Professor introduces young audiences to West African history, culture

imageMiddle school students will be among the first to read the latest scholarship on early West African civilization with the recent publication of “Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali and Songhay” by Dr. David C. Conrad, professor of history at SUNY Oswego.

Conrad already had six books on his docket when the publisher Facts on File approached him about writing the new book for its series Great Empires of the Past for young teens. One of the books he was working on is expected to become the successor to Nehemia Levtzion’s “Ancient Ghana and Mali,” a 1973 volume that has been the definitive work on West African empires.

Though that scholarly work is still a ways from publication, the new 128-page book for younger readers benefited from Conrad’s involvement in the larger project. It taps into his own research that is not yet published as well as recent archeological evidence.

He said he took on the Facts on File book because he wanted to correct the out-of-date information that often turns up in books for general readers in this field because authors have relied on stale secondary sources. And, he said, he wanted to support the effort of publishers to bring Africa into the picture of world history presented in schools.

In the end, he said he found the whole undertaking “very worthwhile.” When he spoke earlier this year at Roxboro Road Middle School in Syracuse, “I was so glad I had written that book.” The students were interested and asked a lot of good questions, he said.

“It was just so heartening,” he said. “It made me much more optimistic about what’s going on in the schools at the lower levels.”

“Empires of Medieval West Africa” tells of three empires in the western horn of Africa from around 1200 forward. Among the book’s features are “Connections” sidebars that relate ideas and customs from the past culture to today’s world. An example is one on the kola nut, a symbol of hospitality in West Africa and an original ingredient in Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other cola drinks.

“Empires of Medieval West Africa” is illustrated and includes 13 photographs by Conrad himself. The book is available for $35 on

One of the foremost scholars on early West Africa with many books to his name, Conrad has just retired after 20 years at SUNY Oswego. He is a former Fulbright scholar and fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

Retirement will not interrupt his scholarship and teaching, he said. The Smithsonian Institute has just hired him as a study leader for a two-week tour of West Africa this winter.

And then there are those other six books he is working on.

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CONTACT: Dr. David C. Conrad,

(Posted: Jun 14, 2005)