HI6046 - Secret Documents, Oral Traditions: How We Know About African History

What will I learn on this module?

This module considers the sources and approaches that historians have used to study Africa. It explores the relationships between the kinds of people who have studied Africa’s past, the political contexts in which they worked, the historical sources they used, and the knowledge about Africa they produced.

The module considers these issues by focusing on five key moments in the history of African history. You will consider, first, precolonial and indigenous knowledge about Africa’s past; second, Western histories of Africa during the age of imperialism; third, nationalist and radical approaches to African history during the decolonisation decades from the 1950s to the 1970s; fourth, the rise of the United States as a centre of African studies from the 1950s to the 1990s, including innovative work on gender and labour history; and fifth, recent approaches to African history emphasising the search for Africans’ voices in sources such as newspapers and ‘secret’ colonial archives.

You will explore these key moments in African historiography by studying important works of history and historical sources from both West Africa (including Nigeria and Senegal) and East Africa (including Kenya and Tanzania).

By the end of the module you will be able to analyse in detail how and why the sources and approaches for African history have changed over time. The module will offer you an overview of the history of African history, from before the time it was studied at universities, to contemporary debates about decolonisation.

How will I learn on this module?

On this module you will learn through seminars, and through engagement with carefully selected primary sources and core readings. These seminars and readings will introduce you to key approaches to African history, the sources that historians of Africa have used, and the different ways historians have interpreted them. Across the course, seminars will afford an overview of Africanist historiography – the history of African history.

You will prepare for weekly seminars by undertaking set readings. These will include secondary readings written by historians of Africa, and different types of primary source. All readings will be available through Blackboard. In seminars you will explore a wide range of primary sources in detail, considering what they can tell us about African history, and analysing how historians of Africa have used them. Seminars will include a range of tasks and activities including presentations, a variety of group work, and written tasks. You will actively draw on your readings, seminar notes, and work from previous weeks to build up a detailed understanding of how and why sources and approaches for African history have changed over time.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

You will be supported by your module tutor, who will lead seminars, and will be available for additional discussions about your progress in Feedback and Consultation hours and via email. You will receive formative feedback from the module tutor in seminars to help you develop your thinking. You will be supported through the resources made available through Blackboard and in the library. Fellow students will support you, through collaborative group work in seminars, and your programme leader will give you a clear sense of how your work on this module relates to your degree as a whole.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Knowledge and understanding of key sources for African history.
2. Knowledge and understanding of how and why approaches to African history have changed over time.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Demonstrate a range of transferrable skills, including the ability to understand, analyse, and critique a range of sources and arguments; and to present clear and well supported arguments orally and in writing.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
4. Understand the role of positionality, and the ethical and political dimensions of writing African history.
5. Develop an understanding of Africa’s changing geopolitical position and how it has shaped the contemporary world.

How will I be assessed?

1 x 3,000-word source analysis essay (MLOs 1–5) (weighted 50%)
This essay will analyse two source extracts chosen from a selection provided by the tutor.

1 x 3,000-word historiographical essay (MLOs 1–5) (weighted 50%)
This essay will be written in response to a question chosen from a list provided by the module tutor.

Formative feedback for each assessment will be provided in seminars and through Feedback and Consultation hours.





Module abstract

How do we know about African history? In this module, we will explore the different ways in which historians have approached Africa’s past. We will consider how historians’ work has been shaped by changing political contexts and priorities, from the precolonial era to the present. We will also examine how the kinds of evidence historians have used – and the evidence they haven’t – have shaped they ways they have thought about Africa’s history. We will study a wide range of sources, including oral traditions, ‘secret’ colonial files, newspapers, and photography. By the end of the module, you will have a detailed understanding of how and why the study of African history has changed over time, and why this matters for contemporary debates about the ethics of representing Africa. You don’t have to have studied African history before to take this module.

Course info

UCAS Code QV31

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years full-time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2023 or September 2024

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing.

Full time Courses starting in 2023 are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but may include elements of online learning. We continue to monitor government and local authority guidance in relation to Covid-19 and we are ready and able to flex accordingly to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with additional restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors, potentially to a full online offer, should further restrictions be deemed necessary in future. Our online activity will be delivered through Blackboard Ultra, enabling collaboration, connection and engagement with materials and people.


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