ORIAS Speakers Bureau Features the Archaeology of the Swahili Coast

The Archaeology of the Swahili Coast: CAS partners with ORIAS on K-14 Classroom Speakers Bureau. (Picture: The Friday Mosque, Kilwa. By W. Alders)

The Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS), the Center for African Studies and other UC Berkeley area centers are collaborating on the ORIAS Speakers Bureau, a cohort of graduate students who offer 45-minute presentations specifically geared to students from middle school to community college. A new presentation by Wolfgang Alders, an archaeology doctoral student, focuses on East Africa and the Indian Ocean. More details are below and on the ORIAS web site. The presentations are free to schools and can be booked online at this link.

The Archaeology of the Swahili Coast: East Africa and the Indian Ocean

Speaker: Wolfgang Alders

In World History classes, the Swahili Coast of East Africa is often a side-note to discussions of Indian Ocean trading networks or the Islamic World. By contrast, this presentation addresses the Swahili Coast directly, as an African region with connections to other parts of the world. This introduction to the archaeological and historical record of the Swahili Coast invites students to consider several important questions: What is the difference between history, anthropology, and archaeology, and how do these disciplines affect our modern conceptions of Africa? Who lived on the Swahili Coast? What sorts of economic and cultural connections did the Swahili Coast have, both within Africa and in the larger Indian Ocean basin? How do archaeologists make meaning of evidence to answer questions about the past? By introducing and explaining the significance of numerous archaeological sites and artifacts, the speaker will teach students both about the Swahili Coast and about how archaeologists construct understandings of the past.

About the Speaker

Wolfgang was born and raised in the East Bay, and is now a graduate student studying archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the archaeology of agriculture, pottery production, and settlement on Unguja Island, the southern island of Zanzibar on the East African coast. His related interests include the Swahili language and Swahili poetry, the history of archaeology, and satellite remote sensing. He also enjoys stand-up comedy, playing a variety of string instruments, 1980s action movies, and ice cream sandwiches.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th grade – 12th grade and community college. Teachers should pre-introduce the basic geography of East Africa and the Indian Ocean basin before students see this talk. Such an introduction might include: (1) maps of modern nation-states in the region, (2) a review of the origin and spread of Islam, (3) maps depicting different Asian and African states and empires during the 1st and 2nd millennia CE, and (4) a brief explanation of the monsoon winds. An introduction to the Swahili Coast cities could be helpful but is not necessary.

World History: This talk primarily addresses the period prior to 1500 CE, with the majority of examples relevant to the period between 500 and 1500 CE.

African History, Asian History, Geography, Global Studies: The topics addressed in this talk touch on a number of regions and disciplines and would be at least partly applicable for many courses.


Cloves in UngujaChawaka Mosque Pemba Mkokotni Well

Picture in order: Cloves in Unguja; Chwaka Mosque in Pemba; Mkokotni Well. All pictures by Wolfgang Alders.