In this engaging yet challenging programme of study, students will explore how these events have shaped African politics and society, and how African intellectual thought has developed during this period.
Engaging with oral traditions, oral histories, poetry, and literature as well as traditional historical sources such as newspapers, governmental archives and historical writing, students will map developments across the continent. They will gain an invaluable insight into the prevailing role of tradition in defining the African personality, as well as the role of nationalism and pan-Africanism in influencing political consciousness on the continent.
Module 1: African Historiography and Approaches to History
How have Africans told their histories in the past? What is the place of historical discourse in African societies, and how has this evolved over time? These are some of the questions that will be considered in this module that introduces students to “the history of African history’.
Considering the role of oral tradition, cosmology and the written record in the telling of Africa’s past, students will look at how the modern discipline of historical enquiry has developed in Africa. There will also be a consideration of the unique challenges that African historical discourses have faced as a result of the transatlantic slave trade of the 15th to 19th centuries, the colonisation of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the aftermath of those events across the world.
This module will also consider new approaches to African history. Students will explore how concepts of “nation”, “tradition”, “colonialism”, “independence”, “development” and “democracy” are influencing how Africans and other are telling their stories. Students will also look at how notions of religion, “the Islamic world” and “the Christian world” have influenced the study of Africa’s history.
Module 2: Statecraft, Society and Suzerainty in the 19th Century
The period covered by this module included some of the most ambitious state-building campaigns the continent had ever seen.
From the rise of the Asante in the west and the ascendency of Tewodros II in the East, to the rise of Shaka and the Zulus in the South following the upheavals of the Mfecane, new nations and systems of governance were emerging across the continent. These nations would permanently alter the political, social and physical landscapes of their regions, re-shaping political relationships and establishing new economic connections. In particular, how such states interacted with outside forces through war, trade and diplomacy would influence not only the patterns, nature of and extent of European colonisation, but would nurture mythologies that entered into the popular psyche, helping to inspire the independence movements of the 20th century.
Students will undertake a range of historical enquiries into this period, considering the changing nature of kingship and developments in warfare, as well as undertaking explorations of population trends and cultural historical developments. Explorations of the position of women and femininity in general, changing religious identities and the impact of the coast on intra-continental relations, will allow students to think more critically about Africa, her states and her people during this period.
Module 3: Resistance and Rebellion in the African Colonies
The second half of the 19th century saw increasing foreign economic suzerainty across the continent. This was followed by political, social and cultural suzerainties of various degrees as the century closed and the 20th century began. In this module, students will look at how communities across the continent conceptualised of the growing foreign influence and how they responded.
By considering both the resistance of leadership to usurpation and the resistance of populations to foreign suzerainty, students will gain an understanding of patterns of individual and collective actions which limited foreign incursions into the continent. Students will explore not just political resistance but also how societies across Africa responded to the effects of colonisation on language, religion, and the position of women.
The module also consider the emergence of pan-African ideals by exploring the contributions of Africans from the diaspora to the resistance, particularly in West Africa. They will also explore the link between this, the missionary movement and the rise of new African intellectualism, and how this new intellectualism shaped and directed resistance and rebellion, laying the foundations of the nationalist movements of the 20th century.
Module 4: The Politics and Economics of Colonisation
This module will focus on the methods, systems and structures of colonisation. Focussing on the British sphere of influence, students with map the politics and economics of territories under British administration.
This will begin with gaining an understanding of the different “colonisations” that took place on the continent, from the settler communities of the south and east, to indirect rule in the protectorates of West Africa, and the full colonies of the continent such as Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos. The aim is to decipher the semantics of imperialism to gain a lucid understanding on what “colonisation” looked like on the ground; how political, economic, religious and cultural colonial campaigns interrelated; the role of new African intellectuals in the colonial world; and how concepts of “modernity” should be considered in light of the colonial experience.
Students will also explore the economics of colonisation, gaining an understanding of the African and global stakeholders in the colonial economy, how colonisation was funded and how value was extracted. The module will take an integrated approach to economic enquiries, considering the place of individual colonies with the global economy, as well as the place of all colonies within the African economy. Students will look at how and why colonial economies differed across the continent, including a consideration of natural and built topographies, existing systems of governance and trade, and the patterns and nature of resistance.
Module 5: African Nationalism and Pan-Africanism
The 20th century saw the rise of African nationalism and the growing influence of pan-African ideals from across the Black world in continental affairs.
Considering events on the continent and in diaspora, students will not just map the rise of nationalist sentiment, but will consider the rise of the structures that nurtured that sentiment such as the growth of colonial military, campaigns for universal and higher formal education, the growth of the press and the development of party political discourse.
The module will consider contemporary debates around the methods of decolonisation and the forms that new nations should take, including an exploration of tribal and national identities and debates around federalism and con-federalism.
Continental and diasporic ideas about pan-Africanism will be considered, allowing students to consider African nationalism within the global Black experience. This will involve a look at the intellectual history of the period as well as a study of the men, women and movements through which independence, nationalism and pan-nationalism were conceptualised and delivered.
Module 6: The First Republics
From socialist republics to free market capitalist states, Africa’s new nations of the 20th century were as varied as they were numerous. The task before them was great – how to build modern nations on an intellectual, bureaucratic, industrial and military base that was less than one generation old.
Students will explore the nature of the new republics, the internal political and structural challenges they faced, and what factors determined whether they were able to survive their first generation. This will include an exploration of attempts made to develop national sentiment, how the multiplicity of religious and cultural sentiments were treated in the law, and the role of regional and continental multilateral organisations in shaping the first republics.
The module will also explore the external challenges faced by Africa’s new nations including the inequities of world trade, persisting and growing notions of Afrophobia and negrophobia, and the budding shoots of neo-colonialism. How did Africans conceptualise of these internal and external challenges? What contributions did these new republics make to our understanding of constitutions, authority, democracy and the African spirit? These are just some of the questions student will consider in this module.
Please note that the options listed above are illustrative and may be subject to change.
Course Delivery and Assessment
The course is delivered through online learning via video lectures, tutorials, essays and exams. Each module is assessed by a 1000-1500 word essay and the course will be examined by a 2-hour open book exam.
This course aims to give students an overview of the political and social developments in Africa between 1800 and 1980 and to place events on the continent firmly within modern world history discourse.
By the end of this course, students should understand:
- the chronology of political and social developments across the continent during this period;
- the rise and fall of various nations in response to internal and external pressures;
- the changing nature of inter-African and international trade and their effects on the African and wider world economies;
- the rise of new African intellectualism;
- The emergence of the modern African nation states.
By the of this course, students should have acquired the ability:
- to conduct research into an area of historical debate, including the use of online digital archives;
- to chart the course of political and social developments across an expanse of time and space;
- to comprehend and analyse complex historical subjects;
- to engage with the historiography of the period;
- to write critically and confidently on historical events.
On successful completion of the course you will be issued with a transcript and a Certificate of Completion and be eligible for an academic reference.
Apeike Umolu is an historian and the founder of the African History Project. She lectures in all aspects of Black history and specialises in West African political history. She has undertaken historical studies at the University of Oxford and is working on her first book on Black Consciousness on 20th century Black political thought.