Students will explore the development of Black political thought from antiquity to today, both on the continent and in diaspora, considering the role of religions, migrations, conquests and liberations in the shaping of Black political thought.
In this engaging and insightful course, students will take a pan-African approach to their historical and cultural enquiries. Led by ideas, as opposed to particular people and events, students will engage with oral traditions, old and new Arabic, French and English texts, music and photography, to map the synergies and dislocations in the ideas that have propelled the global Black experience.
Module 1: African Cosmology, Religion and Early Political Thought
How have Africans conceptualised the world and its origins? How did this affect how they defined themselves as individuals and within society? How did this affect how they organise their early societies? These are some of the questions that we will dive into in this module.
The module begins by considering the beliefs that underpinned indigenous African societies, allowing students to gain an understanding of the different organs of faith, family and state that developed in Africa before the modern period. Students will then map the ideas and values that shaped African political systems and institutions, including exploring African conceptions of political power and the social contract. Students will also have the chance to consider the influence of Islam, how its arrival affected African political life, and how African and Islamic values combined in the apparatus of state.
A great introduction to Black political thought more generally, this module will give students a solid grounding in indigenous African political thought.
Module 2: Statecraft, Citizenship and the African Personality in the 19th Century
Both the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slave states of the 16th to 19th centuries, and the colonisation of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, had a significant impact on African life, private and public. This module will consider the political consciousness that developed, both on the continent and in diaspora. as a result of these shocks in political and social consciousness.
In particular, students will consider how these experiences caused an evaluation of the social contract and a dissection of concepts such as “citizenship” and “democracy”. Students will also consider how Black communities navigated the issues of “westernisation” and “modernisation”, and what role concepts such as “the African Personality” played in the development of political consciousness on the continent and in diaspora.
Module 3: Consciousness, Nationalism and Pan-Africanism in the 20th Century
Black thinkers of this period made immeasurable contributions to our understanding of republicanism and democracy, laying the ideological foundations for the “new Black states” they hoped would emerge from the debris of slavery and colonisation. Considering both Black Nationalism and African Nationalism, students will explore the ideas that underpinned the push for self-determination and equal citizenship on the continent and in diaspora in the first half of the 20th century.
Students will also dive into the world of diasporic and continental pan-Africanism, understanding their links with Black and African nationalisms and the contributions they made to the development and settlement of Black and African political consciousness as the century progressed. Students will explore the interconnections and intersections of the global Black experience, considering the extent to which shared experiences and heritage translated into cooperation between communities on the ground.
Module 4: Socialism, Populism and the Shaping of New Africa
Most African states to emerge in the 20th century were firmly on the socialist-populist spectrum as thinkers and politicians worked to reconcile the political and social dislocations of the previous half a century. In this module, students will explore the contributions of Black thinkers, both on the continent and in diaspora, to the development of socialist thought and the implementation of populist political action.
Considering the nature of the states proposed and the states that emerged, this module takes a political economy approach to exploring the ideas and events of the period to understand why particular political, social and economic settlements prevailed in some parts of the continent and not in others. Particularly important is the placing of continental events within wider conversations of anti-imperialism and the Cold War. Students will gain an understanding of how external actors influenced developments in Africa and how African patterns of republicanism influenced global discourses on the relationship between the state and the economy.
Module 5: Négritude & Renaissance: The Poetry and Prose of Identity
The two biggest cultural movements of the early 20th century were the Harlem Renaissance and the Négritude movement, through which Black artists sought to create and curate distinct cultural identities that validated the Black experience.
Students will consider in particular the political spirit of the literary works produced, exploring how they dealt with issues of identity, belonging, “Africa” and “blackness”. Combining literary criticism, political enquiry and historical analysis, this module takes an interdisciplinary approach that will help students nurture their critical thinking skills. By exploring the legacy of the movements, students will consider the unique contributions made by Black writers of the period to Anglophone and Francophone literary canons.
Module 6: The Sounds and Visual Cultures of [R]evolution, 1960 to 2000
In this module, students will explore the musical and visual cultures of the Black experience in the second half of the 20th century. From the resistance narratives of Fela Kuti and N.W.A, to the narratives of re-appropriation manifest in the Black is Beautiful and Black Power movements, this course will challenge students to undertake a critical reading of the Black cultural experience, both on the continent and in diaspora, during this period.
In particular, students will explore issues of masculinity, femininity and the power of the state through a study of music, fashion, photography and illustration. Students will consider concepts such as the aesthetics of artistic “radicalism”, the notion of “legitimacy” and “counter culture”, as well as ideas around “empowerment” and “resistance” as manifest in the creative expressions of the time. This unique module aims to give the ideas considered earlier in the course a three-dimensional character.
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 development of Black political thought and culture, with a particular focus on the developments of the 19th and 20th centuries, allowing students to map the ideas that have propelled the global Black experience from Antiquity to today.
By the end of this course, students should understand:
- the development of indigenous African concepts of the state and the citizen, and the relationships that bind the two;
- how Black communities have responded to the dislocations of the slave trade, colonialism and racial injustice on the continent and in diaspora;
- the growth of Black and African iterations of nationalism and Pan-Africanism, and the relationship between the two;
- the political foundations of the new African republics of the 20th century;
- how literary and wider cultural movements sought to manifest liberation ideologies in the first and second halves of the 20th century.
By the end 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 development of ideas across an expanse of time and space;
- to comprehend and analyse complex political ideas;
- to engage with the historiography of the period;
- to write critically and confidently on political and cultural movements.
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.