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Negotiating Power in Africa


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

The course is also accessible as elective for students in the MA International Relations/MA International Studies and (Res)MA African Studies.

The seminar series will start with a brief entry test in the first seminar. To further partake in the course, students require a pass for this entry test. In preparation for the test, students should study the book Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, by M.-R. Trouillot.


In this seminar, we will study 20th century African history through the lens of power and historiography. History writing is a process of power, producing dominant narratives that structure the way in which we understand the world. The Congo crisis of the 1960s is such a historic event that we have learned to understand through a lens that privileges external perspectives that emphasise international intervention, Cold War rivalries, failed decolonization, and the Congo as perpetual heart of darkness (Dunn 2002). In this seminar we will focus particularly on how power is being received, consumed, negotiated and reproduced by people subject to power structures in Africa, thus emphasising the existence of multiple truths and multiple histories. We will use the case of historiography of the Congo Crisis of the 1960s to open up space for alternative historiographies that occur in the vernacular as a means to understand what this dramatic historic event means for people in the Congo and how they in the present reflect on the power politics of the past.
The course therefore also engages critically with concerns about the decolonization of knowledge, knowledge production in the digital age, and as well as authorship and audience of historiography. The course will benefit from a diverse group of scholars at the Institute for History with expertise on Congo. Putting theory to practice, we will work with the painting L’Indépendent Sanguine, Congo 1960-1965 by the Congolese painter Sapin Makengele (who will also be invited to discus with the student about his work) as a point of entrance into the study of historiographies of the Congo crisis. The students are challenged to develop their own case study in the form of a visual and/or online publication that will be published in the academic e-publication platform Bridging Humanities. The students will thus be offered a unique opportunity to engage with and contribute to innovative academic knowledge production.
While working knowledge of French is not a formal requirement for this course, it is an advantage considering that Congo is a francophone country and much literature and source material will be in French.

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 globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);

  • in the subspecialisation Maritime History also: the development of maritime history from the 16th century onwards; insight into recent issues in the field.

  • 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;

  • in the subspecialisation Maritime History also: comparative research; archive research.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Will acquire in-depth knowledge and understanding of the interface between power and knowledge in Africa, particularly pertaining to historiography and the production of history.

  • 14) Will be equiped with the ability to critically reflect on ethical, ontological and epistemonological questions with respect to the production of history in Africa.

  • 15) Will acquire the tools to produce academic knowledge in alternative formats, such as audio-visual or web publication.

  • 16) Will be equipped with the ability to interpret and work with a variety of sources, such as audio-visual, art, literature, music

  • 17) (ResMA only): The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

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

  • 19) Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Entry test: 10 hours

  • Lectures: 12 x 2 hours = 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 56 hours

  • Assignment(s): 190 hours

Assessment method


  • Final assignment, in the form of a Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography), or in alternative format (visual, web publication)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-17

  • Entry test (pass/fail):
    measured learning objectives: 8, 10, 13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 7, 12, 15

  • Assignment (Reflective essay)
    measured learning objectives: 13, 14


  • Written paper: 65%

  • Oral presentation: 10 %

  • Assignment 1:25 %

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


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


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. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

  • submission of written work

Reading list

  • Reading list for the entry test: M.R. Trouillot, Silencing the past: Power and the Production of History (1995). Also available as e-book in the university library

  • A selection of articles


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. M.J. de Goede