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Introduction to African History: Africa from Zero to Now


Admission requirements

Not applicable


Africa was again in the news a lot in 2019, with quite different messages: a number of African countries are experiencing spectacular explosive economic growth; still others are engaged in a sometimes bloody struggle for more democracy. The continent is seen as a region with a lot of potential, given the demographic developments, urbanization and modernization that are taking place. However, it is also a continent with a long history. Not only is the continent the cradle of mankind and the geologically oldest continent in the world, hosting great civilizations such as ancient Egypt and the Swahili city-states, Africa's history is inextricably linked with that of Europe and the Americas since the early modern period. By studying this past, the present position of the continent in the world will indirectly also be understood.
In this course we put the complexity and diversity of Africa first. We view Africa as part of the world, in which globalizing forces co-determine both the imagination and the realities of African societies. Other connecting themes are technology and power relations. There is no story and no history of Africa.
The lectures are organized per period:
1. The Early History of Africa (Archeology, Origin of Man, Antiquity)
2. The time of the great pre-colonial empires as well as the so-called “stateless societies”
3. The early colonial period
4. The post-WWII period, in which the independence of Africa began to take shape
The Independence and beyond 1990-2019, recent developments.

Course objectives

General Learning Goals

  • The student is able to organize and process relatively large amounts of information.

  • The student is able to reflect critically on knowledge and insights from scientific literature.
    Learning objectives, specifically for the specialization

  • The student has acquired knowledge of the specialization (s) to which the BA lecture belongs; in the specialization General History for the placement of European history after 1500 in a global perspective; in particular in the track History of European Expansion and Globalization; for the emergence of global networks that bring about an increasingly intensive circulation of people, animals, crops, goods and ideas, and the central role of European expansion from about 1500 onwards
    Learning objectives
    The student:

  • Must have develop in-depth skills and counter arguments

  • Acquires basic knowledge of the history of Africa, and is able to place Africa and African history in a global perspective.

  • Is able to think of Africa in terms of its own history, in which Africans are not only innocent and unwilling victims of outside forces. Students will be confronted with the creativity of the human mind, in which Africans show their own input and initiative within the history of the world as a whole.

  • Is able to give a bird's eye view of the history of Africa, and to historically interpret contemporary developments in Africa and in Africa in relation to the world; they can show how developments in present-day Africa often have their origins in the past


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Excursion to an archive or Museum

  • Independent literature study

Assessment method

All learning objectives of the BA Lecture are tested by means of two partial tests:
Partial test 1: Written exam (on the material of the first 6 lectures, including the accompanying literature)
Partial test 2: Written exam (covering the entire course material)


Test 1: 50%
Test 2: 50%
The final grade for the course is determined by determining the weighted average based on partial grades.


While resit exams is mandatory to the lecturer it is not for the student. It will consist of four questions drawn from the whole course and the student will make a choice and answer two questions.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Erik Gilbert & Jonathan Reynolds, Africa in World History (3rd edition), Pearson, 2012

  • Any additional literature will be announced during the semester


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats