St. Thomas University Fall-Spring 2003-2004

HIST 4516: Themes in African Histor

Wednesday 3:30 pm- 6:20 pm, Edmund Casey Room 320

Instructor: Dr. Fikru Gebrekidan

Office: 122 Edmund Casey Hall
Phone: 452-0509

Office hours: T Th 10:30-12:OOpm or by appointment; drop in at any time if you find my office door open.


Davidson, Basil. Africa in History: Themes and Outlines. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991. (Bookstore).

Collins, Robert., et al. Problems in African History. vol. 1. Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1993. (Bookstore).

Jewsiewicki, Bogumil and David Newbury, eds. African Historiography: What History for Which Africa? London: Sage Publications, 1986. (On reserve).

Suret-Canale, Jean. Essays on African History: From the Slave Trade to Neocolonialism. London: C. Hurst and Company, 1988. (On reserve).

Neale, Caroline. Writing Independent History: African Historiography from 1960-1980. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986. (On reserve).

UNESCO. General History of Africa. Paris: UNESCO, 1988. (On

Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. London: Longman, 1986. (On reserve).

Course description

This is a course on African historiography. As a seminar class, it assumes students come to the class with some basic understanding about the writing, thinking and craftsmanship of history. The course involves extensive reading, active participation in class discussion, occasional take-home assignments, and to major papers.


The purpose of the course is: (A) to identify and understand various themes in African history; (B) to interrogate and examine various schools of thought in African history; (C) to identify gaps and problems in African historiography; (D) to propose solutions to such problems as well as recommend topics for future research; and (E) to use all the above examples to increase students' awareness of historiography in general and of African historiography in particular.


Your grades will be based on four factors: take-home assignments or homework (25%), class participation (20%), first major paper (25%), and second paper (30%) .

Take-home assignments comprise 25% of your grade. They will be given periodically to ensure students remain abreast with their readings and research projects. There will be no makeup take-home unless you can document extenuating circumstances such as hospitalization or family emergency. All take-homes will be submitted electronically by e-mail. Make sure to keep a carbon copy of each email transaction. Should you send your assignment to the wrong address or encounter an unexpected e-mail problem, this will save you from the frustration of having to retype your assignment from scratch.

Paper assignment
Together, the two term papers count for 55% of your grade. The minimum required length for first and second papers is seventeen and twenty-two pages respectively. Both should be of publishable quality and style. Standard font, proper margin and double spacing are expected.

Paper specifications
Your first paper will be due the end of the fall semester. This will give you the opportunity to pick a topic, work on sources, develop a theme, and build your grand narrative. In addition to presenting your findings, you will swap papers and give each other a written feedback. You will get your papers back from me in the beginning of the spring semester with detailed feedback and suggestion. The purpose of the second paper will then be to build on your first draft, integrate feedback and comments, and refine your thesis and organization. In both semesters, you will regularly update the class about your ongoing research progress and challenges.

Paper requirements
Papers will be submitted both in hard copy and electronically as an email attachment. Students full name, instructor's full name, course title and number should appear on the top right corner of the first page. Paper should be stapled. Paper should have a title which must be centered and underlined. Failure to adhere to any of these basic formats will lower your paper grade by two points. For instance, a paper worth 22/25 will get 20/25 if found unstapled or lacking the instructor's name. Late paper will be penalized a point per day.

Class participation
Class activity or participation constitutes 20% of your grade. Asking or answering questions, sharing one's observations or opinions during class discussion, are examples of class participation. However, in this class you will go beyond asking and answering questions and learn to engage in a sustained scholarly discourse. Discussions and debates are meant to sharpen students' analytical and reasoning skills, as well as to expose them to different perspectives. Political views have nothing to do with grades and students should feel free to express their opinions without feeling intimidated. However, derisive, disrespectful and spiteful comments toward a fellow student or the professor create a hostile atmosphere and are not tolerated. Feel free to disagree with a particular point of view, but use a polite and formal language to assert your view. Remember to criticize the idea and not the individual who holds that idea. Also remember that your task, as a historian or researcher, is to reach a conclusion based on sources and not on your natural instinct.

Students are expected to honor principles of truth and honesty in their academic works. Academic honesty entails, among other things, that students will not plagiarize. This means that students will not submit someone else's work as their own, nor will they hand in a paper copied from the web or any other published or unpublished sources. Academic honesty also means students will acknowledged any borrowed idea, be it in the form of quotation, summary or paraphrase, using the proper citation format. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense that can result in a failing grade in the course. Consult your academic handbook (pp. 237-38) for a detailed discussion on plagiarism.

Weekly Readings

Sept. 10. Introduction to course. Video: "Different But Equal."

Sept. 17. Development of African historiography: UNESCO chs. 2 & 4.

Sept. 24. Development of African historiography cont. UNESCO chs. 1 and 3; Neale: ch. 2; Jewsiewicki: intro and ch. 12.

Oct. 1. Ancient African civilizations: polemics or contentions. Collins: part I; Davidson: ch. 1.

Oct. 8. Bantu Africa. Collins: II; Davidson: ch. 2.

Oct. 15. State formation in Africa. Collins: III; Davidson: 4.

Oct. 22. Written texts: how reliable and how historical? UNESCO 56; Neale: 3; Jewsiewicki: 1-3. Paper proposal due accompanied by a bibliography of at least ten sources.

Oct. 29. Oral sources: how reliable and how historical: UNESCO 79; Jewsiewicki: 4-8. Annotated bibliography due.

Nov. 5. Sundiata epic as a masterpiece of oral history. Niane: Sundiata. Bring at least three books on your paper topic and pass them around for others to see.

Nov. 12. Islam in medieval African history. Collins: IV; Davidson: 3. A five-minute presentation on your research progress.

Nov. 19. Slavery and underdevelopment: a perennial debate. SuretCanale: chs. 4-5; Collins: VI; Davidson: ch. 5. Bring to class a rough paper draft of at least ten pages.

Nov. 26. Women and African historiography. Collins: V; David Geggus, "Sex Ratio, Age and Ethnicity in the Atlantic Slave Trade," in Journal of African History, 30, 1 (1989), pp. 23-44. Paper due.

Dec. 3. Paper presentation. Bring five extra copies of your paper to distribute in class.

Note about the syllabus
This syllabus is not a binding legal contract. Rather, it is meant to serve as a road map for both the students and the professor. Should the need arise, the teacher maintains the right to modify the course by adding, subtracting, or rearranging reading assignments and course requirements.

History 1006 - World History
History 3573 - African History in Global Context

Fikru Gebrekidan / History / Faculty / St. Thomas Homepage