From the Global Shadows: Africa and the World since the 1950s

Tutor: Gerard McCann

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00036I

Until recently, it had long been assumed that Africans played relatively passive roles in international affairs and were characterised by weakness within modern global history. The apparent extension of Cold War conflicts into African lands or the various missions of the United Nations throughout the continent in the 1990s seemingly exemplified the impotence of Africans to deal with their own problems and define their own futures in the latter twentieth century.

This course, with its focus on sub-Saharan Africa, interrogates these assumptions through analyses of the ways in which Africans fitted into late-colonial and post-colonial world networks, international relations and global institutions. Crucially, it encourages students to assess how Africans shaped such engagements. In the broad, thematic seminars of the spring, participants explore revisionist scholarship on African decolonisation, global Cold War and Africa’s place within emergent ‘third worldist’ collectives. By unpacking Africa’s roles within the global economy, students can question the very chronologies of decolonisation, debates re-emerging in different ways as rising Asian powers like China and India reassess their relationships with African nations and resources in the twenty-first century. Students will engage perspectives on the importance of pan-African culture and identity in shaping African internationalism. Building on such thematic discussions, students then pinpoint nations and regions of interest in case study and primary source-led group projects in the summer term. The roots of developmental and governance challenges across Africa are inextricably linked to Africa’s historical position within the international order. This course echoes one of Africa’s premier historians, Fred Cooper, by attempting to shed light on this ‘past of the present’.

The seminar programme in the spring term will likely deal with the following:

    • Decolonisation, African statehood and the legacies of colonialism
    • The global Cold War I: African proxy war and superpower intervention
    • The global Cold War II: Africa and the ‘third world’
    • Africa and the international economy: from colonialism to neoliberalism
    • Africa and the United Nations: conflict and development
    • Culture, identity and Africa’s international relations
    • Africa’s relations with China since 1960
    • Africa’s relations with India since 1947.
    • Global shadows and gatekeeper states: theorising African agency in the modern world

Through primary source analysis, group project work in the summer term will deal with:-

The disaggregation of African engagement with the international systems, institutions and networks outlined in the seminars. Building on the deliberately broad scope of the seminars, for the group projects students will select specific national, regional or thematic case studies to demonstrate (with source-based evidence) the ways in Africans themselves shaped their relations with external powers and structures from the 1950s. Specific focus may be placed on the location of Africa within super power conflict; Africa’s place within the third world/global south; the opportunities and challenges offered by Africa’s liaison with non-western actors from the 1950s; issues related to Africa within the global economic system; or the role of cultural factors in post-colonial African global imagination. This list is suggestive, rather than prescriptive. But students are encouraged to develop their own specific research ideas based on those themes that interest them over the course of the spring term. Projects will almost definitely build on ideas from across the various seminar weeks, but there is a great deal of latitude for student choice. They key is to add some case study-led specificity to the broader brushstrokes painted in the seminars and, in so doing, develop deeper knowledge of Africa in the modern world.


For more detailed information, please visit the module catalogue.