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FEB. 6-27

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In his Africa in History, British historian Basil Davidson dismissed the notion that Africa is “a kind of Museum of Barbarism whose populations have stayed outside the laws of human growth and change through some natural failing or inferiority.” While his characterization of the mainstream midcentury European view may seem exaggerated, Davidson—whose scholarly work helped change the terms in which African history is perceived—knew as well as anyone how parochial the West’s idea of Africa was just a generation ago, when he began his career. (A fish-shaped box illustrated in Africa in History is pictured.) In 1984, the historian decided to bring a new understanding of African history to a general audience by narrating a series of eight one-hour films. The National Museum of African Art is presenting the series two episodes at a time, beginning this week with Different but Equal, which investigates some of the continent’s earliest great civilizations, and Mastering a Continent, which considers the rigors of Africa’s climate and topography (at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6). Subsequent weeks bring films about African kingdoms and the role of gold in African history (at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13), the effect of European colonialism and the ideas and technology that came with it (at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20), and the struggle for African independence and legacy of the colonial era (at 2 p.m. Sunday Feb. 27). At the National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark Jenkins)