UCL African Studies Research Centre


CMII0001 - Africa: Dialogues of Past and Present

Value: 15 credits
Tutor: Professor Kevin MacDonald, Dr Hélène Neveu Kringelbach, and various guest lecturers
Assessment: 2 essays of 2,000 words each


This first element of the African Studies core course explores the interplay of the pre-colonial and colonial past with contemporary circumstances and practices. It will provide students with a background in the relevance of the Africa’s past for understanding its present socio-economic and environmental situation. The organization of the course will be thematic, rather than temporal, with lecture/seminar sets of two hours each developing issues from multiple perspectives and time-depths.

Lectures will be delivered in pairs, with each lecturer presenting contrasting disciplinary perspectives, and/or examining the pre-colonial and post-colonial contexts of the same issue.

Case studies will be developed from across the continent and from disciplines including history, archaeology, anthropology, and geography. A seminar guided by the same presenters will follow each lecture pairing allowing open discussion of the issues raised. By examining key historical ideas and enduring themes across time, this first course provides an effective background for the second core course, Debating Africa’s Future, and together they develop a broad knowledge-base from which to explore African Studies track-specific options.

Course outline:

  1. Representations: Looking at Africa from the outside
  2. Climate change, ecology and subsistence
  3. Ethnicity and the politics of belonging
  4. Belief
  5. Urbanism and hinterlands
  6. Traditional political systems
  7. Slavery and rights in persons
  8. Colonialism and neo-Imperialism
  9. Material crafts, performance and art
  10. The role of the African past in the African present

Key texts:

  • Amselle, J-L. 1990. Mestizo Logics: Anthropology of identity in Africa and elsewhere. Stanford, Stanford University Press.
  • Anderson, D. 2005. Histories of the Hanged: the Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. London, WW Norton & Company.
  • Anderson, D.M. and R. Rathbone 2000. Africa’s Urban Past. Oxford, James Currey.
  • Assensoh, A.B. 1998. African Political Leadership: Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, and Julius K. Nyerere. Malabar.
  • Barber, K. 2000. The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theater. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Beinart, W. & J. McGregor (eds) 2003. Social history and African environments. Oxford, James Currey.
  • Boddy, J. 1989. Wombs and alien spirits: Women, men, and the Zar cult in northern Sudan. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Bollig, M., Schnegg, M., and Wotzka, H. P. (eds.) 2013. Pastoralism in Africa: past, present and future. Oxford, Berghahn Books.
  • Bravmann, R.A. 1974. Islam and Tribal Art in West Africa. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Brennan, J. R., Burton, A., and Lawi, Y. Q. (eds.). 2007. Dar es Salaam: Histories from an emerging African metropolis. Dar es Salaam, African Books Collective.
  • Burnham, P. 1996. The Politics of Cultural Difference in Northern Cameroon. Edinburgh, International African Institute.
  • Burton, A. (ed.) 2002. The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c.1750–2000. Nairobi, British Institute in Eastern Africa.
  • Carmody, P. 2011. The new scramble for Africa. Cambridge, Polity.
  • Charry, E. 2000. Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Cohen, W.B. 2003. The French Encounter with Africans: White Response to Blacks, 1530 – 1880. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Conrad, D.C. and B.E. Frank (eds.) 1995. Status and Identity in West Africa: Nyamakalaw of Mande, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Coombes, A. E. 1997. Reinventing Africa: Museums, material culture and popular imagination in late Victorian and Edwardian England. New Haven, Yale University Press.
  • Cooper, F. 2002. Africa Since 1940: The past of the present. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.
  • Dawson, A.C. (ed.) 2009. Shrines in Africa: History Politics and Society. Calgary, University of Calgary Press.
  • Donham, D. L. 1999. Marxist modern: an ethnographic history of the Ethiopian revolution. Oakland, University of California Press.
  • Evans-Pritchard. E.E. 1937. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Fabian, J. 1996. Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire. Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Fairhead, J. & M. 1996. Leach Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Fairhead, J., T. Geysbeck, S. Holsoe, M. Leach 2003. African-American Exploration in West Africa. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Falola, T. 2001. Nationalism and African intellectuals. Rochester, University of Rochester Press.
  • Ferguson, J. 2006). Global Shadow: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, Duke University Press.
  • Grinker, R.B. and C.B. Steiner 1997. Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history and representation. Oxford, Blackwell.
  • Hadjor, K. B. 1988. Nkrumah and Ghana: the Dilemma of Post-colonial Power. London, Kegan Paul.
  • Harding, F. (ed.) 2002. The performance arts in Africa: a reader. London, Routledge.
  • Hodder, Ian. 1982. Symbols in action: ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Holsey, B. 2008. Routes of remembrance: refashioning the slave trade in Ghana. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Horton, M., and Middleton, J. 2000. The Swahili: The social landscape of a mercantile society. Oxford, Blackwell.
  • Johnson, D. H. and Anderson, M. (eds). 1988. The ecology of survival: case studies from Northeast African history. London, Lester Crook Academic Publishing.
  • Kent, J. 2010. America, the UN and Decolonisation: Cold War Conflict in the Congo. London, Routledge.
  • Klein, M. 1998. Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Kopytoff, I. (ed.) 1987. The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies. Bloomington, Indianapolis.
  • Lane, P.J. and MacDonald, K.C. 2011. Slavery in Africa: Archaeology and Memory. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Leach, M. & R. Mearns (eds) 1996. The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment. IAI, James Currey, Heinemann.
  • Lentz, C. 2006. Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Leonardi, C. 2013. Dealing with Government in South Sudan: Histories of Chiefship, Community and state. Oxford, James Currey.
  • Locatelli, F., and Nugent, P. (eds.). 2009. African cities: competing claims on urban spaces. Leiden, Brill.
  • Lovejoy, P.E. 2000. Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa 2nd Edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Lynch, G. 2011. I say to you: Ethnic politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • MacGaffey, W. 2000. Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Maxwell, D. and P. Harries (eds.). 2012. The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans.
  • Mbembe, A. 2001. On the Postcolony. Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • McCaskie, T.C. 1995. State and Society in Pre-colonial Asante. Cambridge, Cambridge CUP.
  • McIntosh, R. 2005. Ancient Middle Niger: Urbanism and the Self-Organising Landscape. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • McIntosh, R.J., J.A. Tainter and S.K. McIntosh (eds.) 2000. The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History and Human Action, New York, Columbia University Press.
  • McIntosh, S.K. (ed.) 1999. Beyond Chiefdoms: pathways to Complexity in Africa. Cambridge, CUP.
  • McMahon, E. 2013. Slavery and Emancipation in Islamic East Africa: From Honor to Respectability. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • McNaughton, P. R. 1993. The Mande Blacksmiths: knowledge, power, and art in West Africa. Indiana University Press.
  • Miers, S. and I. Kopytoff. 1977. Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological perspectives. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Monroe, J.C. and A. Ogundiran 2012. Power and Landscape in Atlantic West Africa. Cambridge, Cambridge University press.
  • Moore, H.L. & T. Sanders (eds) 2001. Magical interpretations, material realities: modernity, witchcraft, and the occult in postcolonial Africa, London, Routledge.
  • Mudimbe, V. Y. (1988) The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. London, James Currey.
  • Mwakikagile, G. 2006. Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, 3rd edition. Pretoria, New Africa Press.
  • Mwansasu, B. U., and Pratt, C. 1979. Towards socialism in Tanzania. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
  • Nugent, P. 2004. Africa Since Independence: a comparative history. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Nunley, J. W. 1987. Moving with the face of the devil: art and politics in urban West Africa. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press.
  • Pakenham, T. 2003. The Scramble for Africa: white man's conquest of the dark continent from 1876 to 1912. New York, Perennial.
  • Peel, J.D.Y. 2000. Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
  • Richard, F. and MacDonald, K.C. 2015. Ethnic Ambiguity and the African Past. Walnut Creek, Left Coast Press.
  • Shaw, R. 2002. Memories of the slave trade: ritual and the historical imagination in Sierra Leone. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Smith, L. 2013. Making Citizens in Africa: Ethnicity, Gender, and National Identity in Ethiopia. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Spear, T. and Waller, R. (eds). 1993. Being Maasai: Ethnicity and identity in East Africa. Oxford, James Currey.
  • Spear, T. T., and Kimambo, I. N. 1999. East African Expressions of Christianity. Athens, Ohio University Press.
  • Stewart, C. & R. Shaw (eds) 1994. Syncretism/anti-syncretism: the politics of religious synthesis. London, Routledge.
  • Tang, P. 2007. Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.
  • Toulmin, C. 2009. Climate change in Africa. London, Zed Books.
  • Vaughan, O. 2000. Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern politics, 1890s-1990s. Rochester, University of Rochester Press.
  • Young, C. 1994. The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective. New Haven & London, Yale University Press.