The MSc is a cross-disciplinary degree that introduces students to the main currents in recent scholarship on the African continent and provides training in key methodological approaches. The course draws on History, Politics, Anthropology, Media Studies and Gender Studies amongst other disciplines and requires students to take an inter-disciplinary approach towards their studies. The taught element of the degree prepares students to undertake their own research project and to write an original dissertation. The course is best suited to students with a primary interest in sub-Saharan Africa, although dissertation projects occasionally include North Africa and the diaspora.
Alumni of the MSc course go on to have careers in academia, research and journalism, and with NGOs, national governments and international institutions.
Core Course 1
This core course introduces students to the many disciplinary, thematic, practical and ethical and epistemological issues involved in researching Africa. Awareness of methodology is central to a critical approach to scholarship and essential in developing the skills in research design that must be the first step toward the completion of a successful dissertation within this MSc programme. This course is therefore both intellectually rigorous and practical.
The emphasis is on the distinctive approaches of the various disciplines involved in African Studies, although many of the research strategies to be addressed are of course not unique to Africa. Therefore, whilst readings for the course will focus upon African examples, students will also be encouraged to consider the ways in which methods devised in other areas may be adapted and applied in the circumstances of research in Africa. The course also tackles issues of interdisciplinary and methodological pluralism, as well as the practical issues of preparing for fieldwork and preliminary issues of research ethics in the African context.
The topics to be covered during the course include:
- Researching Africa: These lectures consider the ways in which the social sciences have framed Africa and explore the ethical, epistemological and political issues of doing research in or on Africa today. They foster a critical reflection on African Studies and on “Africa” as its underlying unit of analysis.
- Investigating Africa’s past: Documentary sources are of central relevance to all disciplines engaged in the study of Africa. These lectures survey the range of approaches to archival and documentary study and chart the evolution of the methodologies for collecting oral evidence.
- Anthropology and Africa: The theoretical and historical origins of social anthropology are examined along with a critical analysis of the claims made for the discipline’s key method, participant observation. We also interrogate the use of visual sources and material culture.
- Political Science: Qualitative methods are crucial elements of research in the social sciences in Africa. These lectures aim to give a general introduction to the uses of qualitative methods. The lectures also trace the development of the discipline of political science, paying particular attention to methodological shifts.
The course is taught by a series of eight lectures, each dealing with a particular methodology or research strategy or ethical/epistemological issue. The lectures are supported by classes, in which students consider specific examples of research practice through a close reading of case study materials. A series of research design lectures run in parallel to complement the teaching curriculum. Faculty present their own research projects and discuss the research strategies, methodological decision-making, use of sources and the ethical issues that have arisen during their own research. The course is assessed by an examined essay.
Core Course 2
This course runs through Michaelmas Term and Hilary Term and introduces students to major debates in the contemporary study of Africa, aiming to set these issues within their historical, social and cultural contexts. The approach is necessarily selective, but features many of the most important and influential scholarly works on Africa. Central to the course is the analysis of the evolving nature of the state and society in Africa and the shifting balance between the two, from the so-called 'precolonial' period to the present day. The weekly themes will be examined with reference to continental patterns and variations and will reflect key areas of academic and public debate.
Students are encouraged to engage with some of the most important questions facing Africa today: Did colonial rule have a significant and lasting impact on Africa? Has development been a help or a hindrance? What are the legacies of nationalism? Is Africa democratising? What impact does economic change have on society? How unequal is Africa's relationship with the rest of the globe? Is 'Africa' a useful concept for study?
The course is taught through 16 1-hour lectures and 16 participatory classes, running through Michaelmas and Hilary Terms. Students complete two examined essays.
Lectures and seminars in Michaelmas Term consider the shifting character of the state and society in Africa, from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial. Power, culture, gender, trade, slavery, colonialism, urbanization, nationalism, 'patrimonialism', economic collapse, state ‘failure’, and democratization are all examined with reference to continental patterns and variations and set within the context of current debates about the value of indigenous forms of authority and the need for political accountability.
While each week focuses on a key area of debate about state and society in Africa, the course is organized in broadly chronological order. We begin with African states and society in the so-called ‘pre-colonial’ period, before analysing colonial conquest and local resistance, the impact of the colonial state and its vision of ‘modernity’, nationalism and independence. The course then analyses authoritarianism and patrimonialism in the 'post-colony', before considering more contemporary themes such as economic and political liberalisation, and the good governance agenda.
Lectures focus on identifying historical continuities and critical junctures and cover a broad range of key themes:
- Polities and societies in African history
- The impact of colonialism on society, polities and economies
- The hopes (and failures) of the nationalist state project
- The politics of economic crisis
- Why African states ‘failed’
- Structural adjustment and its impact on Africa
- The characteristics of democracy in Africa.
The course outline for Hilary Term features lectures on a wide range of contemporary social, political and economic issues and is regularly updated. Lecture topics will be circulated toward the end of Michaelmas Term of each academic year.
In recent years the topics covered in Hilary Term have included:
Three Rival Responses to Colonialism: Mandela, Fanon, Gandhi
The Question of Language in African Studies
Sexual and Reproductive Health in African History
Engaging with China from Africa: The Question of Agency
Extractives in African History - Minerals and Mining
Extractives in African History - Minerals and Mining
Extractives in African History - Oil
News Media in Africa, 1800-2000
The Military in African Politics