African Studies and Anthropology Module Summaries

First year

Studying Societies (African Studies and Anthropology)

  • 10 credits

This module delivers core study skills for students reading African Studies as a means to help them transition from secondary to higher education. The module provides a basic orientation in the field of African Studies and allows students to familiarise themselves with the key skills necessary for success at university, such as note-taking, essay writing, academic integrity, oral presentation, and the ability to use library resources.

Thinking Anthropologically

  • 20 credits

The module is a broad introduction to anthropological approaches to society and culture. It asks questions about social life to which the answers appear obvious, and examines them in comparative perspective. Examples may include: What is a gift? What is dirt? What is in a name? How universal are experiences of emotions? In the process, students are shown the point of anthropology – to see life through the eyes of other people, and to question one’s own assumptions. It focuses on ethnography, the practice of 'doing anthropology' both in Africa and elsewhere. We use written texts and film to open up and discuss central ideas and debates in anthropology.

Introduction to African Politics and History

  • 20 credits

This module focusses on what historians have been able to find out about the African continent in the period before the onset of colonisation by European powers. We look at how other academic disciplines (such as archaeology) and unconventional primary sources (such as oral traditions) have helped us to find out about societies which did not keep written records. We also examine the nature of the connections between Africa and other parts of the world, including the connections that were forged by the spread of Islam, and by the inter-continental trade in African slaves.

Anthropology of Africa

  • 20 credits

This module examines the social, economic, and political organisation of a number of African societies and their recent historical transformations. Students are introduced to different systems of production (e.g. hunting-and-gathering; pastoralism; agriculture; industrial production); different modes of reckoning kinship and their consequences for social organisation (e.g. unilineal or cognatic systems); and different political formations, from less to more centralised systems. They are encouraged to think critically about the use of sociological models, ethnic labels, and kinship diagrams. Each session focuses on a particular area and the societies which have been living there. Students taking this module become acquainted with examples of African societies, their recent history, and the conceptual frameworks that have been developed to make sense of them.

Introduction to African culture

  • 20 credits

This module introduces students to the study and appreciation of African cultures. It emphasises diversity, complexity and dynamism of culture across the continent, and challenges easy – and essentially racist – notions of a homogeneous African cultural world. We have all seen the painted tribesmen and the drums, the starving children, the guerrilla war footage. Almost as pernicious, however, is the ‘roots’ romance view of an Africa that was/is unfailingly just, communalistic and peaceful. This module will disabuse students of simplifications and distortions, while beginning to equip them with the knowledge and skills they will require in order to enjoy, appreciate and intelligently discuss aspects of African culture.

Africa and the Disciplines

  • 10 credits

This module develops students’ knowledge of the field of African Studies by allowing them to explore its interdisciplinary nature in more detail. Students will focus on a theme or geographical area within African Studies (which may change from year to year), in order to gain a better understanding of the interactions between disciplines such as history, politics, geography, literature and anthropology in the study of Africa. Guided by their personal tutor, students will work on an individual project-based assessment based on the skills and thematic knowledge they have gained through the course of the semester.

Introduction to African Geography

  • 10 credits

In a rapidly changing world, our own everyday lives are intricately linked to those of Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, and their changing economies, societies and environments. This module aims to, first, provide a broad introduction to human geographical ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ the world; and, second, using these insights, to explore a selection of nature-society interactions in and with Africa, and consider the material and other implications of how these interactions are represented. 

Introduction to African Development

  • 10 credits 

The module aims to provide a broad introduction to development principles, concepts and terminology which can be used as tools to study Africa’s integration into a global political economy and assess its changing place within a globalising world; explain disparities in material conditions in Africa, and between Africa and other parts of the world; and examine regional and local examples within Africa of both planned and 'spontaneous' socio-economic and other change.