Undergraduate modules in African Studies and Anthropology

First year

Focus on studying societies

This module is divided into two parts. The first part is taught in a small-group format, and provides core study skills, including identifying and accessing a range of sources; reading effectively and taking useful notes; planning, writing and editing an essay; "news tracking" on the internet; and oral presentation techniques. 

The second part of the module is concerned with the role of history, politics, geography and literature in the study of Africa, and the special contribution of Anthropology to our understanding of the continent. The exploration of these disciplinary perspectives will be focused around a theme or a geographical area which may change from year to year: e.g. the Atlantic slave trade; the end of Apartheid; popular music.

  • Value: 20 credits (compulsory for students on any SH or JH African Studies programme, and any JH Anthropology programme) 

Thinking anthropologically

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.

  • Value: 20 credits (compulsory for JH Anthropology students and for SH African Studies with Anthropology students; open as an option to other students)

Introduction to African history

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.

  • Value: 20 credits (optional for students taking any SH or JH African Studies programme)

Anthropology of Africa

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.

  • Value: 20 credits (compulsory for JH Anthropology students) 

Introduction to African Development

This module provides a broad but basic introduction to development principles, concepts and terminology as tools for studying African's integration into a global political-economy and assessing its changing place within a globalising world, explaining disparities in material conditions in Africa, and between African and other parts of the world, particularly the Global South and examining regional and local patterns and processes of planned socio-economc and environmental change.

  • Value: 10 credits

African politics

This module surveys the continuities and changes in African politics and society from the pre-colonial period to the present, and introduces key conceptual approaches to understanding contemporary African issues. The emphasis falls equally on popular and elite, and domestic and international, concerns and agendas.

  • Value: 10 credits

Introduction to Geography and Africa

This module provides a broad introduction to human geographical ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ the world, and, using these insights, explores a selection of nature-society interactions in and with Africa. Students should gain some understanding of why and how geography matters; have some knowledge of geographical concepts and tools for studying nature and society; be capable of showing how everyday lives at the local level are intricately linked to those of distant people, places and times; and demonstrate how geographers approach the study of Africa and its place in a changing world.

  • Value: 10 credits (compulsory for students taking SH African Studies with Development, and open as an option to other students)

Introduction to African culture

This module introduces students to the study and appreciation of African cultures. It emphasises the diversity, complexity and dynamism of cultures across the continent, and challenges easy – and essentially racist – notions of a homogenous 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 unfailingly just, communalistic and peaceful before the onset of modernisation. 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. Students will be expected to attend and write about a series of cultural events organised within CWAS.

  • Value: 20 credits (optional for students taking any SH or JH African Studies programme)