Anth 218: The Rift

History, culture and the natural world in Eastern Africa

2013  •  Bard College  •  Anthropology 218  •  Africana, Environmental and Urban Studies, Human Rights, History  •  228 words

Course description

The Great Rift Valley runs from the Red Sea to Mozambique, dividing the African continent in two. It is the heart of a region of striking ecological diversity, home to a wide range of human cultures and modes of existence: from pastoral nomadism in the savannah zones of Somalia and the Sudans to urban life in the industrialized cities of East Africa.

Fossil evidence indicates that the emergence of modern humans took place in the eastern branch of the Rift Valley approximately 200,000 years ago. Today the lands that border the Rift exemplify the divisions and difficulties that confront Africa as a whole: a legacy of colonialism and anti-colonial struggle, and—in the present day—civil wars and accelerating environmental change. Conflict over land, water, oil and other natural resources has led to high levels of displacement and forced migration; parts of the region are also sites of Islamist insurgency and western counter-terrorist interventions. The response of the peoples of Eastern Africa illustrates the inventiveness of human adaptation, the resilience of culture, and the drama of survival.

The course offers a transdisciplinary approach to the layers of natural and human history in the region, employing historical and anthropological research, reportage, documentary video, art and music to examine some of the diverse ways of being that endure, and the versions of modernity emerging from war and demographic transformation.