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African Modernities


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Dr Sacha Hepburn
  • Tutors: Dr Ian Sanjay Patel, Dr Hilary Sapire
  • Assessment: a 500-1000-word critical piece and 2000-word essay (15%), 500-1000-word book review and 2000-word essay (15%) and 48-hour take-home examination (70%)

Module description

In this module we survey the history of modern Africa by interrogating underlying concepts of African modernity. We will explore different forms of African modernity since 1800 at the level of both society and politics, and critically examine modernity and modernisation as forms of politics and knowledge in themselves, revealing the extent to which processes and ideas of modernity and modernisation have been externally imposed on Africa by global forces, and the extent to which African modernity has been created by internal forces.

We will seek to identify different aspects of African modernity at domestic, regional and international levels in order to provide a dynamic analysis of African history in the modern period. In order to achieve this, we move across social, political, economic, cultural and legal landscapes and draw upon a range of case studies. Each of the themes and topics within the module speak back to the wider theme of African modernity as a contested set of histories, realities, theories and experiences.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction to modern African history: periodisation and key concepts
  • Africa in the nineteenth century: precursors to European colonisation of the late nineteenth century
  • Conquest and colonisation to World War II and the second colonial occupation: state-making, Africa in two global wars
  • Independence to the present day: building new nations, colonial legacies, economic and social crises; war and conflict, ‘Africa Rising’
  • States and sovereignties and citizenship: ‘subjects and citizens’ under colonialism; nation-building, nationalism from late colonialism to independence; decolonisation and post-colonial states; war, conflict and ‘failed states’; policing borders
  • Cities and urbanisation: ‘The Colonial City’; urbanisation and migration; urban livelihoods; planning and built environments; culture, arts and society in the city
  • Worlds of work: labour in town and countryside: labour mobilisation and migration (regional and global labour diasporas); labour and the land; mines and farms; changing patterns of labour in households and homes
  • Medicine, health and healing: medicine, colonialism and apartheid; medical pluralism and hybridities; medical institutions: hospitals and asylums; professionalisation; HIV-AIDS, Ebola and Covid; research and pharma
  • Identities, personhood and belonging: ethnicities and nationalities; genders and sexualities; religion and faith; age and generation; xenophobia and violence

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate familiarity with diverse themes in the modern history of Africa, from c.1800 to the present day
  • understand and apply key concepts relevant to understandings of the making of modern African polities, societies and cultures
  • account for major changes and shifts in the histories of colonial and post-colonial Africa
  • reflect critically on the conceptual and theoretical literatures on modernity, ‘tradition’ and modernisation and on their application by different generations and schools of scholarship
  • engage critically with the political, cultural and social contexts within the continent and the wider global forces that shaped it
  • discuss the long-range impacts, afterlives and contemporary resonances of major historical developments of the past two centuries.