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Introduction to African History: Africa from Zero to Now


Admission requirements

History students have met the first year BSA requirement.


Africa’s Agency in History: Understanding Africa through Politics, Economy and Cultural Dynamics.

“History is about people, the people of the past: about how they lived and worked, about what they did in their lives. So history is about our ancestors: about our parents’ parents for many generations before us.” So says, Basil Davidson. He continues, “Why do we have to know about history? It is because the history of our ancestors is also the history of ourselves, of all of us today. In order to understand the world of today, we need to understand the world of yesterday as well. For the world of yesterday helped to make the world of today.” This is also the approach for this course ‘African History’. Themes that have been colouring different periods in African history are the central focus of the course. For each of these themes we will show their relevance for today’s understanding of Africa.

  1. We will first focus on Africa as home to man-Frontiersman in early history. By using archeological evidence students will be introduced to the role of ecology and people in the making of Africa. We will focus on pastoralism and hunter gatherers, who were among the first societies in Africa. That will be followed by the examination of other more recent migration patterns (moving population) and African demographics.
  2. Then we move to the middle ages and we examine African Civilisations. We will discover old Africa and Egyptian, Kush, Meroe, Great Zimbabwe, and West African Kingdoms. An important theme in this period is domestic slavery. These kingdoms still resonate in oral traditions and colour identity discourses of today.

  3. The Atlantic Slave trade followed after the middle ages. The focus here is to examine the rise and sustainability of slave trade, 1650-1900. Its impact till present day world. Attention will turn to East Africa and Indian Slave Trade and the connection with other regions Saudi Arabia, India and China.

  4. Ideologies on the move: The 18th and 19th centuries were the periods of travelers and (catholic) missionaries from the North who discovered Africa. They introduced new ‘Gods’, but also travelled back with stories about Africa to the North. Muslim scholars and travelers have a longer history in Africa, as we have seen also for their influence on the slave trade. The 19th century is also the period of Jihad in West Africa. These influences will have their later parallels, as development workers, and today also Jihadi movements.

  5. The 20th century is the century of the colonization of Africa, that can be understood as a continuation and intensification of global inequal relationships as they were introduced in the slave trade, and in the religious moves. ….

  6. Then we move to the period of decolonization when African nations would be freed from the colonial masters. We will see if indeed this has been the case. The question here is also how does colonization continue in other forms? We will re-examine the missionaries, slavery, migration, Africapitalism and the revival of pan Africanisms and African belief systems.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 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, pertaining to this specific lecture course

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

  • The student 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.

  • The student 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 student needs to have learnt structure, questions and encounter critically with conventional assumptions and canons of African History * The student must have developed in-depth skills and counter arguments


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 mid-term exam (on the material of the first 6 lectures, including the accompanying literature)

  • Partial test 2: Written final 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.


The resit will cover the entire course material.

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 MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


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

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