African history, encourages exploration of Africa's economic future, tying in current events.  By engaging students in the human aspect of history and exploring the constructs of race, ethnicity, and gender as they have impacted students' own identity, Getz believes that students will examine their own mechanisms for developing historical narratives, thus reinforcing his premise of using the African continent as a template for both academic skill and personal development.

     A Primer for Teaching African History is user-friendly. Getz has amassed a collection of resources for the reader to investigate for their own course needs. During his extensive monologue on periodizing and bridging, Getz gives notable references to sources for use in class, along with textbook recommendations. This attention to detail will certainly prove helpful to the educator who finds African history on their semester schedule. Additionally, Getz presents ideas for student paper topics and other assignments.  He offers potential readings and supplements to texts. Interesting asides were his leaps into ethical thinking in chapter seven and the existing digital divide regarding localized digital content and limited historical archives in Africa, detailed in chapter nine. These discussions could merit their own books. Getz does not prescribe sources for African history, but merely points the reader toward appropriate and suitable items. For the instructor who has a desire to supplement their curriculum but comes up short, this book is likely to provide the assistance needed.

     Getz's expertise in African history is clear. What he shares pedagogically shows his experience as an educator. His wisdom is valuable for all who work with students. From the beginning, Getz stresses the importance of student connection and the community of the classroom.  Regardless of one's setting, he taps into ancient African oral traditions and reinforces the power of voice, language, and even word choice to enhance community. He speaks on framing behavioral expectations, a sometimes-overlooked aspect of course design in the post-secondary world. From an instructional design standpoint, Getz reflects on setting measurable, student-centered goals while coping with the tension of whether to focus on historical narrative, course content, or critical thinking. 

     Any history instructor could benefit from A Primer for Teaching African History:  Ten Design Principles. For the one who is new to teaching, Getz provides insights into assessment. His discussions of "flipped classrooms" and "UbD" (Understanding by Design) may be helpful to those unfamiliar with current educational trends. Regarding those new to teaching Africa, specifically, there is much to glean from his array of classroom-proven resources and strategies.  Veteran educators will discover new articles to provide fresh perspectives on content and new student project ideas to stoke creative fires. This will all culminate with a desire to investigate and refresh one's syllabus as needed.  Getz's frequent use of the word "trope", at times, muddled his message and became a trope in itself.  Getz presented what has worked for him as a history professor.  Sharing his varied classroom approaches to the continent, Getz is a role model for constant professional growth. He is humble in his writing, well organized, and thought-provoking. Student experience remains in the forefront of this book. Our roles as educators are not so much about being experts in our particular field, but about designing meaningful, impactful learning experiences which challenge student mindsets and preconceived notions.  Shouldn't that be the goal for any history classroom?

Holly E. Marcolina, MSEd, CAS, is currently serving as a Dean of Students at Middletown High School in Middletown, NY. She previously was a high school social studies teacher for thirteen years.  Ms. Marcolina has also worked as a visiting instructor at Peking University in China. She can be reached at


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