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Werkgroep Afrikaanse geschiedenis: Consumption and social change in Africa since c. 1850-2000




Title: Consumption and social change in Africa since c. 1850-2000.

It appears that between 1850 and 2000 a true ‘consumer revolution’ took place across the African continent. Whereas Africa was long portrayed as the self-subsistent, exotic and even primitive ‘Dark Continent’, this is no longer the case. Globalisation has put African consumers in touch with such items as mobile phones, motorcars and clothing styles indistinguishable from those in ‘the West’. The seminar will seek to understand this development from a historical perspective. It will be illustrated that trade and the acquisition of new goods were fundamental to African societies from the pre-colonial era onwards. How and why did consumer choices change over time? What were the connections between changes in consumption habits and processes of social change?
By looking at various factors and historical episodes, such as the pre-colonial long-distance trade, the influence of colonialism, the missionary impact, labour migration, rising nationalism, structural adjustment programmes and the spread of mass produced industrial goods, the links between consumption and socio-economic as well as political change will be examined. Did consumption simply reflect social change, or could it act as a motor for change itself? How did consumption fit into, challenge or transform existing relations between men and women, juniors and elders, chiefs and commoners, states and citizens?
Students will be encouraged to conduct research with a variety of primary and secondary sources, such as traveller reports, museum collections, ethnographic accounts, advertisements and political speeches


To gain a thorough understanding of African history of the 19th and 20th centuries, in order to critically engage with debates concerning consumption, social change and globalisation.
To conduct research with a variety of primary and secondary sources and present research findings in a coherent manner.




Research seminar.


Paper of +/- 7,000 words, presentation and class participation.




J.C. Miller, Way of death: Merchant capitalism and the Angolan slave trade, 1730-1830 (Madison Wisconsin, 1988), pp.40-70.

J. Prestholdt, ‘On the global repercussions of East African consumerism’, The American historical review, Vol. 109, No. 3 (2004), pp.755-781.

The rest of the literature will be announced during the first session


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Mw. I.Pesa


Language of instruction is English.

This research seminar is also offered as part of the MA curriculum in African studies = Seminar in African History code: 5734V2098.