Thursday, 18 December 2014

Honours Course on History of Africana Intellectualism: 2015

Honours Course on History of Africana Intellectualism: 2015
History Department, Rhodes University

Facilitated by Dr. Vashna Jagarnath, Senior Lecturer & Acting-Deputy Dean of Humanities (Research)

Summary of the course

Welcome to this short course that attempts to open up a discussion on the history of African thought. Given the vastness of the subject matter we will have to navigate through the key debates and materials rather than undertaking a comprehensive study. Think of the course as a smorgasbord picking up bits and pieces arranged under themes. This way we can sample some of the vast array of literature and you will, by the end of the course, at least be competent in the main debates dealing with African intellectual thought.

The term Africana intellectual thought in this instance is not a racially or geographically bound definition. It includes all people born on the continent as well as its historical and contemporary diaspora. Even though we are focusing on the history of ideas in Africa many of the ideas that have been used to understand Africa, both internally and externally, are drawn from various traditions of ideas including religious, scientific, mythological, historical, economic and sociological thought from around the world.

The Course will be run over 8 seminar sessions, 2-3 hours in duration, held once a week on Saturday. Because of the international nature of the course the seminars will be conducted via Fuze and the reading material will be available on the RuConnected online resource. Participants will be expected to do the required readings and participate in the weekly seminars. Additionally specific readings will be assigned to different participants each week who will provide a summary of the main arguments of their assigned reading.

Seminar 1

Compulsory Readings
1.William Cohen, David(1989) ‘The Undefining of Oral Tradition’ in Ethnohistory and Africa, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 9-18

2.        Cooper, Frederick (2000) ‘Africa's Pasts and Africa's Historians’ by Frederick Cooper in The Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 298-336

In this seminar we will also discuss the logistics of the course.

Seminar 2
Oral Traditions and Writing and Religion

The key focus of this seminar will be to engage the debates on the validity and role of oral traditions in intellectual production. One of the main assumptions in colonial thought about central and sub-Saharan Africa was that these societies lacked serious intellectual, political or economic advancement due to a lack of writing. These views were further supported by the racist ideology that had, until recent years, dominated European and American society and their academies. However, recent work on the many oral traditions indicates that many of these societies had a sophisticated social and political system, with specialized intellectuals. The rethinking of the role of oral verses literate societies has allowed for the further development of African historiography including many areas that have been previously excluded.
A secondary focus of this seminar will be to familiarisation participants, to some extent, with medieval African society.

Readings on the Sundiata

1.        The first reading deals with the basic structure, main characters and an outline of the plot of the Sundiata, a medieval praise poem from the Kingdom of Mali.
Excerpts of Sundiata

2.        This reading is the first forty-seven pages of the Sundiata which you will also be expected to read to get a sense of the praise poem.
The opening section of the Sundiata

3.        This third text is further reading about the Sundiata.
Conrad, David (1994) ‘A Town called Dhakajalan: The Sunjata Tradition and the question of Ancient Mali's Capital’ in The Journal of African History, Vol. 35, No.3, pp. 355-377

4.        The Fourth reading is on ancient Mali to give you a feel for the historical context.
Macdonald, Kevin (1996), ‘A thousand year old City in Mali’ in The African Archaeological Review, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Jun)., pp. 147-152)

Salif Keita (1995) Mandela

Timbuktu: Writing and Religion

One of the key concerns for many thinkers of Colonialism has been the role of Christianity in the process of Colonialism, especially on the continent of Africa. However, we will focus on the impact that Islam, a far more popular religion in pre-colonial Africa than Christianity, had on the continent. For this week’s seminar please consider not only the role of religion but also the role of writing and literacy, an activity not commonly linked to pre-colonial African life. Also think about the impact of Islam on the intellectual activity during this period.

Readings on Timbuktu

1. Jeppie, Shamil & Diagne Souleymane Bachir (2008) The Meanings of Timbuktu (HSRC Press: Pretoria)
31 January 2015

Seminar 3
Enslavement of the body not of the mind

The Atlantic slave trade was responsible for dehumanising some 6 million souls. The shortage of labour during European colonial expansion led to the developing of the most inhumane labour system. The rhetoric used to validate this system was based on racism, which rendered the slaves as inhuman. One of the key claims of racist ideology was that there was a lack of intelligence and intellectual activity on the part of slaves. Despite these claims there is a large amount of intellectual work carried out by slaves that defies the racist narratives. The next two seminars will interrogate some of this work.


1.        Equiano, Olaudao (2008) The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (Hogarth Blake Ltd)

2.        Douglass Frederick (1845) The Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas an American Slave (Anti-Slavery Office: Boston)

3.        Gilbert, Olive (2000) The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850) Dictated by Sojourner Truth (ca.1797-1883) (Pennsylvania State University: Pennsylvania)

4.        SLAVE NARRATIVES: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States, (1941) From Interviews with Former Slaves, Assembled by The library of Congress Project

Seminar 4
Part 1 The Black Jacobins

The Haitian Revolution began in the French colony of Saint Domingue on 21 August 1791 and was the first slave revolution of the modern world. Drawing inspiration from the radical changes happening in France Haitian slaves took on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and through their revolution realised the full potential of the right of all human being across race and class.


1. James, Cyril Lionel Robert (1989) The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’ Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Vintage Books: New York)

Part 2 - Rethinking Blackness- Nationalism and Negritude: Early 20th Century African Intellectuals

At turn of the twentieth century and the end of slavery there was a rise in college and mission educated African intellectuals producing work around issues of liberation and racism both within Africa and across the Atlantic. At the dawn of this new age free of slavery but still under the yoke of colonialism and various guises of racism across the globe a new crop of African intellectuals carved out a space for themselves trying to engage, understand and succeed in this new world not yet free of oppression.


1. Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt (2008) The Souls of Black Folks (Project Gutenberg License)

2. Washington, Booker Taliaferro (2008) Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (Student Handouts, Inc: Toledo, Ohio)

4. Plaatje, Solomon Tshekisho (2008) Native Life in South Africa (Blackmask Online)

5. Césaire, Aimé (1995) Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press: New York)

6. Senghor, Leopold Sedar (1974) ‘Negritude’ in Indian Literature, Vol. 17, No. ½, pp. 269-273

Seminar 5
Les Damnés de la Terre

This week we will be looking at Frantz Fanon one of the most important anti-colonial thinkers. Fanon has been important in inspiring anti-colonial, anti-imperial and anti-racist struggles across the globe. Fanon has been a central theoretical figure in uprisings of oppressed people in many parts of the world including the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. For this seminar we will be bringing in a guest, Dr. Richard Pithouse, an expert on Fanon.


1. Fanon, Frantz (1986) Black Skins White Masks (Pluto Press: London)

2. Fanon, Framtz (1963) The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Weidenfeld: New York)

Seminar 6
The Nationalists

The rise of the nation state in the modern world goes back to the American, French and Haitian Revolutions and soon became a key demand of the colonised subject across the world. Within Africa the anti-colonial struggle took on a particularly nationalist slant and grew in popularity from Ghana, Senegal and even South Africa which had, at the turn of the twentieth century achieved nationhood, but still continue to exclude the majority of its population from the nation. This section will examine the impact of the nationalist leaders and their work over these anti- colonial/apartheid movements.


1. Nkrumah, Kwame (1970) Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonisation (First Modem: Reader Paperback Edition)

2. Kenyatta, Jomo (1961) Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu (Mercury Books: London)

3. Mandela, Rolihlahla Nelson (2009) The Struggle is my Life (Nelson Mandela Foundation)

4. Mandela, Rolihlahla Nelson (1994) A long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Backbay Books: London)

Seminar Six
Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

The increasing struggle and independence of colonial Africa after World War 2 was influential in the rising struggle against racism in the United States in the 1950's, 60's and 70s. The two main movements to rise in the fight against racism were the Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King Jnr. and a form of Black consciousness under Malcolm X.


1. Hansen, D. Hansen (2003) The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation (Harper Collins: United Kingdom)

2. Lehman, Christopher Paul (2006) ‘Civil Rights in Twilight: The End of the Civil Rights Movement Era in 1973’ in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 415-428

4. Russell, Thaddeus (2008) ‘The Color of Discipline: Civil Rights and Black Sexuality’ in American Quarterly

5. Martin, S. Michael (2000) ‘"A Peaceful Demonstration of Our Feeling toward the Death": University Students in Lafayette, Louisiana, React to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassination’ in Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 301-316

6. Jones, Antwan (2006) Race and the "I have a Dream" Legacy: Exploring Predictors of Positive Civil Rights Attitudes in Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 193-208

7. Carson, Clayborne (2005) The Unfinished Dialogue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 19, No. 1, Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 22-26

8. Haley, Alex (1965) The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Grove Press: New York City)

Seminar Eight
Thabo Mbeki

In this, the final seminar, we will think about how the history of Africans and various intellectual ideas influenced Mbeki's development of his African Renaissance.


2. A Dream Deferred by Mark Gevisser (Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg 2009)