Africa's Great Civilizations

Africa's Great Civilizations

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 1:00pm - 7:30pm

Pictured: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gazes out towards the ruins of the ancient city of Meroë in Sudan.


Credit: Courtesy of Courtesy of Nutopia Limited

Africa's Great Civilizations, the six-hour documentary series hosted, executive produced and written by Emmy Award-winning Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., airs in its entirety Sunday, December 3 from 1 p.m.  to 7:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

In the new documentary, Professor Gates presents — for the first time for a popular audience — a new vision not only of Africa’s pivotal place in world history, but also the world’s relation to Africa.

Africa is the ancestral home to the human community and to many of the pivotal breakthroughs in the history of civilization, yet the continent continues to be stereotyped as an isolated and underdeveloped region in the mind of outsiders, devoid of any profound historical achievements. Africa's Great Civilizations dispels these myths and other inaccuracies about Africa through a detailed and riveting examination of significant historical events, such as the rise of its powerful kingdoms, the growth of extensive trade networks with the Middle East, Europe and China, seminal technological and artistic discoveries, and its peoples’ resilience in the face of harrowing past traumas.

The public will have a multitude of ways to experience the series online at the Africa's Great Civilizations website, To give viewers a deeper understanding about the numerous African locations visited in the film, the companion website features an interactive map that includes further history on individual sites, with photography or video content as well.  Users can navigate to each location to see specific content related to that region or site, with content highlighting architecture, culture, religion, art and more. A trailer for the film is available to watch now at the following link:

“This series is a very personal journey for me,” says Gates. “My oldest ancestor, Jane Gates, was born in 1819, and I keep her portrait hanging in the kitchen of my house. Her mother was one of the last Africans brought to this country before the slave-trade ended in 1808. I know nothing about her African roots, the culture that produced her. This series is my attempt to find my African ancestry, and to restore for all African Americans the cultural heritage that we all have inherited from the millions of our nameless African ancestors.” 

In Africa's Great Civilizations, Gates introduces viewers to the African continent through a series of expansive views and myth-busting revelations. His six-hour exploration of the African past begins at the origins of human existence. Through anthropological and scientific discoveries, viewers learn that Africa is the genetic home of all currently living humanity. Only between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago, did some of humanity’s common ancestors leave the continent to spread across the rest of the world. These great African migrations culminated in the diverse global peoples and societies that viewers know today. Beginning with this great revelation, Gates then traces the roots of agriculture, writing, artistic expression, and iron working to their birthplaces on the continent. The following are descriptions for the three-part, six-hour series:

HOUR ONE: ORIGINS: Journey with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Kenya, Egypt and beyond as he discovers the origins of man, the formation of early human societies and the creation of significant cultural and scientific achievements on the African continent.

HOUR TWO: THE CROSS AND THE CRESCENT: Gates charts the ancient rise of Christianity & Islam, whose economic & cultural influence stretched from Egypt to Ethiopia. Learn of African religious figures like King Lalibela, an Ethiopian saint and Menelik, bringer of the Ark of the Covenant.

HOUR THREE: EMPIRES OF GOLD: Gates uncovers the complex trade networks and advanced educational institutions that transformed early north and west Africa from deserted lands into the continent’s wealthiest kingdoms and learning epicentres.

HOUR FOUR: CITIES:  Gates explores the power of Africa’s greatest ancient cities, including Kilwa, Great Zimbabwe and Benin City, whose wealth, art and industrious successes attracted new European interest and interaction along the continent’s east and west coasts.

HOUR FIVE: THE ATLANTIC AGE: Gates explores the impact of the Atlantic trading world, giving rise to powerful new kingdoms, but also the transatlantic slave trade.  Learn of the revolutionary movements of the 18th & early 19th centuries, including the advent of Sokoto Caliphate.

HOUR SIX: CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS: Learn more about the 19th century “Scramble for Africa,” as Gates examines the extent of European interference from the expansion of the slave trade to the destructive Belgian Congo Free State.