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The Lusophone South Atlantic


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

Completion of at least one of the following courses:

  • Birth of the Modern World

  • Introduction to Globalization and Transnational Politics

  • Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies

The following courses are recommended:

  • Power in World Politics,

  • Nations and Nationalism.


The oceans of the world separate, but also connect people. The Atlantic Ocean has served as a space of connection between people from Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe for more than five centuries. This course traces the transatlantic routes travelled and communities formed by those who came to adopt Portuguese as their language, whether in Brazil, Angola, elsewhere in Africa, or in Portugal itself.

In the 15th century Europeans began crossing the Atlantic, spearheading flows of people, weapons, crops, commodities, diseases, and ideas which yielded what Trouillot (2002) calls the first moment of globality. Along with Spain, Portugal was a driving force of that moment with Portuguese sailors, soldiers, missionaries, and merchants engaging in conquest, conversion attempts, warfare, agriculture, and trade in the so-called New World. There, the European settlers increasingly came to rely on the labour of African people who had been enslaved and brought across the ocean, yielding a South Atlantic economy in which the slave trade was central. While these practices benefitted Iberian actors significantly, they spurred resistance and revolts among both enslaved and indigenous people but also bargaining processes and cultural exchanges. The processes to abolish slavery and achieve independence from colonial rule were also shaped by transatlantic links, as are the ongoing movements of people, commodities and ideas between Brazil and the African states where Portuguese remains widely spoken.

In this course we will study how the South Atlantic became such a space of exchanges in the social, political, economic, and cultural spheres and what this history implies for people living in Brazil, lusophone Africa, and Portugal today. The ocean will be examined as a source of opportunity, imagination, and risk and as material and symbolic reality that shapes its adjacent communities. Exploring transatlantic forms of politics, this course will point to how communities are made through networks, facilitated by seaborne links and shared languages, and sustained by the human propensity to connect across distance.

Course Objectives

By taking this course and engaging with its content, students should be able:

To gain knowledge, as manifested in the ability:

  • To account for how politics is shaped by proximity to the ocean, and by maritime activities that connect people across the high seas,

  • To grasp how long-distance, cross-oceanic movements shape the ways in which people come to identify, and their political views and patterns of behaviour,

  • To discern how the transatlantic slave trade, other commerce, and colonial and postcolonial dynamics have shaped power relations across the South Atlantic,

  • To identify and critically discuss biases in dominant narratives of history, and to compare different narratives about similar historical processes,

  • To explain how movements within the Global South and between the Global South and the Global North have shaped politics in Europe, Africa and South America;

To gain certain skills, as manifested in the ability:

  • To work well in a team,

  • To make a video jointly with peers,

  • To better understand and communicate with people whose experiences, backgrounds, and identities may differ from your own,

  • To express your points well in academic writing,

  • To analyse connections and movements through time, and their implications for politics.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught interactively. Students are expected to come to class prepared by having read the assigned texts, and to participate actively by sharing your questions and remarks.

In an assignment beginning in Week 3, you will work together in groups on a cultural practice or phenomenon in Brazil. Your task will be to explore how it came to exist in the transatlantic space and how enslaved African people and their descendants have shaped Brazilian culture and politics. You will present what you found in a video and in class. Students will further be expected to write reflections on the readings on a regular basis. In a final essay, you will have the chance to analyse in depth one topic related to the lusophone South Atlantic.

Assessment Method

  • Reflections: 35%

  • Group project video: 20%

  • Group project presentation in class: 10%

  • Essay: 35%

Reading list

The reading list will be available upon commencement of the course. Meanwhile, students who would like to take the course are welcome to read the following text:

  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2002. North Atlantic Universals: Analytical Fictions, 1492-1945. The South Atlantic Quarterly 101:4, 839-858


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Ingrid Samset,