Website Review

Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent

Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent is a repository of images, sound clips, and scanned texts produced by the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center. The collection consists of two distinct databases: the Africa Focus: Image and Sound Collection and the Africana Digitization Project. Africa Focus features an impressive 3,000 slides, 500photographs, and 50 hours of sounds collected by University of Wisconsin faculty and staff members from 45 African countries. The Africana Digitization Project offers digitized versions of a handful of European accounts of pre-colonial West Africa, several bibliographic guides to these sources, and a collection of essays on slavery and the slave trade. (These sources are all from the University of Wisconsin libraries.)

Most images in Africa Focus date from the last four decades although there are some of colonial era children. The database is organized into pre-defined collections of images featuring:

The education collection—which is the most relevant to the study of children and youth—consists of 120 pictures of students and school buildings and several audio clips of students singing. Searching "child" and "children" produces 27 and 183 images respectively. There are also 141 images of "boys" and 59 of "girls." A search for "youth" returns 87 pictures of mostly older adolescents and young adults. There is also an "atlas" feature that targets searches to a specific country. Most of the images are high quality and feature relatively detailed citations, and visitors have the option of saving and e-mailing the results of their searches. Listening to and saving the audio files requires a Realplayer media player.

The paired databases comprising Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent will be useful to teachers interested in incorporating children's experiences into their courses. Searching the Africana Digitization Project returns several hundred results for children and youth, but teachers will need a fairly advanced background in African history to make effective use of them. The pictures and sounds in Africa Focus are considerably more accessible to non-specialists, but it will still take some care to make proper use of them in the classroom. The collection shows young people wearing a wide variety of clothing engaged in an equally diverse range of activities, and the extensive identifying tags offer useful guidance on how to contextualize each image. Nevertheless, instructors will want to take care to ensure that the pictures featuring non-western topics and themes do not reinforce popular stereotypes of African peoples and cultures.

To this end, exercises drawing on this material can provide a richer understanding of both the unique trials facing young Africans in the second half of the 20th century as well as the similarities and differences with children and youth in other parts of the world. Comparing and contrasting the various images of worship, schooling, work, and play will highlight the vast cultural and ecological diversity of Africa while also demonstrating that there was often nothing particularly unusual or exotic in the way many African children spent their days. Equally important, however, Africa Focus offers key insights into the unique challenges of growing up in a developing society. Instructors can draw on the collection's images of child refugees, laborers, and even soldiers to develop lectures and lesson plans that provide a youthful perspective on some of the key problems that have confronted many African societies in the post-imperial era.

How to Cite This Source

"Africa Focus: Sights and Sounds of a Continent," in Children and Youth in History, Item #258, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/website-reviews/258 (accessed November 1, 2014).

Instructors can draw on the collection's images of child refugees, laborers, and even soldiers to develop lectures and lesson plans that provide a youthful perspective on some of the key problems that have confronted many African societies in the post-imperial era.