Africa’s Great Civilizations

Project details

When telling the story of human civilization, much of the Western world has relegated Africa to little more than the birthplace of humankind, a prologue set millions of years in the past.

But the true history of Africa, and by extension all humanity, is far richer and vastly more important.

From these profound steps in human progress there flourished civilizations that will be celebrated for their advances in the science of astronomy, geometry, algebra as well as theology and philosophy; which reached heights unimagined in the rest of the world. But Africa’s history and its rich culture did not develop in isolation; it is and was greatly influenced by constant interaction with the rest of the world. This is an unknown story—one that has lived in the shadows. Until now.

In his landmark 3-part 6-hour series Africa’s Great Civilizations, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will set out on a journey of discovery, showing us the complexity, the grandeur, the diversity of many millennia of African history. He will present—for the first time for a popular audience—a new vision not only of Africa, but of all human history.

In this way, Africa’s Great Civilizations will lay definitively claim to importance of Africa in human history. The series will be a sweeping saga of 200,000 years of history portraying the origins of human society in Africa, and tracing the shared genetic connections between the people of the Sudan and the Nile Valley, from Egypt to Ethiopia and beyond. Moving forward in time, the series will celebrate the social and cultural complexity of the African continent, and explore the enormous economic and political impact of the millennia-long Bantu migration. Gates will also show how interactions with foreign civilizations and ideas transformed African societies and cultures through stories such as the arrival of Islam in Medieval Western Sudan, or the rise of a maritime civilization on the East African coast that grew in response to Persian and Chinese visitors.

Africa’s Great Civilizations will reveal the stories of the Biblical kingdom of Kush, the early Christian fathers, the pyramids at Meroe, the cultural florescence ignited by the spread of Islam in North and West Africa, and the churches at Lalibela. We will examine the kingdoms of Kongo, Benin, and Dahomey and their complex relationships not just with the political economies of Europe but also with the burgeoning Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The legendary Asante and Akan cultures come to life, as well as the technological innovations and strategic brilliance that contributed to Shaka’s rise. The series draws to a close at the end of the 19th Century when the infamous Scramble for Africa witnesses the industrial nations of Europe fight for control of the vast riches of Africa’s natural resources.

Executive Producer for Nutopia: Ben Goold

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