I am happy to announce that my site the Saharan World at a Glance (SWAG) is now live. This site is an education resource designed to introduce an undergraduate audience to the history, culture and politics of North Africa and the Sahel. This site is specifically conceived of as a tool that students will access on their phones or tablets. The site is built like an online text book made up of short units. These units are meant to be used as introductory or supplementary reading for broader lessons. The first unit published on the site introduces orientalism in the North African context, focusing primarily on Algeria.
SWAG was inspired by my experiences as a teaching assistant at Michigan State. My first teaching experience was working alongside Dr. Peter Alegi, who builds a week of his coverage of Apartheid in South Africa around the site Overcoming Apartheid. I noticed that many students engaged with the site over their phones, often within the first few minutes before class. I remembered my own desperate circling of key arguments on freshly printed articles before classes. I figured that even though procrastination is not new, the way students digest information is. My project tries to recognize shifts in information consumption without sacrificing the quality of its content.
The CHI fellowship generously funded and supported the development of my site. As I set to work I was also teaching my first class composed almost entirely of freshmen, and I owe them some thanks. Teaching this class with Dr. Bailey helped me fine tune my approach to the site. End to end this site is meant for incoming underclassmen: even the goofy, yet easy to remember, title! I used the bootstrap, a mobile first framework, and chose a layout that looks best on tablets, large smart phones and small laptop screens. The units are composed of micro-essays. The writing is conversational and short paragraphs are broken up by captivating images.
The first unit relies heavily on nineteenth century art demonstrate orientalist trends in western thought. The essays are broken up into four sections I introduce Said’s critique and give a brief history of east-west divides. I then move on to a unit on masculinity followed by a unit on sexuality. I close with an attempt to weave the diverse threads together in a section on white slave narratives. Nestled within the broader lesson are introductory facts about the French conquest of Algeria, the civilizing mission, and slavery in Africa.
I see this site as an ongoing project. I plan to add a page that directs students to further readings and perhaps a more detailed gallery for this unit. I will also continue to add units as I develop courses and conduct my own research on Islam in Africa. The next unit will give an overview of Sufi Islam in Africa.