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From the Global Shadows: Africa & The World since the 1950s - HIS00036I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Gerard McCann
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

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’

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will: 

  • have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project 

Module content

Teaching Programme:
This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

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

  1. Decolonisation, African statehood and the legacies of colonialism
  2. The global Cold War I: African proxy war and superpower intervention
  3. The global Cold War II: Africa and the ‘third world’
  4. Africa and the international economy: from colonialism to neoliberalism
  5. Africa and the United Nations: conflict and development
  6. Culture, identity and Africa’s international relations
  7. Africa’s relations with China since 1960
  8. Africa’s relations with India since 1947.
  9. 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.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - From the Global Shadows: Africa & The World since the 1950s
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project. 


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - From the Global Shadows: Africa & The World since the 1950s
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.    

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Bayart, Jean-François. "Africa in the world: a history of extraversion" in African Affairs, 99, 395. 2000.

Cooper, Frederick. Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ferguson, James. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.