HIS 4324-01 – Spring 2017 – Texas Wesleyan University

Instructor: Chris Ohan

History of Sub Sahara Africa

Office: PMC 244

Phone: 817-531-4913

Meeting: Thursday 1:30-4

Office Hours: Mon & Wed 10-12, 1:30-4, Tues 3-6, or by appointment

Location: PMC 122

Web: www.historymuse.net

E-mail: cohan@txwes.edu 


When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes.
When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

-Desmond Tutu


The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery.

-Chinua Achebe


Power is tempting, and in a sense no power is greater than the ability to take someone’s life.

-Adam Hochschild


Course description: “The course surveys the broad sweep of African history south of the Sahara Desert from prehistory to the present.” 


We will be studying Africa from multiple angles: anthropological, political, geographical, cultural, religious, economic and, of course, historical.  We will begin with the important basic social unit of the “tribe.”  From there we will move forward and examine some of the great African civilizations before moving to the Atlantic slave trade, the 19th century “carving up” of Africa into imperial holdings, especially Leopold II’s Congo.  We will spend a considerable amount of time looking at 20th century Africa, including independence movements, South Africa and the end of Apartheid, the tragedy of HIV/AIDS (and now Ebola), and the catastrophe of Rwanda. 


Learning Outcomes:  Upon successful completion of this class, you should have a fuller and more balanced view, a greater appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the African experience.  You should be able to compare, analytically, historic events and issues and trace them to contemporary concerns on the continent.  To make these comparisons, you should be familiar with various types of sources from the period, including text, art and artifact.  Through the exam essays you should be able to apply basic historical methods of research to interpret the period.  Through the readings, in-class discussions and writing assignments, you should acquire the ability to distinguish between and use primary and secondary sources for the period.


The outcomes listed above relate to the Goals of the History Program:  1. That students will possess a general knowledge of human history, 2. Students will understand historical interpretation and historiography, 3. Students will practice the skills inherent in the craft of history, and 4. That students will be better prepared to enter graduate programs in History, teach history in middle or secondary school, or enter other careers open to graduates with degrees in the Liberal Arts.


Required Texts:

Sparks, Where the Negroes Are Masters (Harvard)

Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (Mariner).

Achebe, There Was a Country (Penguin)

Mandella, Conversations with Myself (Picador)



Instructional Methods/Class Format:  Some classes will consist of lecture as preparation for discussion of the four texts used in this class. However, as the class will be run as a colloquium most sessions will involve discussions of the four monographs as they come due.  Never hesitate to bring up relevant questions and comments.  On the university level, I assume that you will complete the assigned reading for each week.  It is also assumed that you will attend all classes.


Evaluation and Grading:


Class Participation


Midterm Exam


Book Reviews (4)


Final Exam





Please note that I submit midterm grades only for those students who appear to be failing.


Exams.  Exams will be out-of-class written essays answering a series of questions provided.  The midterm essay will be due on 9 March.  The final exam is due on 4 May by 2pm.  Both must be turned in via Blackboard by 2pm on those dates.


Book Reviews.  You are responsible for completing three book reviews on the supplemental texts listed above.  The book reviews are due as follows Sparks Negroes (16 February), Hochschild (23 March), Achebe (6 April), Mandella (2 May).  The reviews will be turned in via Blackboard by 1:30pm on the dates listed.  See guidelines/format below.


Please note that any late work will be penalized at the rate of one letter grade per day.  If an assignment is due at 1:30 and it is submitted at 1:45, it is a day late.  No assignments will be accepted more than 4 days late.


Class Participation.  A large portion of class time will be devoted to discussion.  We have no primary source reader for this class so discussions will draw primarily on issues raised in class and from the four monographs.  Your class participation grade will consist of my evaluation of your preparedness and the level of your participation in these discussions as well as scheduled presentations over particular parts of the texts.  Obviously, if you are not present or don’t talk, your participation grade will be low. 


Attendance is mandatory.  If you miss more than 1 class (for us, the equivalent of one week) consider the effect on your grade.  Should you miss more, please do not offer excuses, notes or request special consideration.  Keep in mind a) that “dropping a course” is perfectly legitimate when circumstances arise that prevent you from completion, and b) that I should not be expected to change class expectations based on your circumstances.  You are responsible for all class assignments regardless of attendance.  Quizzes covering assigned readings may be given at any time and factored into the course grade at the discretion of the instructor.  If you are unable to complete this course, you must withdraw from it.  Please note that if you miss more than the equivalent of one-week’s worth of class, I reserve the right to drop you from the course.  The last date to withdraw with a W is 11 April.


Internet/Blackboard:  Feel free to send email to the address above.  Keep in mind that I will not entertain discussion about grades, missed classes &etc over email or any other electronic medium.  In addition, this syllabus, the lecture/reading schedule, some of the course readings and any other class handouts will be posted on the above web address.  All assignments will be submitted via Blackboard.


Academic Integrity:


Familiarize yourself with Wesleyan’s Student Code of Conduct.  Academics are not only devoted to learning, research, and the advancement of knowledge, but also to the development of ethically sensitive and responsible persons. By accepting membership in this class, you are joining a community characterized by free expression, free inquiry, honesty, respect for others, and participation in constructive change.  All rights and responsibilities exercised within this academic environment shall be compatible with these principles. 


Academic Dishonesty is a breach of the Student Code of Conduct.  Dishonesty includes:

  1. Plagiarism, representing the work of another as one's own work;
  2. Preparing work for another that is to be used as that person's own work;
  3. Cheating by any method or means;
  4. Knowingly and willfully falsifying or manufacturing scientific or educational data and representing the same to be the result of scientific or scholarly experiment or research;
  5. Knowingly furnishing false information to a university official relative to academic matters;
  6. Soliciting, aiding, abetting, concealing, or attempting conduct in violation of this code.


Academic Dishonesty will not be tolerated in this course. Any offense will result in an F in the class (not simply on the assignment) and be referred to the appropriate academic officials for adjudication. If you have any questions regarding this subject please see me.  For a detailed description and further clarification, please see the link for “Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty” on my website, the 2015-2017 Wesleyan Catalog (p. 74), or the Student Handbook.


Writing for this course should employ standard academic formatting—double spaced, typed—with citations following either MLA or Chicago style.  If you need help with this see the guides on the links page of the class website, the Wesleyan library or the instructor.  Correct use of source information and citations is assumed on the college level.  Failure to cite or format according to one of the styles listed will result in a lower grade.  See Grading Guidelines on the class webpage for specific grading criteria regarding written work. 




My Goal in teaching this class is that you develop a fuller and more balanced view, a greater appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the African experience.  In our class, ideas will hold precedence over facts, dates, and the like.  History is NOT about memorization of factual information but a discipline that analyzes, interprets and creates an account of the past.  It is important that you consider the classroom and online discussion area open forums for discussion—of anything related to the themes and topics of the course.  (Of course, any argument—whether spoken or written—must be supported.)  While I (or other students) may challenge beliefs/perspectives, realize that the purpose is not to change them.  That said, an open/tolerant attitude is essential in this class.  Remember—this is a college course where you ought to be able to discuss things openly and intelligently.  If you choose to be intolerant and interrupt class discussion, I reserve the right to ask you to leave the classroom.


As a goal, historians strive to be objective.  Therefore, for the purposes of this class regarding the religious and political beliefs that are held by the various groups we will examine, all are equally valid.  That is, while faith and organized religion as well as political beliefs certainly affected the period, we will avoid arguments that suggest one group or religion has any more claim to absolute “Truth” than another.


Small Print:


Texas Wesleyan Policies: Students should read the current Texas Wesleyan University Catalog and Student Handbook to become familiar with University policies. These policies include, but are not limited to academic integrity, grade appeal, sexual harassment. Student access to records, and others; policies specified in the current catalog are applicable unless otherwise stated in this syllabus.


Disability Policy:  Texas Wesleyan University adheres to a disability policy which is in keeping with relevant federal law. The University will provide appropriate accommodation as determined by the Director of the Counseling Center, Dr. Michael Ellison.  Students must notify instructors of any permanent or temporary disabilities and must provide documentation regarding those disabilities prior to the granting of an accommodation.  For assistance, students should consult with Dr. Ellison.


Repeating Courses: Any course taken at Texas Wesleyan University and repeated for a grade must be repeated at Texas Wesleyan University. Any course taken at another institution may be repeated at Texas Wesleyan, and the most recent grade on the course will be counted. When a course is repeated, the grade point average will be computed using the most recent grade achieved.


Syllabus Disclaimer: Note: Course syllabi are intended to provide students with basic information concerning the course. The syllabus can be viewed as a “blueprint” for the course; changes in the syllabi can be made an students will be informed of any substantive changes concerning examinations, the grading or attendance policies and changes in project assignments.


Unified Discrimination and Harassment Reporting (Including Title IX):

As noted in the catalog under the Unified Discrimination and Harassment Policy, Texas Wesleyan University is committed to providing an environment free of all forms of prohibited discrimination and sexual harassment.  If you have experienced any such discrimination or harassment, including gender- or sex-based forms, know that help and support are available from the following resources:

                       Complete online incident report at https://txwes.edu/student-life/report-a-concern/

                       Contact Campus Conduct Hotline (24 hours a day): (866) 943-5787

                       Campus security (24 hours a day): (817) 531-4911

                       Dean of Students: deanofstudents@txwes.edu OR (817) 531-4872

Please be aware that all Texas Wesleyan University employees, other than designated confidential resources (i.e., Community Counseling Center) are required to report credible evidence of prohibited discrimination or harassment to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, or to one of the Title IX Assistant Coordinators.  If you wish to speak to someone confidentially, please contact the Community Counseling Center at (817) 531-4859 to schedule an appointment



Book Review Format


1.             5-6 pages typewritten, double-spaced.  Title page, if used, does NOT count.  Observe the normal rules of writing such as standard one-inch margins, page numbering, etc. 

2.             Full bibliographic citation on the title page or at the top of the first page.  (Consult an MLA or Chicago style guide if you’ve forgotten how to do this.  Do NOT make up your own form.)

3.             Brief introduction to the topic or subject of the book.  Why is this topic or subject important to the period of history being covered?

4.             Summarize the author’s thesis (argument) and main points concisely but fully.  (What do you think the author is trying to accomplish by writing the book?)

5.             Critique the book.  (What you’re doing is analogous to what happens in a courtroom. Consider yourself the judge and the author a lawyer who has presented an argument/case.  It’s up to you, having listed to his argument/case to decide whether or not her claims have validity.)  Based on your answer to #4 do you find his/her arguments and conclusions convincing?  How does s/he do in terms of accomplishing his purpose for writing?  Do not walk fences or resort to elementary tactics such as pleading ignorance.  (This should be about one-half of your paper.)

(5a. If the book is a work of literature, you’ll still consider what the author is trying to accomplish, but you’ll need to think about what the work says about the time period or place in which it’s set, the characters, the environment, etc.)

6.             While a review does not usually include the readers own opinion, you may provide a brief personal evaluation of no more than one paragraph.  Be sure to explain and support your opinion carefully and coherently.  At this point in your academic career, you ought to have an informed opinion. 

7.             This is not a research paper, so formal footnoting is not necessary.  If you do quote or draw on information that is not your own, simply use a parenthetical reference according to Turabian/Chicago style. 

8.             Papers which are turned in after the time they are due will be penalized one letter grade for each day.  No papers which are more than four days late will be accepted.  If you or someone close to you is looking like they’re coming down with the latest disease or that they might need emergency surgery, turn it in early.  If you want mercy, pray.




Tentative Lecture Topic and Reading List

Jan 12




Jan 19

Kinship and Community

Religion in Africa



Jan 26

West Africa, Swahili, Zimbabwe



Feb 2

Atlantic Slave Trade

Readings: Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (Prologue only); Sparks, Where the Negroes are Masters



Feb 9

South Africa



Feb 16

European Conquest



Feb 23

Colonial Africa

Readings: Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost



March 2

The Congo, Nationalism and Independence

Readings: Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost



March 9

Midterm Essay Due

Apartheid in South Africa



March 23

Independence and Freedom

Readings: Achebe, There Was a Country



March 30

Post Independence and Drift Toward Dictatorship

Readings: Achebe, There Was a Country



April 6

Rwanda Genocide, HIV/AIDS



April 13

The Case of Zimbabwe



April 20

Democracy in Africa, South Africa

Readings: Mandela, Conversations with Myself



April 27

Lessons and Conclusions

Readings: Mandela, Conversations with Myself



May 4

Final Exam Due