Her “teaching style was to open class by asking someone for their thoughts about the readings. She would then tell that person that they were completely wrong, ask them to elaborate on their point, tell them that they were still wrong, ask them to elaborate, etc., etc. until she would call on the next person and ask for their thoughts on the reading. This continued for the entirety of the 2-hour class period. 100% of what she said was a direct critique to our comments—so no background information on African history or the context of our readings, nothing that wasn’t about OUR interpretation (which was, personally speaking, completely uninformed about Africa) of the readings. It felt like being dropped in the middle of a conversation and was simply unhelpful and uninformative. There was such negative, soul-sucking energy. We had several African students and I really valued the experiences they brought into the class… until they stopped speaking about a month in because they were so attacked for their personal perspective. She did not answer any emails or give any feedback on our 1st 2 papers before she took medical leave for the rest of the semester. Which is not her fault I’m sure, but just added to the whole “experience. We had 3 different people fill in after that, none of whom communicated with each other or could get a hold of Prof Zeleke. Being able to answer elementary-level Jeopardy questions about Africa is the extent of what I got out of this 4 credit class, and that is only due to the series of substitutes we had after her departure.
This is a cautionary tale which is utterly different from what you are going to see downstairs. You CANNOT step on instructor Mokoena's toes, this woman got a pinched nerve. Translation--she is extremely sensitive about any racial commentaries(She is a black woman from South Africa), even though she is teaching African Civilizations. If in any way that she thinks you might have any bias or prejudice against blacks, then you are doomed. She will fail you regardless how good you think your essays are and how hard you worked on your papers. Despite the fact she gives a lot of As in her class, she also failed a legion of students in the past for the above reasons. She even got threats from former students. This is not what I said. All the information in this review is what she said in class herself. So be warned if you are not black.
Professor Stephens is a fine professor. I had her for African Civilizations, a seminar Core requirement. She is straightforward, fair, and unassuming. She isn't going to knock your socks off, but she definitely knows her subject matter. I would take a class with her again. She expects you to participate, going as far as to call on you directly if you haven't been contributing to the discussion. Just do the reading and the rest takes care of itself.
I got an A in this class (I average an A-) so I am probably biased, but this was one of my favorite classes this semester. She is a really smart lady. Just google her and tons of interviews will pop up. That being said, she is not pompous at all. She actually loves to laugh and is one of the nicest teachers I've had at Columbia. She runs the class very informally. She will show up 5 minutes late, and expect you to do the same. The class is run like CC. The discussions tend to be very lively and at the least, very entertaining. There is about 10-20 pages of reading each class, and if you have even a marginal interest in Africa, these will be some of the most painless readings you have ever done. I really felt like I learned a lot about Africa by taking this class. But, Africa Civ. majors will probably find this class pretty boring and redundant. I would highly suggest this class to people trying to get a good grade in a relaxed setting. Visual hour on monday nights does suck, but you can just bring your laptop and rage out on some facebook, online poker, or whatever floats your boat. The guy who teaches visual hour is a librarian and reminds of Treebeard with how he talks. I would highly suggest ignoring him and distracting yourself with the conveniences of a laptop. Especially because none of what he says is in anyway relevant to the paper topics you will probably choose.
In fairness to Jen, African Civ is not an optimally designed course. In one semester, students are obliged to study not only the entire history and culture of three African societies (which are often bristling with such vast complexity and interconnectivity with surrounding areas that one is unsure such divisions are prudent in the first place) but the works of African nationalist leaders in the 1960s as well as modern West African intellectual movements. What is shortchanged here is immense- vast swathes of Africa go unnoticed, historical periods are left by the wayside, and culture is reduced to a few basic bullet points. Given the circumstances, the course manages to pack in quite a great deal of interesting literature, fascinating films, and even a good amount of complexifying theory and discussion. What such a course needs is an instructor up to the task of prioritizing all these features in an exciting, dynamic, and coherent fashion- one which leaves plenty of room for students to engage in intelligent, organized debate amongst themselves. Jen's style embraced two irreconcilable extremes- she either let us spout off about whatever or pulled the reins in too tight in order to treat us to a kindergarten-light laundry-list of essential items in the given cultures or writings. Another respect in which she treated us like insolent children was her frequent chiming of "so who did the reading besides ___?" Often, attempting to interact with her was like talking to a wall; although several would reword the exact answer she would be looking for, she would deny we understood what she wanted- only to repeat the same point we had been mentioning, as Bible truth, the next day. When two grad students from the music department showed up to teach the class one day, they were a breath of fresh air and demonstrated to me what the class could be- still limiting, in other words, but far more engaging. Africa, unlike Europe, has had much greater difficulty weaving a coherent story of itself, and this accounts for the somewhat fragmented nature of the course. But it also renders African civilization a fundamentally more difficult- and, indeed, time consuming subject to teach than that of its cousin across the Mediterranean. To engage in this painstakingly partial survey of a continent, shoehorned into an abrupt semester, is to realize that even the expansiveness with which the Core treats Western thought and culture- in no fewer than six semesters, at least -could not itself begin to contain what is ultimately still rendered, by such a curtailed curriculum, a relatively dark continent. I am glad for the brief glimpses African Civ allowed me, but I wonder what it is one is supposed to distill from it. Too large in scope to be sufficiently taught, too little in student interest to be expanded significantly, it will probably lumber on as another awkward expression of Columbia's attempt to find a more appropriate place for and perhaps a more accurate expession of Major Cultures than the Core's small back shelf.
Jen is nice, young, and totally disorganized. The stuff covered in the class isn't her focus (she's just finishing up her dissertation on Public Health in Uganda), and there are a lot of questions she doesn't know the answers to. She has this tendency to write on the board totally incoherently, and class time didn't always help clarify the general ideas as much as the specific tangents the class discussion went off on. Otherwise, she's nice and approachable enough -- not necessarily recommended but not a nightmare either.
I have to disagree with the previous negative reviews about Ms. Palmer. I thought she was a great instructor. She was very nice and very approachable. There is a lot of reading and some of it can be a little dry but Ms. Palmer trys to make it as interesting as she can. This is really a pretty easy course at columbia. Much of the class is summarizing the readings so if you do at least part of the reading for the class you should have something to contribute. I would suggest this course for a major cultures class and anyone at all interested in Africa. There is also a weekly visual hour where we watched movies or heard lectures. This actually was my favorite part of the course because you could sit back and take it in without having to really think.
Professor Mann is an entertaining and very knowledgeable professor. He is young, hip and has a nice reparte with the class. The structure of the class is kind of loose. We read articles and then have discuss them. He rarely straight out lectures, which is good for people who find that teaching style boring and not so great for people who want to hammer down the issues and the facts. He is not a very easy grader on papers but not unfair either. He takes the class to see a movie and eat Ethiopian food which is cool. He is approachable for the most part. The only thing that is a bummer about the class is the longer paper we have to write. Otherwise I like him and definately take his section over Felicity's.
Ms. Palmer is the best grad-student instructor that I've had at Columbia. She knows what she's talking about and tries to make class discussions engaging. This doesn't work very long though b/c after the first 2 weeks of class, the readings get really long and boring. Try to say something even though you don't do the reading b/c for some reason she takes it personally when nobody reads. The midterm was EXTREMELY easy because she tells you what readings to focus on and tells you the themes that will be covered.
You should get the point by now. What it comes down to is a nice old lady teaching a pretty interesting, yet challenging course. She is probably one of the better professors teaching African Civ, but the class itself may not be the easiest way to fulfill the major cultures requirement. And don't think that just because she's nice that she's an easy grader, because she is quite demanding in terms of discussion, papers, and exams. Think about this one pretty carefully.
Professor Palmer can be very condesending. The class is organized and straight-forward but she makes the class a drag to attend. Her assignments are not that hard. But her grading on midterms and Finals are unjustified. I suppose I'd reccomend this class for your Major Culture requirement., but I suggest you learn how to get into her head because that's the only way she'll give you a good grade.
Professor Wright is indeed a charming woman (despite, or maybe because of, her age) who is extremely knowledgeable in African history and culture. Overall, that is why taking African Civ with her so a pretty good experience. However, there are a few logistical complaints that I wanted to mention. First of all, the midterm and final were quite fair content-wise (she even told us half of what would be on the final) but for me, they always took a lot of time and had too many parts. The final, for example, involved three pretty substantial essays along with a lot of ID's, and we only had 2 hours to complete it, which makes up for a feverish exam period. Another thing that got a bit on my nerves (and kind of hurt my grade) was the lack of direction she gave for the papers, especially the longer one. We could write on any topic in African history and culture in conjuction with her permission, which is a lot of freedom. But this is not necessarily good, because she was often very picky with the grades and comments, often punishing students for omitting something when this was really the result of her misdirection. Unlike some other people, I actually found the visual hour component to be the best part of the class, since we got to watch cool movies and documentaries in numerous African issues. (The evening timing of the visual hour, was on the other hand, a bit burdensome.) Oh, and one more thing: if you're the quiet type, then forget about taking this class because she often picks on the silent kids and participation is like 20-25% of your grade. In general, she is a nice teacher and this is a fun class (if you're interested in the material), just so long as you know what you're getting yourself into.
When a little old white lady in a lace-collared blouse walked into my class, I was slightly worried. After 20min though I realized it was all going to be okay and she knew her stuff. Prof. Wright is a brilliant teacher who wants everyone in the class to be engaged in the conversation. Her enthusiasm for the subject is catching and her discussions interesting. Take this class!
Mann is good. Not great, but good. You'll learn a fair amount about West, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe in this class. Addtionally, you should pick up some of themes in the present debate over the political and economic direction Africa should take. Mann is a sarcastic, occasionally too much so, but overall he's a nice guy and fair teacher. Overall, an fun, informative way to fufill Major Cultures List A
Professor Mbodj is an interesting, thoughtful professor whose accent is very easy to understand, but whose thoughts are sometimes very strange and rambling. He's very knowledgable of African history, and is particularly keen on making you understand the subtleties of imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. Class is basically a bullshit "student discussion" until someone says something that sparks his imagination and then he goes off on a rant for the rest of class. Overall, there is way too much work, class is usually boring, and the "visual hours" once a week (sometimes almost 2 hours long) are unneccessary and incredibly boring. You could skip them but he takes attendance (as he does in class as well).
Professor Wright is very cool. You're going to have to take my word for it until you take a class with her, since she's an older woman with a tendency to wear cute plaid dresses, and cool may not be the first word that comes to mind when you see her. However, when you get to know her you'll see that she's really fascinating and intelligent, and isn't afraid to challenge common views even when its controversial. She wants students to take an active role in the course, and is refreshingly far from arrogant. She knows her stuff, but wants students to form and defend their own ideas. African civ can be frustrating at times because the course is trying to do so many things at once, but if you take it with her you'll definitely get something out of it.
It's not an easy class. It's 4 points for a reason. There is a good deal of reading, and Prof. Mann expects you to able to discuss in class. Mann also expects you to show up; he's very strict on attendance. But a good deal of the reading is interesting, and Mann is a fun discussion leader. He lets the conversation go where the class wants, and he's incredibly knowledgable. If you're not going to find Africa at all enthusing, than the class probably isn't for you, but I took it just to get an A list African class out of the way (so I could get into the African-American B and C list classes) and I got a lot out of it.