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The State in Africa


Admission requirements

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


In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the state has become the dominant form of political organization globally and the building block of the international state system. As such, it is the primary unit of analysis and organization in diplomacy, international trade, international development, conflict and peacebuilding, etc. However, the origins of the state in the form that we know it today, lie in the western world. In Africa, the modern state has been imported through the colonial experience of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
After the colonial era, the state has been problematic in Africa as it has in many cases failed to provide basic political goods, has developed into a violent structure of domination, is practically absent in the daily lives of many people, and/or has failed or collapsed due to pressures of poverty, structural mismanagement and conflict. Despite its shortcomings, the African state remains an important structure, not the least because it continues to be an important centre of accumulation for (aspiring) elites.

In this course, we will study the modern African state, looking at its colonial and precolonial roots, as well as its development in the post-colonial era. We will also look at contemporary phenomena such as state failure, state collapse and the coming into being of new states in Africa. We will focus particularly on African engagements with the state, considering what the state means for people in their daily lives in contexts where the state is overtly present or where the state is only present at a distance.

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

  • 11) 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 globalization (in particular during the period 1200-1940);

  • 12) 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:

  • 13) Will acquire in-depth knowledge and understanding of the historic trajectories of the state in Africa, as well as an in-depth understanding of how challenges of the modern state in contemporary Africa are historically rooted.

  • 14) Will be equiped with the ability to critically reflect on key concepts and how these are given shape and meaning in practice in African societies.

  • 15) Will acquire comprehension of the theoretical and conceptual aspects of the study of the state in Africa from a historiographical perspective, and learn to apply these theoretical and conceptual insights to an in-depth case study.

Extra course objectives for Research Master Students

  • 16) The abiliy ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

  • 17) The abiliy to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

  • 18) Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation


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

  • Attending lectures and seminars: 30 hours

  • Studying the compulsory literature: 70 hours

  • Writing a paper (including reading / research): 180 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-14 (ResMA also: 9, 15-18)

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 13-15

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 11-15 (ResMA also: 9, 15-18)

  • Assignment 1 (active participation in class)
    Measured learning objectives: 7-9


  • Written paper: 70%
  • Oral presentation: 20%
  • Active participation in class: 10 %

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


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

Exam review

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest.


Blackboard will be used for the sharing of course related information between studens and the lecturer.

Reading list

  • a selection of articles that can be consulted in the library of the African Studies Centre


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. Dr. M.J. de Goede