African History and Institutions

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
Boaventura de Sousa Santos denounces the "unspeakable abyssal line" projected by theoretical thinking in the global North that reproduces a persistent distinction between metropolitan and colonial societies: it is a sort of invisible, hegemonic concept outlined along the last five centuries dividing the World into the two sides of the line. The "Northern universalisms" and the concepts descending from it (modernity, rights, democracy ) are based on the realities on this side of the line, leaving the other side of the line invisible. Such an exclusion - says Santos - is such that "what happens there does not compromise the universality of our ideas ( )": such a persistent Western-centric conception of humanity is consistent with its counter-concept of sub-humanity (a set of human groups that are not fully human, be they slaves, women, indigenous peoples, migrant workers, Muslims).
Such a line is recalled in sub-Saharan Africa, with particular emphasis in South Africa, in the extremely interesting debate on the decolonisation of knowledge underway: this is a topic involving students, teachers and intellectuals, rooted in the protest "Rhodes must fall", and connected to the old discourse "Decolonising the mind" (1967) engaged by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o. This line is evident both in "developmentalist" attitudes of sub-Saharan African (SSA) leaders, and the shocking reactions towards the integration of African immigrants in European societies. So, such discourse only apparently can be limited to one Country in the extreme South of Africa. It should be framed in a wider discourse about "post-coloniality", its meaning and its transmission in the education programs on both sides of the line, instead: deeply affected, as it is, by the permanent equation modernity=colonialism.
Challenging concepts - such as modernity, development and their sustainability - will be deepened via African sources/scholars, in historical key, to understand better the policies pursued by the African states, in the framework of international relations and "development aid".
Passing through the interpretations of Cooper and of the Comaroffs, challenging concepts - such as modernity, development, post-working era and their sustainability - will be analyzed in their historical depth.
Expected learning outcomes
The aim of the interview is to assess the methodological and critical skills acquired by the student. In particular, it will assess the students' ability to use literature and to reason on the debates in course and those developed during the classes.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Third trimester
- The teaching program will not undergo any change if the emergency phase persists and will be provided online and in sync with the same duration of the lessons in presence.
- The Reference Material: in addition to the textbooks adopted, in electronic format if available (thanks to the director of our library), attending students will have at their disposal the slides of the lessons on the Ariel course platform:
- Synchronous classes will be held on MsTeams. Since the course considers the distinction between attending and non-attending students, the lessons will not be recorded unless students have convincing reasons for this regard and the whole class accord.
- How to verify learning: until different arrangements, the exams will be carried out orally on the MsTeams platform. Attending and non-attending students have various programs: non-attending students, in particular, will not bring the slides to support synchronous teaching and will have additional essays for the II teaching unit, to compensate. The oral exam consists of 3 questions. The first is a topic chosen by the student - in which he/she must demonstrate to juggle with language properties among the selected texts - at possible anchoring the themes of the case studies chosen in the textbooks. The other two questions are in-depth of the course attended (for attending students) and the central manual's themes (for everyone).
Regardless of the main handbook, attending and non-attending students can agree with the teacher on a program in line with their specific interests.
Course syllabus
1st DU/
The first didactic unit aims at reaching a common level of basic knowledge of African History (5 lessons). In the second stage with the help of some essays shared with the class, it will be discussed the colonial impact on the concept of modernity and development with particular attention to the use of the land/natural resources during the colonial and decolonization processes (5 lessons).
2nd DU/ The first stage of the second DU consists in the analysis of the passage from decolonization to the development of Sub-Saharan Africa, including the intriguing challenge of the "decolonization of the mind" and of knowledge (5 lessons); the second stage consists of the discussion of theses proposed by the students regarding the post-independence period between policies, politics and resources management (5 lessons)
AAA: BA Erasmus students have a different program (see reference materials).
Prerequisites for admission
It is recommended, although not compulsory, to have some knowledge of modern and contemporary history and/or of history of international relations from 1400 onwards.
Teaching methods
Taught class; discussion after readings about some specific case studies to be compared; movie projection and debates. Lessons can be shared in collaboration with experts, if available in the period of the course; forum following the projection of films and documentaries are part of the evaluation of the attending students.
Teaching Resources
Slides of the presentations shared via the website: (for attending students only):
· R. J. Reid (2012), A HISTORY OF MODERN AFRICA: 1800 TO THE PRESENT, Wiley-Blackwell 2nd Edition
· F. Cooper (2019), AFRICA SINCE 1940: THE PAST OF THE PRESENT, 2nd Ed., Cambridge U.P.
· The use of maps is highly recommended.
3 Chapters / Case-studies (4 for non attending students) from:
· J. and J. Comaroff (2012), THEORY FROM THE SOUTH: OR, HOW EUROAMERICA IS EVOLVING TOWARD AFRICA, Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers.
· N. Cheeseman and J. Fisher (2020) AUTHORITARIAN AFRICA, African World Histories

BA Erasmus students bibliography:
· Lessons' contents (Slides of the course, for attending students only)
· Reid R. J. (2012), A HISTORY OF MODERN AFRICA: 1800 TO THE PRESENT, Wiley-Blackwell 2nd Edition
· Comaroff, J. & J. (2012).THEORY FROM THE SOUTH: OR, HOW EURO AMERICA IS EVOLVING TOWARD AFRICA, Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers.
Assessment methods and Criteria
Students who attend 70% of the lessons are considered attending students. The final assessment consists of an oral examination shared in three questions. The first is a free choice argument based on the readings indicated in the "Readings/Bibliography" section of the course program or arranged in advance with the professor. It can be substituted with a presentation on whatever argument tied to the post-colonial period, on a bibliography agreed in advance with the lecturer, presented in the last 5 lessons, and opened to the class debate. The other two questions regard the rest of the program.
The interview aims to assess the student's methodological and critical skills, and, in particular, the students' ability to use literature and reason on the debates developed during classes to expose the contents of the course convincingly.
In particular, it will be assessed the ability of the attending student to participate actively in class/ the ability of autonomous study of the non-attending student; such capacities, if combined with the achievement of a coherent framework of the topics developed during the lessons, the application of critical sense and suitable means of expression will be considered and evaluated with the maximum grading (27/30-30 cum laude).
Attendance, if joint to a predominantly mnemonic acquisition of course's contents and discontinuous language and logical skills will be assessed in a grading range from good (24-26/30) to satisfactory (21-23/30).
Attendance, with a minimum level of knowledge of the course contents, combined with training gaps or inadequate language and logical skills, it will get as grade 'barely passing' (18-20/30).
The absence of a minimum level of knowledge of the course contents, combined with inadequate language and logical skills and training gaps, will produce a fail grading, even despite an assiduous attendance.
Lessons: 40 hours
Professor: Fiamingo Cristiana
Ask for a Skype/MsTeams appointment writing to
Ist floor, room 10, via Conservatorio 7