14432 - Modern and Contemporary History of Africa (1)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Reduced inequalities

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

This is an introductory course to African history from 19th to the 1990s. At the end of the course you will have a detailed knowledge of the major historical events taking place in Africa in this period and be able to situate these events in the framework of global historical trends. You will be aware of the major historiographical debates, especially regarding slave trades (Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Trans-saharan), colonialism and decolonization, and understand what is the contribution of Africanists to these dabates. You will be familiar with the sources used by historians of Africa and be able to use the appropriate terminology when writing and talking about African history.

Course contents

This course is an introduction to the history of Africa South of the Sahara from the 19thcentury to the 1990s. In order to balance historical breadth with depth, during the course we will analyse some selected case-studies to highlight major historical trends and see their effects on the local level. The first lectures will be an introduction to the history of the continent. We will discuss the idea of "Africa without history", the evolution of the historical studies on Africa and the sources that Africanists have at their disposal. We will then analyse the slave trades - local, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean- and highlight their economic, social and political effects on the African societies involved. We will continue with the origins of imperialism, in order to see how Western scientific and technological discoveries, the European political and economic situation, the 19th-century racism as well as the work of missionaries and explorers put the basis for the scramble for Africa. We will then see the reactions of African societies to the colonial occupation and analyse the different forms of colonialism. Particular attention will be given to the early developments of African nationalism. We will investigate the participation of Africa to WWI and WWII and the development of international movements, especially panafricanism and négritude. We will then consider the most important phases of the decolonization process, from the independence of Ghana in 1957 to the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994.

In the last part of the course, we will focus on specific case-studies in order to provide some examples of the political and economic choices of the leaders of post-independence Africa. We will discuss some of the most prominent political leaders, such as Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Nelson Mandela, and their writings. We will investigate the impact of colonialism on independent African countries and analyse the relationship between history, nationalism and the formation of the post-colonial state.

The themes that we will discuss are:

  1. African history and historiography: sources, methodologies and the development of the discipline
  2. Slavery and slave trades: Trans-Atlantic, Indian Ocean and indigenous forms of slavery
  3. Why did Europe colonise Africa? Motivations and conditions
  4. Forms of European colonialism
  5. African resistance to European colonialism
  6. Panafricanism and négritude
  7. The decolonization process from the 1960s to the end of apartheid in 1994
  8. The post-colonial state in Africa
  9. The legacies of colonialism


Students not attending the course will read:

1. Gian Paolo Calchi Novati e Pierluigi Valsecchi, Africa: la storia ritrovata. Dalle prime forme politiche alle indipendenze nazionali, Carocci Editore, 2016 (or previous editions)


2. One book among the following:

Aimé Césaire, Discorso sul colonialismo. Seguito da Discorso sulla negritudine, Ombre Corte, 2010

Frantz Fanon, I Dannati della terra, Einaudi, 2007

Nelson Mandela, Lungo Cammino verso la libertà, Feltrinelli, 2013.

Thomas Sankara, I discorsi e le idee, Roma: Edizioni Sankara, 2003

Paul Bjerk, Julius Nyerere, Ohio University Press, 2017 (in inglese)

Peter Karibe Mendy, Amílcar Cabral: a nationalist and Pan-africanist revolutionary, Ohio University Press, 2019 (in inglese; full-text disponibile tramite gratuitamente AlmaStart)


3. One book among the following:

Raymond Betts, La decolonizzazione, Bologna: Il Mulino, 2007

Michela Fusaschi, Hutu-Tutsi. Alle radici del genocidio rwandese, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 2000

Giacomo Macola, Una storia violenta. Potere e conflitti nel bacino del Congo (XVIII-XIX secolo), Roma, Viella, 2021

Herbert S. Klein, Il commercio atlantico degli schiavi, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2014 [you can read the English version];

Irma Taddia, Autobiografie africane. Il colonialismo nelle memorie orali, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 1996

John Thornton, L'Africa e gli africani nella formazione del mondo atlantico, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2010, "Introduzione" e parte 1 "Gli africani in Africa", pp. 9-178

Mario Zamponi, Breve Storia del Sudafrica, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2009


Students attending the course:

Students attending the course will prepare the exam on the slides projected in class available on virtuale.unibo.it (instructions on how to get access to the material will be given in class) and read:

- Luca Jourdan e Karin Pallaver, Parlare d'Africa. 50 Parole chiave, Carocci Editore, 2021 (available from November 2021)

- Gian Paolo Calchi Novati and Pierluigi Valsecchi, Africa: la storia ritrovata. Dalle prime forme politiche agli Stati nazionali, Carocci Editore, 2016 (only chapters 1, 6, 7, 9 e 10)

- one book chosen either from point 2 or point 3 in the list above for non-attending students.

ATTENDING STUDENTS WILL READ A TOTAL OF TWO BOOKS + 5 chapters of Africa: la storia ritrovata

Teaching methods

Lectures, supported by power point presentations. Discussion of historical sources, historical biographies, writings of African writers and intellectuals, poems, songs. We will also sometimes watch videos and film clips.

Assessment methods

During the oral exam you will be asked three or four questions on the books you have read. For the students attending the course, part of the exam will be on the themes and issues discussed in class and part on the books read for the exam. During the exam, you will have to show that you are familiar with the major events taking place in Africa from the mid 19thcentury until the 1990s.To obtain a positive evaluation, you have to show that you are able to discuss methodological problems and use an appropriate terminology.


If the student achieves an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the topics discussed in class and required for the discipline; provides an effective critical commentary; shows mastery of expression and uses the specific language of the discipline, he/she will obtain very good or excellent in the final evaluation (28-30L).

Average marks (satisfactory-good) will be awarded to students who have memorized the main points of the material and are able to summarise them satisfactorily, while howver failing to display a complete command of the appropriate terminology or contents (22-27).

An incomplete command of contents and/or inappropriate terminology, albeit in a context of minimal knowledge of the course material, will lead to a 'pass' mark (18-21).

A student will fail the exam if he/she makes significant mistakes in the understanding of the relevant topics and fails to grasp the overall outlines of the course topics, together with a poor command of the appropriate terminology (< 18)

Teaching tools

During each lecture, we will use power point presentations with maps and images, that will be available on virtuale.unibo.it. We will discuss historical sources as well as African intellectuals' writings. We will also use documentary films.

Office hours

See the website of Karin Pallaver