Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST2541: Elders, Despots, Modernisers: Reimagining the State in Northeast Africa

Department: History

HIST2541: Elders, Despots, Modernisers: Reimagining the State in Northeast 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 the regional and historical diversity of polities across the Horn of Africa and its environs over the past two centuries.
  • To examine the making and nature of statehood in Northeast Africa and its relations to other social institutions.
  • To enable students to engage critically with a theoretical literature on the state, and with the historiography of north-east Africa;
  • To contribute towards the achievement of the Department's generic Aims for study at Level 2.


  • This module will explore the idea of statehood in modern Africa, through a focus on northeast Africa region broadly conceptualised to embrace the Horn and its borderlands in the Sudans and the northern Great Lakes region. The module will introduce students to radically different perspectives on African statehood. Through an examination of the ways in which states have been constructed and often imposed across Northeast Africa's diverse societies and landscapes, students will be encouraged to consider how those who have held or aspired to authority have been forced to reimagine the nature of that authority in the context of new sources, instruments and ideologies of power. The module will allow students to see the resultant patterns of innovation and continuity as a rich tapestry that offers important correctives to normative models of the state.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • Explain and assess patterns in the socio-political relations of power, patronage and protection across northeast Africa since the early 19th century
  • Evaluate and discuss central problems in the history of pre-colonial authority in northeast Africa, of the nature and effects of European imperialism in the region and of the divergent trajectories of independent nationalism and statehood that have developed in the 20th century
  • Expound key perspectives from the theoretical literature on statehood and political authority and apply these to the history and politics of northeast Africa
  • Participate in academic inquiry into the history of northeast Africa's states, critically examining historiographic approaches in light of primary sources and relevant regional contexts.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Building on and developing skills gained at Level 1
  • 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, 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.
  • Assignments will test students' ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 17 16 in Term 2, 1 in Term 3 1 hour 17
Seminars 7 7 in Term 2 1 hour 7
Preparation & Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Coursework assessment consisting of a short essay (max. 2,000 words) or assignment of equivalent length e.g. source commentaries 2,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 2,000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module.

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