Contemporary African History module (HY32035)

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Module code


  • Level 3
  • History - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%


In this module you will survey Africa's political development in the twentieth century and its place within the international system.

Africa has often been considered to be a marginalised continent, yet, as students will discover, this is far from the truth. Focusing predominantly on sub-Saharan Africa and progressing chronologically, the module will explore a number of key themes and regions, allowing for an insight into the variations across the continent in terms of political system, economy and international outlook.

To achieve this, the module will examine important overarching themes in modern African politics such as:

  • the effects of World War II
  • the rise of African nationalism
  • African liberation struggles against colonial states
  • the effects of the Cold War
  • the variance in economic and political development
  • the factors behind some of the continent's conflicts

These themes will be examined closely by focusing on representative, specific case-studies in seminars, such as the influence of the Cold War on the Angolan Civil War.

The module content will include:

  • Challenging preconceptions: Africa and the international system
  • Africa's colonial legacy
  • Patterns of decolonisation: west verses east
  • A picture of violence: African liberation struggles
  • Cold War in Africa One: The Congo Crisis, 1960-1965
  • Cold War in Africa Two: The internationalisation of the Angolan Civil War, 1974-1976
  • The post-colonial experience: one party states and democracy
  • Africa's economy: minerals, neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes
  • Post Cold War Conflict in Africa
  • Case study South Africa: apartheid to democracy
  • Africa after 2000: A new beginning?




Dr Matt Graham


The module is delivered through one, 1 hour weekly lecture, followed by one or two seminars over eleven weeks, which will focus upon specific case-studies.


The assessment criteria are as follows:

  • Two x 3,500 word essays (40% each)
  • One x Wiki Project (20%)


Indicative Reading

  • F. Cooper.,  Africa Since 1940: the Past of the Present.  (Cambridge, 2002)
  • P. Nugent., Africa Since Independence. (Second edition, Basingstoke, 2012)
  • C. Clapham., Africa and the International System: The Politics of State Survival. (Cambridge, 1996)
  • B. Davidson., The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the curse of the nation-state.  (London, 1992)
  • B. Freund., The Making of Contemporary Africa:  the development of African society since 1800.  (Basingstoke, 1998)
  • I. Taylor and P. Williams., (eds.), Africa in International Politics. (London, 2003)

Access the online reading list system

Module Aims

  • To make students familiar with the economic and political developments across Africa since 1945 and the academic debates surrounding these
  • To challenge preconceptions of Africa in the twentieth century
  • To analyse and assess the impact of both African leaders and external agency on Africa's political evolution
  • To understand the origins of the challenges and opportunities which Africa faces today

Intended learning outcomes

  • A deeper understanding of the political and economic variances in the experience of modern Africa since World War II
  • A knowledge of the various academic debates which surround the themes covered in the module
  • An understanding of how the international community has influenced the course of Africa's history, and to a lesser extent, vice versa
  • An awareness and knowledge of the continent's history and shared experiences which have profoundly affected African politics today
  • The ability to relate specific case studies and examples of political change to broader thematic issues
  • The ability to actively participate in seminars, either individually or in groups, and to offer their opinions
  • The ability to utilise and analyse a wide-range of sources, and to effectively engage with what is often a fiercely debated literature


This module is available on following courses: