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From the global shadows: Africa and the world since the 1950s - HIS00142I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Gerard McCann
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Until recently, it had long been assumed that African peoples played relatively passive roles in modern international affairs, their peoples and nations characterised by weakness within twentieth century global institutions and systems. The extension of cold war conflicts onto African soil from the 1960s or the various ‘peacekeeping’ missions of the United Nations throughout the continent from 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 interrogates these assumptions through analyses of the ways in which Africans fitted into and moulded late-colonial and post-colonial world networks, international relations and global history. The module is designed to offer students, many of whom will not have studied African affairs before, a means to explore notions of African agency and action in the contemporary world.

Students will explore revisionist scholarship on African decolonisation, the global cold war (geopolitical and cultural) and Africa’s place within Afro-Asian collectives. By unpacking African roles within the global economy, students can question the chronologies of decolonisation, debates re-emerging in different ways as Asian superpowers like China and India reassess their relationships with African leaders and resources in the twenty-first century. Students will also engage the importance of pan-Africanism in shaping African internationalisms and thought. The roots of Africa’s contemporary challenges and opportunities 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 Semester 2 2024-25

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

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

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Decolonisation, African statehood and the legacies of colonialism
  2. Africa and the international economy: from colonialism to neoliberalism
  3. Africa and the global Cold War: ‘proxy war’ and superpower intervention
  4. Africa and the cultural Cold War
  5. Africa and the United Nations
  6. Pan-Africanism
  7. Africa and the Afro-Asian world
  8. Global shadows and gatekeeper states: theorising African agency in the modern world


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

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 formative 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 25 working days of the submission deadline. 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:

  • Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1972.
  • Táíwò, Olúf ´mi. Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously. London: Hurst & Co, 2022.
  • Stolte, Carolien and Lewis, Su Lin (eds.). The Lives of Cold War Afro-Asianism. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2022.

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.