Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module HIST1681: Power in Africa

Department: History

HIST1681: Power in Africa

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 150 Location Durham


  • Normally a A or B grade in A-level History, or an acceptable equivalent (e.g. in terms of Scottish Highers or IB)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the study of African history. The module will provide an overview of the broad sweep of human history on the continent and introduce students to the particular challenges of studying the African past and the methodological and theoretical innovations that historians have pioneered to address those challenges
  • To introduce students to critical questions about the nature of power in human societies with specific reference to Africa
  • To introduce case studies from different periods and places within African history that can be used to explore power dynamics within and between societies.
  • To equip students with the skills to analyse evidence from the African past and develop a critical understanding of gender, generation, sexuality, ethnicity and race


  • The module will introduce students to the study of African history in a series of chapters, each of which considers a particular aspect or site of power. The module will discuss aspects of power in African societies over the last thousand years, with the bulk of study focussing on the last hundred and fifty years. It will help students to acknowledge but also deconstruct the traditional tripartite division of African history into pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. The module situates the history of European colonialism on the continent within much longer stories about changing power relations within Africa's societies and between Africa and other parts of the world. Following an introduction to the broad sweep of African history and historical approaches to power the module will consider:
  • 1. Migration and Trade: the movement of people, goods and ideas
  • 2. Coercive Violence: spears, shackles and guns
  • 3. Knowledge: cultures, beliefs and data
  • 4. Borders and States: the making of nation-states
  • 5. Religion: changing ways of being and seeing in the world Each chapter comprises three lectures and a companion seminar. Through these, students will be introduced to each aspect or site of power; the particular problems and questions historians have posed in this area; and two case studies in which they can learn to explore for themselves the dynamics of political, economic, social and cultural power.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A broad knowledge of the political, social, economic and cultural history of Africa.
  • An appreciation of the nature and impact of external forces including slavery and colonialism, and the continuing significance of older forms of power within Africa's histories.
  • An awareness of the challenges of writing and researching African history and the power dynamics involved in the production of history itself.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Identifying, defining, and understanding historical problems
  • Ability to explore the ways in which historians address historical problems going beyond the simple accumulation of knowledge
  • Ability to identify and to critique conflicting historical interpretations
  • Discussing and explaining ideas in a small-group context
  • Practicing introductory writing and research skills.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.) The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge.
  • Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals. The seminar will also be the primary forum for developing students skills in reading and criticizing primary sources.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • The summative essay remains a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills it develops. It allows students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2; revision lecture 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 3 in Term one, 3 in Term two; an introductory and revision session 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
two hour written examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2000 words not inclusive of footnotes or bibliography 2000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

A written assignment of 1500 words to be submitted in Michaelmas

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University