Skip to main content

Unit information: Africa in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Africa
Unit code ARCH20051
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Mark Horton
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

A history and anthropology unit providing an introduction to themes and issues in the study of Africa from the late Stone Age to late pre-colonial times.


  • Provide a broad understanding of the later prehistoric and historic archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Link the African past to modern anthropological themes, such as religion and society, trade and urbanism, migration in the past and present, materialities, familiy and village life, farming and subsistence;
  • Provide exposure to current debates within modern African studies. These disciplinary arguments show how understanding of the past actively contributes to the construction of a nuanced and rich heritage of the people that lived on the African continent;
  • Explore the interdisciplinary methodologies that research within Africa brings, bringing together data from archaeology, ethnography, evolutionary anthropology, material culture, oral traditions, historical linguistics and historical documents
  • Challenge the popularly-received wisdom about the precolonial African past, an image born of the colonial period itself, and one used to legitimize and construct those hegemonies.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of the unit, a successful student will be able to:

1) Discuss the later prehistoric and historic archaeology of sub-Saharan Africa

2) Understand the nature of traditional African societies and the challenges that they face in the modern world

3) Recognise how the colonial and post colonial history of Africa has influenced our understanding of African societies

4) Analyse the inter-relationship between different strands of evidence and other ways of accessing the African societies (such as historical linguistics, oral history, colonial records, traveller accounts, ethnography and anthropology)

5) Link common themes, such as state formation and chieftainship, urbanism markets and trade, the spread of Christianity and Islam, farming, metallurgy, across the continent, using case studies to help

Teaching Information

One 2-hour interactive lecture each week, plus one hour per week divided between seminars (including student presentations) and tutorials. One half-day field trip.

Assessment Information

Two 2500 word essays (summative, each 50%). ILOs 1-5

One seminar presentation, mandatory for credit, but for formative assessment only.

The first essay will be focused on topics covered in the first part of the unit. The second essay will build on the student's presentation and be focused towards the latter part of the unit's coverage.

Reading and References

Any of the introductory texts on the bibliography will provide a good basis for this class. In particular, though, you might want to look at:

Comaroff, J.L. and Comaroff (eds.) 1993. Modernity and its malcontents: ritual and power in post-Colonial Africa. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Geshiere, P. 1997. The modernity of witchcraft: politics and the occult in postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia

Horton, M. & Middleton, J. 2001. The Swahili. Oxford: Blackwells.

Okpoko et al. (ed.) 1993. The archaeology of Africa: food, metals and towns (Routledge).

Phillipson, D.W. 2005. African Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Third Edition).

Stahl, A.B. 2005. Introduction: Changing Perspectives on Africa’s Past, in A. Stahl (ed.) African Archaeology: a critical introduction, pp. 1 – 23. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.