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Unit information: Postcolonial Africa: Politics, Society and Culture (Level I Special Field) in 2016/17

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Unit name Postcolonial Africa: Politics, Society and Culture (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HIST26027
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Rob Skinner
Open unit status Not open



HIST23008 Special Field Project

School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit focuses on the history of post-independence Africa from the 1950s through to the present. It seeks to challenge pre-conceptions of this period as one of unremitting decline, disaster and crisis – without denying the reality of conflict and political failure. While recent observers have characterized the past half century in calamitous terms, a critical historical approach moves beyond the dichotomy of ‘good news’ versus ‘bad news’ often associated with African issues. Should we, in fact, talk of ‘African’ issues at all, given the environmental, social and cultural diversity of the continent? The Unit explores the contemporary political, social and cultural history of sub-Saharan Africa through comparative studies of specific states and regions. The themes of the unit will include the political ideologies of post-independence leaders; militarism, autocracy and one-party rule; the influence of ‘tradition’; poverty, economic development and decline; cultural production and popular culture.


  • To place students in direct contact with the current research interests of the academic tutor
  • To enable students to explore the issues surrounding the state of research on the history of post-independence Africa
  • To develop students' ability to work with primary sources
  • To develop students' abilities to integrate primary source material into a wider historical analysis
  • To develop students' ability to learn independently within a small-group context

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit students should have:

  • deepened their understanding of the history of post-independence Africa
  • become more experienced and competent in working with a widening range of primary sources
  • become more adept at contributing to and learning from a small-group environment
  • be able to outline and assess and competing explanations for developments in post-colonial Africa

Teaching Information

  • Weekly 2-hour seminar
  • Tutorial feedback on essay
  • Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in office hours

Assessment Information

1 x 2 hour exam

Reading and References

Frederick Cooper, Africa Since 1940 – The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Paul Nugent, Africa Since Independence (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Martin Meredith, The State of Africa (London: Free Press, 2006)

Robert Guest, The Shackled Continent: Africa’s Past Present and Future (London: Pan Macmillan, 2004)

Roy Richard Grinker and Christopher B. Steiner (eds), Perspectives on Africa: a reader in culture, history, and representation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997)