African history for beginners
Time: 19:30 - 21:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HWH59
Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
Note: Course starts today, check start time
What is the course about?
This course is about the history of Africa since 1800. It offers a way to contextualise many of the trends and challenges in the continent today and invites students to see Africa in a new light.
The course is thematic. Each major theme will be illustrated with case studies, from the European Scramble to the Rwandan genocide. Other core ideas, like Afrocentrism, agency, colonialism, and women’s rights are included too, appearing in multiple sessions as integral parts of the course.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
Each week covers a theme:
‘Knowledge’ asks what we know about Africa and how we know it. It takes a historiographical view and addresses the nature of sources. Our case study will be the abolition of the slave trade in 1807: did Britain really ‘save’ Africa?
‘Rulers’ focuses on political power and those who ruled Africa through time. Starting with the nineteenth century, we will consider Msiri’s Yeke Kingdom and the later rise of European empires and then tyrants in the post-colonial world, with a focus on Idi Amin in Uganda. What is the source of political power, and how has this changed over time?
‘Wealth’ looks at political economy and how Africans and non-Africans have used land and labour to generate wealth. Our case study will be Leopold’s Congo.
‘Identity’ focuses on two questions: How do Europeans think of Africans, and how do Africans think of themselves? The key ideas are race, ethnicity, gender and nationalism. The Rwandan genocide will be our case study.
‘Violence’ asks why there have been so many wars and conflicts in Africa’s recent past. We’ll explore some of the major theories of violence on the continent, using case studies from the broad sweep of African history. We shall look at precolonial warfare, European conquest, Africa’s experience of World War Two, anti-colonial violence and Cold War proxy conflicts. Our case studies will be the Angolan War of Independence and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in Congo.
The final week, ‘States’, unifies everything into a new understanding of African governments. We will consider failed states and power vacuums by exploring a range of examples to the present day. Our case study will either be warlordism in Somalia or anarchism in Madagascar. We’ll see how NGOs operate in the absence of effective states and we’ll ask how far African governments today are reproducing long-term historical patterns.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
-Describe modern Africa in a broad context.
-Discuss the dominant narratives of Africa; especially those framing the continent as an under-developed ‘basket-case’ or consider Africans incapable of organisation or self-government.
- critically assess the role of Western powers and their relations with Africa, be they imperial or current.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
This course is introductory and open to all learners. No prior knowledge of Africa is required, although it is very much welcomed.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The classes will be a combination of tutor lectures and class discussions driven by the students. There will be one piece of required reading per week, plus optional reading for those who want to go further. Students will be asked to briefly summarise what they have learned from the reading, guided by the tutor. This will allow students to hear about a wide variety of sources from their peers and will encourage the class to work through the course as a team. Students can opt-out of weekly readings, but they may get less out of the course if they do.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Students will find it easier if they make notes on the lectures and readings, but this is not required.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
You may be interested in the following courses:
HWH62 The British Empire in sub-Saharan Africa
HPC117 Central African politics for beginners
HPC97 China's development aid in Africa, Central Asia and South Asia: aid or political strategy?
James studied at the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics, specialising in empires, colonialism and globalisation. He finished top of his class in African history and his postgraduate thesis explored the Central African Federation, focusing on the political economy of the British Empire after WWII. Today, he researches state power, propaganda and economic crises and their relationships to violence, consent and rebellion. In 2018, James began a fellowship with Google, during which he was placed at the Times newspaper in London, before training as a journalist with the NCTJ. He has worked as a reporter for a local paper in Essex and as an English tutor in East London. At City Lit, James teaches courses on political economy, African history and British imperialism. He believes education should be available to all and encourages a diversity of ideas in the classroom. For James, education is about scrutinising the systems around us and imagining alternative ways to live.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.