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Changing the Color of European History: The Need for Multi-culturalism in Studying the European Experience

Lydia Lindsey and Carlton Wilson

Today, more than at any other time, we live in an era of interaction and interdependence of nations and societies around the globe. As citizens of the world, students are confronted with political, economic, and geographical relationships virtually not imagined even a half century ago. These conditions demand that we teach and learn the social sciences from a global multi-cultural perspective. It is the aim of this discussion that students who live in the global village may, through the study of world peoples, cultures, societies, and civilizations, acquire a better understanding and appreciation of other citizens of that village. Their ability to relate to other cultures and peoples demand some understanding of their history and values, and without this understanding there can be no effective commitment to seek peace and dignity for all.

Americans do not live in isolation from people in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, or the Middle East. Their ability to understand and respect others necessitates a multi-cultural awareness of their historical past, political systems, economic and social environment, artistic expressions, and literary traditions. Hence, there is a need for a multi-cultural perspective of European history. A multi-cultural perspective will tear down myths and create knew images of European societies It will liberate their minds from blinkered perspectives, limited assumptions, and narrow visions of a single society within a geo≠political region. It will open their eyes to a whole new world vision.

A step towards this global vision could begin with examining the African presence in European history within the context of the African Diaspora. Exploring this subject will change students’ image of European society and give them a new perspective from which they can view the future. For this and related reasons, therefore, the topic of this discussion is on developing and teaching a course on the African presence in Europe within the context of the African Diaspora.

The idea of developing a course in the African Presence came to us after we had argued for and introduced a course in 1995 on this subject in our college curriculum. As we set out to organize our course, we found that there were no curriculum guilds to follow. There were no general narrative accounts that captured the presence of Africans in Europe. Without a doubt, the study of African-European History is still in its infancy stage. By in-large, European historians have not found the experiences of blacks significant enough to merit special attention. The hesitation in teaching a comprehensive history of Africans in Europe has been that there is a lack of available sources, but this understanding should be taken as a caution and should not be used as an excuse for inertia. After all, so much of what has been achieved in Black History was once thought impossible. For this and related reasons, therefore, this paper suggest that it is clearly possible to use some of the existing sources to begin to construct a course on the history of black people in Europe.

Undoubtedly, there will be historical gaps, but there must be an attempt to teach a general history on Africans in Europe. This general history would be a culmination of existing information on blacks that could provide a “life-off” point from which future generations of historians can work. This beginning can serve as a common background of knowledge that could be the basis for linking trends, discarding one idea in favor of another, or to synthesizing them into a historical philosophy. Similar to the history of black in the Americas, the experiences of Africans in Europe are a mixture of legal struggles, daily toils, and cultural achievements. Our assignment has been to draw together fragmented materials on Africans in Europe to developed a course that would give an appraisal of the social, political, cultural and economic life of Africans in European society. The objective of this paper is threefold: (1) to provide some suggestions on conceptionalizing and developing an outline for a survey course and topic courses in the African presence in Europe within the African Diaspora, (2) to explain the benefits that may be accrued to students– particularly black students-- from taking such a course, and (3) to share with you some of these course outlines and other materials.

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