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HIST 130: Africa in the Twentieth Century

Course Home Page Blackboard Instructor's E-mail
Purpose of the Course Themes of the Course Required Readings and Films
Assignments and Grades Helpful Hints Contacting Your Instructor
Course Mechanics Course Schedule

Purpose of the Course

Most Americans receive their impressions of modern Africa from the news. From their living rooms and computer screens they read about genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, political instability in Liberia and Zimbabwe; and painful personal stories about the spread of AIDS. Many consider Africa a sad continent beset by “tribal” warfare, backward traditions, and inescapable poverty.

HIST 130, Africa in the Twentieth Century, will deepen your understanding of contemporary Africa by placing current problems in historical context. We will explore Africa's dynamism through a careful examination of its ethnic interactions, colonialism, liberation struggles, and post-independence realities. Through the readings, lessons, and discussion forums in this course, Africa will emerge as a continent of diversity, complexity, and hope.

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Themes of the Course

As mentioned above, this class encourages you to view contemporary Africa through the lens of its recent past. We will explore the following themes and constituent questions to help us understand the continent:

  1. Colonialism: Why did European powers choose to colonize Africa? What were the intended as well as unintended consequences of their ventures? What was the range of African reactions to colonial rule? How is Africa still haunted by its colonial legacies?
  2. Capitalism: How did economic gain influence the European pursuit of African colonies? How did capitalist ventures intermingle with local African lifestyles and cultures? Has the market economy been beneficial to Africa?
  3. Nationalism: What is nationalism in the multi-ethnic African context? How did it shape the colonial and post-colonial state?
  4. Liberation: What were the various approaches to liberation from colonial rule? How do legacies of liberation struggles shape current African politics?
  5. Gender: What were the roles of men and women in African societies before European contact? How did gender roles change in the colonial era? How did liberation struggles change the place of women in society?
  6. Ethnicity: What is meant by the term “tribalism”? Where did the idea of “tribalism” in Africa originate? What are the most significant historical causes of today's ethnic conflicts?

Think about these themes and questions and revisit them throughout the course. Use them to help you focus your ideas when contributing to discussion forums and writing papers.

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Required Readings and Films

The following includes a list of the books, articles, and selections you are expected to read during the semester. The readings are presented in the order they will be assigned.

Required Texts

  • Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, revised 2nd edition (2005)
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
  • Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o, A Grain of Wheat
  • Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda

Required Movies (with optional text alternatives)

  • The Battle of Algiers (or Mouloud Feraoun, Journal, 1955–1962: Reflections on the French-Algerian War)
  • Cry Freedom (or Donald Woods, Biko)

Readings on e-reserve

  • J.B. Webster, A.A. Boahen, and M. Tidy, “Igboland—A Segmentary Political System”
  • Howard W. French, “A Century Later, Letting Africans Draw Their Own Map,”
  • Africa Policy Information Center, “Talking about ‘Tribe': Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis”
  • Samuel Johnson, History of the Yorubas (excerpt)
  • John Frederick Lugard, “Principles of Native Administration”
  • John Frederick Lugard, “Methods of Native Administration”
  • Hailie Selassie, “It is International Morality that is at Stake”
  • Michael H. Hunt (ed.), “Nkrumah's Vision For Ghana and Africa”
  • Frantz Fanon, “Liberation and Violence”
  • Frantz Fanon, “Algeria Unveiled”
  • The Arusha Declaration
  • Marc Lacey, “Victims of Uganda Atrocities Choose a Path of Forgiveness”
  • Michael H. Hunt (ed.), “The HIV/AIDS Crisis”
  • Karl Maier, This House Has Fallen (selections)

You can purchase the required texts from Friday Center Books & Gifts at the Friday Center. You can order the books online or mail a check with a printed book order form. Other readings available through e-reserves are brief articles. Log on to the e-reserves Web site and type my name (Michael O'Sullivan). You will see a list of articles for the course. See Course Mechanics for help.

You will be required to view two films: The Battle of Algiers and Cry Freedom. You should be able to rent these films at video stores and online Web sites (Netflix, Blockbuster, and so on) or check them out of the UNC library. If you have difficulty obtaining copies of the films, you may complete a reading assignment instead. If you cannot see Cry Freedom, read Donald Woods' Biko. If you are unable to obtain a copy of The Battle of Algiers, read Mouloud Feraoun's Journal, 1955–1962 (available at Friday Center Books & Gifts).

Web Resources

Please visit and familiarize yourself with the following Web sites. They will allow you to keep up with current events throughout the course and complete assignments relating to contemporary news. These are valuable resources, so please take advantage of them:

  • Africa Daily
  • BBC News—Africa
  • The Economist—Africa & Middle East
  • The New York Times International—Africa
  • Africa Online

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Assignments and Grades

In addition to improving your knowledge about African history, this course also seeks to improve your analytical and written skills. Therefore there are two major writing assignments to test your knowledge of the material and encourage the development of well-documented arguments about twentieth-century Africa. This course requires you to work on two projects simultaneously, so budget your time and consider your topic choices carefully. A paper grading rubric is posted in the “Course Documents” section on Blackboard to help you check your papers before submission and understand how your papers will be evaluated.

  1. Discussion Forum (35 percent of the final grade): Every week you are expected to participate in an online discussion forum. This is a major component of this class. It counts as your class participation grade and is an evaluation of your critical thinking and communication skills. For each discussion forum there are questions posted on each lesson page. You should respond to these questions to start the weekly forums, but then branch out by responding to other students and bringing in material from our sources and your paper topics. In the forum you are not only required to contribute your own ideas to the discussion, but you must also respond to the thoughts and insights of your classmates. I ask that you use specific examples, quotations, and arguments that demonstrate you have completed the readings. Finally, it is very important that you are courteous to your fellow students in order to maintain an open discussion where all feel welcome. A grading rubric for discussion forum participation has been posted in the Course Documents section on Blackboard. Please review this rubric carefully to be sure you understand how your forum contribution will be graded. Each forum will be graded individually and the average result will be your discussion grade. At the end of each lesson, I will post a brief “recap” in the Course Documents section that hones in on the essential “take-away” of each lesson. There will be fifteen separate discussion forum grades. I will drop two of them and average the rest to compile the final discussion forum grade.

  2. News Forum and News Story Paper (25 percent of the final grade; 5 percent for the forum, 20 percent for the paper): Over the course of the semester you will participate in a news forum. Your participation requires three steps:
    • Post the link to the article to the “Special News” discussion forum, along with a two- to three-sentence summary of your paper's argument. Students must comment on each of their colleagues’ projects in the forum to receive credit. In addition to the specific requirements listed above, this forum will be graded according to the discussion forum grading rubric, which can be found in the Course Documents section on Blackboard.
    • Write a four- to five-page paper on a current event (something occurring in Africa in the last five years). You must include a link to an online story related to the event. The paper must state a thesis and offer persuasive arguments about how African history helps us better understand your topic.

  3. Essay (40 percent of the final grade; 30 percent for the paper, 5 percent for each topic sheet): You must write a four- to five-page formal essay for this class that integrates analysis of the lessons, discussion forums, and readings. The essay will count for 30 percent of your final grade. Before you write your essay, you must submit a topic sheet to me that suggests your thesis, includes your sources (primary and secondary), and provides an outline of your argument. I will review your topic sheet, grade it, and return it to you for revision. Both drafts of the topic sheet are worth five percent of your final grade.

Summary of Grades (in order of due date):

Assignment Percentage
Discussion Forum 35 percent
Topic Sheet Draft 5 percent
Topic Sheet Final 5 percent
News Forum 5 percent 
News Story Paper 20 percent
Final Essay 30 percent

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Helpful Hints for Doing Well in this Course

  1. Read the course overview and all lessons carefully. This course does not meet in the classroom. Therefore, the weekly lessons provide all the information. In all your lessons I highlight the important topics, themes, and questions of the week. The lessons are meant to guide your reading, provide context for the novels, and jumpstart the discussion forum.
  2. Read all of the assignments carefully. Keeping the discussion questions in mind as you read will help you to participate more effectively in discussion forums.
  3. Look ahead at upcoming lesson assignments. Some weeks have more reading than others. Previewing future lessons will help you manage your time.
  4. Visit the UNC Writing Center Web site before starting any of your writing assignments. Their suggestions will make you a better writer and help you improve your grade in this course. You may submit your papers online for feedback from a Writing Center tutor.
  5. Participate in the discussion every week. You cannot make up for weeks when you fail to participate. The discussion forums are mandatory. Your contributions are helpful to the entire class.

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Contacting Your Instructor

Please feel free to contact me at any time with questions, problems, concerns, and/or interests involving the course. The easiest way to reach me is through my e-mail address ( There is a link to my e-mail address at the top of each lesson page. I will respond to e-mails as quickly as possible. If you do not receive an answer within forty-eight hours, assume I did not receive the e-mail and resend it.

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Course Mechanics


Most of your class components (discussion forums and assignments) are accessed through a software package called Blackboard, and you will need to log in to Blackboard using a unique identifier known as your UNC Onyen (Only Name You'll Ever Need) and Onyen password.

If you do not already have a UNC Onyen, go to the Onyen Web site and follow the instructions for creating an Onyen. If you have an Onyen but have forgotten it (or the password), you will find help on the Onyen Web site.

Use your Onyen to log in to Blackboard, then click on the “HIST 130 CCO” link. You will see navigation buttons on the left taking you to the Discussion Forums, Gradebook, and so on.

If you experience problems accessing Blackboard, this is what you should do:

  • If you do not already have a UNC Onyen, go to the Onyen Web site and follow the instructions for creating an Onyen.
  • If you have an Onyen but have forgotten it (or the password), you will find help on go to the Onyen Web site.
  • If you have your Onyen but can't log in to Blackboard, contact Janice Durham at the Friday Center.
  • If you can log in to Blackboard but can't find this course listed, contact Janice Durham at the Friday Center.
  • If you can't locate an exam or discussion forum in Blackboard, contact the Instructional Designer.
  • If you have other technical problems while using Blackboard, contact Blackboard Help (use the Help button in Blackboard, or call 919-962-HELP).

Library Services and Resources (including e-reserves)

Students enrolled in Carolina Courses Online have access to the UNC Library System. Visit Distance Education Library Services to access a wide array of online services and resources including e-reserves, online databases, online journals, online books, and live help with research and library access.

Most online resources require you to log in with your Onyen and password. If you have any trouble finding the resource that you need or logging in to a resource, you can contact the library through the contact information at Distance Education Library Services. You can chat live about your problem, or send an e-mail to request assistance.


All communication from your instructor will go to your UNC Onyen e-mail address (the one that appears when you post to the discussion forum). Off-campus users can access their UNC e-mail using Webmail. You can have your e-mail forwarded to a different e-mail address by clicking “Forward e-mail” at the Onyen Web site.

We strongly recommend that you use your UNC e-mail account for all e-mails regarding your course. Hotmail users should be aware that Hotmail will block messages sent from within Blackboard because Blackboard uses “blind carbon copy” to protect privacy. If you forward your mail to a commercial e-mail service provider ( or, for example), messages from your instructor, Friday Center staff, or other students may be delayed because these service providers sometimes place temporary blocks on messages originating from universities. If you are using a commercial e-mail service provider, the e-mail links in this course may not work for you.

Submitting Assignments

It is extremely important for you to save copies of any work you send to me via e-mail. If I don't receive your work, you must have a duplicate copy, indicating the date sent, to prove that you submitted the assignment on time. It is your responsibility to maintain copies of your sent e-mails, as there is no way to guarantee that any e-mail message will be delivered.

Please check your e-mail software to see how it manages sent and saved messages. Some software automatically deletes messages one month after they have been sent; others only save messages if they are filed in folders; others save messages received but not those sent. You may need to send yourself a copy of your e-mailed assignment at the same time you send it to me, or you may need to print a copy of the e-mail message and any attachments to keep in your paper files. No matter how your system works, make sure you know how to save a copy of all work that you submit and that you save the copy for several months beyond the end of the course.

Other Questions—Contact Information

Feel free to send me an e-mail with any questions, feedback, or ideas related to the course. Please include “HIST 130” and your name in the subject line.

Contact the Instructional Designer at the Friday Center about problems with this Web site, including bad links.

If you have any questions about enrollment, Onyen, credits, withdrawal, and so on, contact the Student Services staff at the Friday Center for Continuing Education (phone 919-962-1134 or 800-862-5669).

Course Schedule

Lesson and Dates Topics Readings and Viewing Assignments
Lesson 1 Introduction; Nineteenth Century West and East Africa • Shillington, 224–255
• Webster, “Igboland—A Segmentary Political System” (e-reserve)
Lesson 2 Nineteenth Century South and North Africa • Shillington, 256–287
Lesson 3 The Colonization of Africa: Explorers, Missionaries, and Formal Imperialism • Shillington, 288–304
• French, “A Century Later, Letting Africans Draw Their Own Map” (e-reserve)
• Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Lesson 4 Imposing and Resisting Colonial Rule • Shillington, 305–316
• Johnson, History of the Yorubas (e-reserve)
Lesson 5
Gold, Wars, and Migrant Labor: The Mineral Revolution in South Africa • Shillington, 317–331
Lesson 6
Colonial Economics and Governments • Shillington, 332–358
• Lugard, “Principles of Native Administration” (e-reserve)
• Lugard, “Methods of Native Administration” (e-reserve)
• “Talking About ‘Tribe': Moving From Stereotype to Analysis” (e-reserve)
Lesson 7
Colonialism and Social Change: Religion, Nationalism, World War II, and Gender • Shillington, 358–375
• Emecheta, Joys of Motherhood

News Forum opens on Blackboard

Lesson 8

Independence Movements in West Africa

• Shillington, 376–383
• Nkrumah, “Nkrumah's Visions for Ghana and Africa ” (e-reserve)

Topic Sheet Final due

News topics must be posted by the end of break!

Lesson 9
Guerilla Warfare and Negotiated Peace in North Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia • Shillington, 383–388
• Fanon, "Algeria Unveiled” (e-reserve)
• Fanon, “Liberation and Violence” (e-reserve)
• View Battle of Algiers or read Feraoun, Journal, 1955–1962
Lesson 10
Violent Independence Struggles in East and Central Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Congo • Shillington, 388–399
• Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat

News Forum closes on Blackboard

Lesson 11
Post-Colonial Problems, Economies, and Political Systems • Shillington, 417–430
• Tanzania: the Arusha Declaration (e-reserve)

News Story Paper due

Lesson 12
The Rise of Apartheid in South Africa, 1910–1970 • Shillington, 363–365, 409–416
Lesson 13
The Fall of Apartheid in South Africa, 1970–1994 • Shillington, 455–459
• View Cry Freedom or read Woods, Biko
Lesson 14
The History of Genocide in Rwanda: Colonial Legacies, Ethnic Conflict, and International Responsibility • Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda
Lesson 15
Problems and Promise in Africa after 1990 • Shillington, 431–455, 459
• Lacey, “Victims of Uganda Atrocities Choose a Path of Forgiveness” (e-reserve)
• Hunt (ed.), “The HIV/AIDS Crisis” (e-reserve)
• Maier, “A Coup From Heaven” and “Voting Day” (e-reserve)

Final Paper due

Please fill out the Course Evaluation.

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Lesson 1

Course Author: Michael O'Sullivan
Course Instructor: Maximilian Owre, PhD

© University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Last updated: April 8, 2010
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