Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20Z1: Food and culinary history of southern Africa, the past and present.

Department: History

HIST20Z1: Food and culinary history of southern Africa, the past and present.

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 1 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To explore the key themes in the historical development of African food and culinary patterns, with particular attention to how different foods have varyingly shaped the social, political, environmental and economic landscape in southern Africa.
  • To show how socio-economic exogenous and endogenous factors have varying created “food hegemonies.” How have these factors shaped the nature of food security, community health and nutrition, gender roles, environmental consciousness as well as politics within ever-changing economic, social and political spaces in Africa.
  • To encourage students to be more familiar with the key historiographical debates in Food histories, enriching themselves with critical awareness on the contestations and politics of food production and consumption in southern Africa.
  • To contribute towards the department’s generic aims for a study at Level 2.


  • According to various global food aid agencies, in 2020, approximately one in five people – 21% of the population – were facing hunger in Africa. This has been worsened by increasing poverty, political, religious and resource conflicts, climate change and the prevalence of droughts, disease and poor food and nutrition policing in Africa. Using the social history of African food, this module explores the fragmented and untold story of African food and culinary narratives from the pre-colonial past to the present. We use African food history as a window to explore various contemporary historiographical themes such as, inter alia, race, identity and belonging, gender as well as commodity economies. Joining a growing, yet fragmented culinary historiography, this module traces the various factors that have shaped and impacted African society’s appreciation for different foods over time. It enables us to reflect on how different African communities in southern Africa have responded to the task and challenges of acquiring food in an increasingly environmentally and economically hostile environment. Conversations on African ideas of crops, gender, the economy, health and nutrition as well as the environment are illuminated. We demonstrate how “food hegemonies” as a concept and reality of food contestations have developed and changed over time, and critic what factors influenced these changes, and sometimes continuities, within society. The social history of African food allows us to learn more about the complex and often intertwined nature of African politics, economics, environment and culture. By appreciating the development of food in Africa, we draw attention to the significance of agriculture and food crops to the local economies and how they play an intrinsic role in discourses on social development and sustainability. We will ask ourselves, what are the major foods produced and consumed by African society – have these changed and how has politics, culture and the environment influenced their preparation and consumption historically? We shall observe the changing roles of the colonial and successive postcolonial states in crafting food policy and how this echoed the nature of food production, consumption and availability. We observe the notable impacts and responses by society to different food and culinary policies and patterns over time. We use the social history of African food to reflect on the diversity of southern African communities and learn how food has historically played a central role in shaping everyday life.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • Explain the crucial themes in the development of food and culinary patterns in southern Africa.
  • Critically engage with the key scholarship and debates on food and crop hegemonies – how they have developed as well as their social-cultural, economic, political and environmental impacts and responses from society over time.
  • Participate in academic and social exchanges on the complex social history, politics and culture of African food and culinary patterns in southern Africa.
  • Students will be able to identify the key foods in each region (and society) and appreciate how these food patterns reflect the robust, complex and multiplicity of cultures in southern Africa.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Challenging students’ assumptions about the past and reflecting on the nature of the discipline (and, where appropriate, interdisciplinarity) at an advanced level
  • Appreciating how historical knowledge is produced, what forms it takes, and the purposes it serves
  • Reflecting on students’ own historical consciousness and practice
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 the following teaching methods:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge. These will also provide a broad framework by which the various individual themes will be explored during the term, through introducing students to the key themes and historiographical debates. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective notetaking 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 and presentation 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.
  • Assessment:
  • Formative and Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow 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 a 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. The additional summative assignments will test knowledge and skills specific to the module, such as analysis of relevant primary sources, or critical engagement with the historiography as demonstrated through book reviews and article abstracts.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 Term 1 1 Hour 10
Seminars 8 Term 1 1.5 Hour 12
Preparation and Reading 178
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative benefits from the 1,000 word summative assignment and from work done during and in preparation for seminars.

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