October 30, 2020

Importance of the Study of African History – Methods and Sources

Reading Time: 7 minutes

In this WASSCE History tutorial we want to explain the importance of the study of African history. We shall also describe the sources and methods used to study African history.

For you to find good value in this African history lesson, I have decided that the best strategy is to give you very likely WASSCE History questions.

Under each question, you will find brief and concise, bullet point answers.

DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. READ FULL DISCLOSURE.

The details provided are useful for both objective WAEC/WASSCE History questions and essay questions as well.

You are fully covered if you happen to be a student preparing for other examinations involving the study of African history.

These revision notes on the importance of the study of African history will be of great value to you as well.




Definition of History

History comes from the Greek word historia meaning enquiry.  It began to develop in the 5th century BC. The originator, or what is sometimes referred to as “the father of History” is believed to be a Greek named Herodotus.

History explains how people, ideas, beliefs etc. have changed from generation to generation.

The importance of the study of African history

Generally speaking, the study of history enables us to understand our past. This makes it possible for us to appreciate the present and, at the same time, prepare to face the future with confidence.

The following are the specific reasons why the study of African history is important.

Note, however, that these same points are useful for answering a general question about the importance of the study of history.

In such a situation, you only need to render the points in general terms instead of making them Africa-specific.

Are you now ready to discover the importance of the study of African history?

Let’s get going.

  1. It inspires the individual to pursue noble goals and avoid mistakes and disgraceful acts. This is achieved by leaning from the mistakes of the past, the strengths and weakness of historical figures like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
  2. The study of African history makes the student have a better understanding of contemporary problems. Thus, she is able to find appropriate solutions to them. An example is the contribution of colonialism and slavery to many problems facing Africa today.
  3. Again, African history studies present the youth with role models. Examples are Yaa Asantewaa, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and Nelson Mandela.
  4. It instills in the youth a high sense of patriotism.
  5. Studying history helps the student discover the African heritage (rich culture, achievements etc) and to build upon it. For example a) the achievements of Egypt in ancient times make Africa the cradle of world civilization b) man originated from Africa. c) great men like Osei Tutu, Nkrumah, Shaka etc are a source of pride for the African youth.
  6. Knowledge acquired through the study of history helps to promote national and international unity. This becomes possible as we learn to better appreciate the cultures of other societies.
  7. Finally, the study of African history is important because it makes Africans reject the idea that Africa had no history before the arrival of the Europeans on the continent.

Shall we continue with our next lesson after looking at the importance of the study of African history (or history in general)?

Official SAT Study Guide


The meaning of data for writing African history

Data for writing African history refers to the detailed information such as figures, names, dates, events etc. that is used for the reconstruction of the history of Africa.

The methods used for collecting data for writing African history are varied.

How to Get Your WASSCE Certificate Without Attending Senior High School

Below are the major methods historians employ to collect data for writing African history.

Methods of gathering data to write African history

  1. Personal enquiry – interviews, questionnaire on political, social and economic issues. Tape recordings and their analysis come into play here.
  2. Eyewitness accounts. Example: The Arab writer al-Bakr saw and gave a detailed description of Kumbi-Saleh, the capital of ancient Ghana.
  3. Review of written sources – newspapers, journals and so on. Example: The Arabic Tarkh al-Sudan (Chronicle of the Sudan could be reviewed for writing African history.
  4. Inter-disciplinary approach – historians usually co-operate with researchers in other fields like archaeology, ethnography, linguistics, enthnobotany to obtain information vital for reconstructing the African past. Examples include the following: a) White and yellow yam are indigenous to Africa, originating from the Dahomey Gap. – Ethnobotany b) Some form of agriculture was being practiced in the Saharan Region before wheat barley were introduced into Egypt from the Middle East. – Archaeology. c) 240 Chinese coins found in East Africa point to trade between East Africa and China in the 9th or 10th century AD. – Archaeology and Numismatics.

Now you know a lot about the importance of the study of African history.

You also know much about the methods used to collect data for writing African history.

What is next?

One important question you cannot afford t o miss for your WAEC/WASSCE History test is about the sources for the study of African history.


Documentary and non-documentary sources

There are two main sources for the writing and study of African history. These are documentary and non-documentary sources (written and unwritten sources).

Documentary sources

Examples of documentary or written sources of African history include the following:

Egyptian hieroglyphics,

The writings of Arab scholars,

European exploration accounts (Mungo Park, David Livingston, H.M. Stanley etc),

Christian missionary writings (dairies, private letters and so on and so forth).

Merits of Documentary Sources of African history

  1. Most effective means of gathering information.
  2. Stimulates further research
  3. Reliable

Recommended for You:

Key Topics in the WASSCE History Syllabus

Disadvantages of Documentary Sources of African history

  1. Not adequate

For example, much of the material from ancient historians have been destroyed. Also, data related to such areas as Ethnobotany are easily destructible.

  • Not easily accessible

One reason for this is that some of these happen to be private or personal records.

Non-documentary sources

Notable examples of non-documentary sources or unwritten sources of African history are oral traditions, ethnography. Archaeology, ethnobotany, Numismatics, linguistics etc.

Merits of non-documentary sources

We are aware of the importance of the study of African history. One important source for doing so, as we have seen, is the non-documentary source.

Here, then, are the major advantages of non-documentary sources of African history.

  1. The non-documentary source promotes inter- disciplinary approach to the study of African history. This improves reliability.
  2. They help to determine historical trends or developments by comparing several oral traditions to remove bias, inconsistency etc.
  3. Historians are able to apply scientific methods to improve upon the reliability oral traditions. These are in the fields of linguistics, archaeology and so on.

Disadvantages of non-documentary sources

  1. Some of the sources often lack credibility. Example: oral accounts of legendary figures may be exaggerated and biased.
  2. They are not adequate as those who are the custodians continue to die without leaving any notes.


Whether documentary or non-documentary, they are both helpful since bias, subjectivity or inaccuracy are bound to occur in both cases.



Non- Documentary sources are unwritten sources needed for the reconstruction of African history e.g. oral traditions, ethnobotany, archaeology.

Oral traditions

Oral traditions refer to legends or stories of past myths etc. which have been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another.

MERITS: only source of information in most.

  • Helps in determine historical trends oral sources removed.
  • Comparison of different oral source.
  • It helps archeologist to confirm find or otherwise.


Linguistics refers to the scientific study of the origin, structure and changes in languages.

MERIT: It helps historians to draw conclusion about the similarities in the origins of the peoples of different societies e.g. The Ewe in Togo, Benin and Ghana.


In very simple terms, ethnography refers to the study of contemporary traditional institutions, cultures etc.

1. It helps in the re-enactment of past for a clearer understanding of present cultural practices e.g. puberty rites, festivals.

2. Secondly, ethnography helps historians to understand contemporary, social, political and economic institutions and practices e.g. metalwork, kente weaving, chieftaincy etc.



1. Firstly, ethnobotany helps us to locate the pattern of settlement of people.

Example: The baobab tree helps to identify African settlements in the past while mango tree is evidence of the African continent’s contact with Europeans.

2. Ethnobotany has also been instrumental in confirming the fact that Africans were advanced in agriculture long before Europeans and other foreigners arrived at the continent. e.g. yam in the Dahomey Gap.

Next Likely WAEC/WASSCE History Question

No discussion of the importance of the study of African history can be complete without the mention of the role of Archaeology.


Definition of Archaeology

Archaeology is the study of a people’s culture by examining excavated (dug out) remains.

Importance of Archaeology in African History

1. Archaeology helps us to understand the way life of people in the past – what they did in terms of religion, politics, economic life etc. For example, archaeology has established the fact that the main economic activity in Ancient Egypt was agriculture.

2. It provides information about how man adapted himself to the natural environment and survived in various conditions. a) Stone tools found in the woodland Savannah zones of Africa b) The discovery of fire changed life in the forest areas of Africa.

3. Archaeological findings have provided information about the material culture of Africa. Here are some examples:

a) lfe works of art in bronze and pottery excavated in 1910

b) Stone houses discovered at the ancient site of Kumbi-Saleh

c) Igbo Ikwu civilization in Nigeria. Especially their achievement in cloth production.

d) Copper and iron industries in Begho.

4. In fact, Archaeology has shown that African societies were highly civilized in pre-Europeans times. Examples are lfe, Benin, Asante etc.

5. One last importance of Archaeology in the study of African history worth mentioning is this. It promotes the application of scientific methods in the effort to learn more about the African past. Radio-carbon dating, for example, continues to be one of the most effective ways of reconstructing the African past.

Final Very Likely WAEC/WASSCE History Question

My only Ghana-specific likely WASSCE History question for you in this tutorial on the importance of the study of African history is finally here.


Sources of the History of Ghana


  1. Written records from Arabic and Islamic writers e.g. Kitab – Ghunga (the chronicle of Gonja) which appeared in the 18th century AD. 
  2. Dairies and records from European traders, explorers and missionaries.  Examples (i) Peter de Marees “Description and historical Account of the Gold Kingdom of Guinea (1601) (ii) Joseph Dupuis: Journal of a Resident in Ashanti (1824).
  3. Works by Ghanaian writers. Examples: a) C.C. Reindorf: “A history of the Gold Coast and Ashanti” (1895) b) John Mensah Sarbah: “Fante National constitution (1906)


  1. Oral traditions: Examples: a) Word-of-mouth historical narratives by the elderly to the younger generation, b) Verbal accounts by court linguists about heroes, oaths (e.g. King Opoku Ware’s The Oath of Memenda), wars etc.
  2. Archaeology e.g. the earliest settlers in Ghana were speakers of the Proto-Kwa language (Akan, Ewe, Ga-Adangme).
  3. Figurative arts: stools, drums etc were embossed with symbols of birds, plants etc. to signify the religious, political and economic life of the early Ghanaian. A good example is the Sankofa bird, a hen surrounded by its brood of chickens etc.

Wrapping it all up …

You have seen the importance of the study of African history. You have also come to realize the role played by other fields of study such as archaeology, ethnobotany, numismatics, ethnography and linguistics in the writing of African history.

These, of course, relate to the documentary and non-documentary sources of gathering data for any investigation into the African past.

You must aslo not forget the methods of writing African history that we have pointed out so clearly.

Now it is your turn to deliver the goods when it is time for you to sit for your WAEC/WASSCE History examination or any comparable test involving these topics.

Good luck.

BEFORE YOU FORGET: Share this post on your favourite social media platform by clicking on one or more icons below. Many thanks.

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up to have personalized learning/teaching tips, tools & tricks delivered into your inbox.