Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3221: Interpreting conflict in post-colonial Africa

Department: History

HIST3221: Interpreting conflict in post-colonial Africa

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 2 module in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students at an advanced level to the theoretical problems faced by historians as they engage with societies in Africa emerging from colonialization.
  • To build a deeper understanding of the state and the way it interacts with society through the example of post-colonial Africa.


  • The global media typically interprets the many violent conflicts of post-colonial Africa as 'tribal' violence. These crude stereotypes are themselves the products of different political and historiographical contexts, in which Africa and post-colonialism are poorly understood. This course takes us beyond the stereotypes to examine in detail the historical, political and economic basis for episodes of mass violence and warfare in Africa from the 1950s onwards. We will draw connections between the local, state-level, regional and global factors which have fed into these conflicts. But in order to do this, students will be challenged to think hard about how different disciplines have tackled the problem of post-colonialism. Students will compare the work of political scientists, anthropologists, economists as well as that of historians, in order to gain comparative and theoretical insight into the causes and character of post-colonial conflict. Our understanding of state and society in post-colonial Africa will be challenged throughout; but so will our understanding of the role of history itself. We will be asking bigger questions of our discipline, our own assumptions as post-colonial historians, and above all assessing how much we have to learn from other disciplines as we tackle some of the most thought-provoking problems of the modern world.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • To ensure students have a sound overall understanding of the study of conflict in post-colonial Africa
  • To prompt students to think beyond the usual norms of the historical discipline, whilst also thinking historically about sometimes very recent events
  • To engage students in high-level interdisciplinary debates at the cutting edge of African studies, via the lens of scholarship on conflict and violence
  • To enable students to draw the interconnections between local and global frames of analysis
  • To encourage students to think comparatively and theoretically in their analysis of conflicts, to draw parallels and explain difference between diverse incidences of conflict
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. 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:
  • 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 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. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • 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.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2; 2 in Term 3 1 hour 21
Seminars 8 4 in Term 1, 3 in Term 2; setup seminar 1 hour 8
Preparation and Reading 171
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
seen examination [paper to be made available not less than seventy-two hours before the start of the examination] 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

1 Mock exam essay, of up to 1,300 words.

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