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Negotiating Power in Africa


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.

NB. This course can also be chosen as an elective within the programmes MA International Relations/MA International Studies, MA African Studies en ResMA African Studies.


In this seminar, we will study 20th century African history through the lens of power. We will focus particularly on how power is being received, consumed, negotiated and reproduced by people subject to power structures in Africa.

These power structures include international relations and Africa’s position in the international sphere, in terms of geo-politics, in international trade, and as an emerging continent. But it also concerns national and local dynamics of socio-political and economic negotiation of power.

Being subjected to such power structures leads to dynamic responses such as struggles for political change, dictatorial regimes, religious movements, labour movements, social uprisings. How people act and react depends on many variables such as age, wealth, origin in urban or rural areas and religion. The spaces where such political agency is performed go beyond the classical political field and include as well social media, art and music, and informal political action.

Through a series of case studies, we will study how African societies have developed through processes of social and political contest, and how people’s understandings of power shapes political action in Africa.

The seminar series will benefit from the collaboration of various lecturers in the African History section who will each bring their expertise on themes, approaches, regions and historic periods to the course.

The students are challenged to develop their own case study and produce an written essay or an equivalent of it in the form of a film, radio programme, or web publication.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Will acquire in-depth knowledge and understanding of how African societies have developed through processes of social and political contest, and how people’s understandings of power shapes
    political action in Africa;
  2. Will be equiped with the ability to critically reflect on interface of power and agency in Africa, and how agencies are performed in multiple cultural domains;
  3. Will acquire the tools to produce academic knowledge in alternative formats, such as film, radio programme or web publication;
  4. (ResMA only): Will acquire the abiliy ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;
  5. (ResMA only): Will acquire the abiliy to identify new approaches within existing academic debates;
  6. (ResMA only ): Will gain knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Lectures 12 × 2 hours: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 56 hours

  • Assignment(s), including final paper/film/radio programme/web publication: 200 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography) – or equivalent
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11, 12-15 (ResMA also: 10, 16-18)

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 13-15


Written paper (or equivalent): 80 %
Oral presentation: 20 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Exchange of relevant course information

  • Submission of written work

Reading list

A selection of articles and book chapters, to be announced on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Mw. Prof. dr. M.E. de Bruijn
Mw. Dr. M.J. de Goede