Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21F1: Wealth & Poverty in Africa

Department: History

HIST21F1: Wealth & Poverty in Africa

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


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


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To explore key themes and patterns in the economic history of Sub-Saharan Africa
  • To engage critically with a broad historiography, including the ways in which historians can learn from and engage with other disciplines such as political science, anthropology, and political science
  • To introduce students to the expanding range of primary source material on which these approaches and methodologies rely
  • To understand the trajectory of developments in economic history and their implications for studying African history, and vice versa


  • Historians have long been fascinated by questions of wealth, poverty, inequality, and economic development in Africa. In the last two decades, these questions have received new momentum as part of a rapid and exciting ‘renaissance’ of African economic history. In conversation with economists, anthropologists and political scientists, historians have developed new approaches and incorporated new and varied historical source material in an attempt to provide fresh perspectives on the most important issues in African economic history and development.
  • This module provides an introduction to the history of African economic development over the long run. The chronological scope covers from 1500 to today, and while the focus is on Africa south of the Sahara as a whole, the module will also address regional and country specific cases alongside wider trends. It will consider where Africa fits into the field of global economic history and historiography, and it will also pay close attention to the ways in which historians have addressed themes such as inequality, development, state building, and power, from the beginning of continuous professional study in the late 1950s to the recent ‘renaissance’ of the sub-discipline in the twenty-first century. This recent expansion of work on African economic history has gone hand in hand with creative approaches and new evidence, and these themes will be addressed continuously throughout the module.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • To explain and assess patterns and trends in the economic history of Sub-Saharan Africa
  • To understand and critically evaluate perspectives in the historiography and how and why these have changed over time, particularly the relationship between historians and scholars from other disciplines and the different source materials prioritised by each
  • Understand and evaluate a variety of different sources, including quantitative and qualitative materials, and the approaches developed • To understand the reciprocal influence of Africa on the global economy and vice versa
  • To understand how other disciplines contribute to economic history.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to identify and to critique conflicting historical interpretations
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness.
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. 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.
  • Assessment:
  • 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 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 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or Assignments 1,000 words total, 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