African History

Undergraduate History Major:
African History Track

Students can fulfill the requirements for the History major while pursuing their specific interest in one regional or thematic area. One of those areas is African.

The field of African history engages a geography that includes African itself, but also one that has helped redefine the Atlantic world, incorporate the Indian Ocean basin and the enrichment of New World cultures. By necessity it embraces innovative methods and reveals a complex world that continues to surprise us with its cultural richness and insights into the human conditions of conflict and creativity. The study of African history at Boston University is one of the best established in the United States.

Boston University is the home of one of the strongest, and oldest, African history program in the nation, and in the world. Courses cover a broad range of themes and connections to university programs in art history, anthropology, geography, international relations, political science, public health, religion, law, medicine, and theology. Established in 1953, the African Studies Center is among the nation’s oldest programs for the study of Africa.

Students choosing to focus on African history must complete the requirements for the History concentration as outlined below. Note that selecting a special track for the History major is optional, and students may fulfill as much of it as they wish. In the lists below, move the cursor over a course number to view that course’s description. Note that course numbers are effective as of fall 2011; previous numbers are provided in parentheses.

  • HI 200: The Historian’s Craft (taken in the sophomore year or no later than one semester after declaring the major)
  • Four courses to fulfill the distribution requirement:
    • One course in American history
    • One course in European history
    • One course in World history
    • One course in premodern history
  • Seminars (two required). It is recommended that students with a focus on African history select seminars from the list below:
    • CAS HI 489: The African Diaspora in the Americas Uses historical studies, autobiographical and fictional texts, films, and music by and about Africans for a thematic and chronological exploration of the origin and transformation of African Diaspora communities in the Americas from the period of the Atlantic slave trade to the present.
    • CAS HI 494: Histories for the New South Africa Critical reading of new histories of South Africa (covering the history of the region from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries). New historiographical perspectives on the transformations in South African society.
    • CAS HI 584: Comparative Slavery The institution of slavery in history with a special focus on slavery and the slave trade in Africa and the Americas in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Attention to cultural and political issues as well as economic and social aspects of slavery.
    • CAS HI 588: Women, Power, and Culture in Africa Understanding the role of women in African history. Topics include the Atlantic slave trade, power, religion, the economy, resistance movements, health, the state, and kinship. Emphasis on the period before independence.
    • CAS HI 589: Nature’s Past: Histories of Environment and Society Historians’ approaches to environmental history, including human elements of technology, demography, local knowledge, political ecology, social organization. Geographical foci include North America, Atlantic World, Asia, and Africa.
    • CAS HI 595: Morocco: History on the Cusp of Three Continents Explores the range and limits of social mixture—cultural, political, economic—as three civilizations met at the northwest corner of Africa and influenced one another from the eighth to the twenty-first centuries.
  • Other courses (making a total of 12 for the major) may be selected from the following:
    • CAS HI 347 (291): Reconstructing the African Past Discusses the uses of archaeological evidence and oral tradition, as well as primary and secondary documentation, in the study of precolonial African history: early states and empires, kinship, cosmology and social order, slavery and the slave trade, origins of racial conflict in southern Africa.
    • CAS HI 348 (292): Colonialism in Africa: Impact and Aftermath Uses case studies of particular African societies or nations to examine patterns of European conquest and African resistance; forms of colonial administration and socioeconomic consequences of colonial rule; decolonization and contemporary African liberation movements; economic and political developments since independence; and contemporary social and cultural change.
    • CAS HI 349 (382): History of Religion in Pre-Colonial Africa The study of the development of religious traditions in Africa during the period prior to European colonialism. An emphasis on both indigenous religions and the growth and spread of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the continent as a whole.
    • CAS HI 350 (385): History of the Atlantic World, 1500-1825 Examines the various interactions that shaped the Atlantic World, connecting Europe, Africa, and the Americas between 1500 and 1800. After defining the political interaction, there is special emphasis on cultural exchange, religious conversion, and the revolutionary era.
    • CAS HI 351 (394): Environmental History of Africa Focus on the African environment and ecological systems over the past 150 years. Topics include climatic change, hydrography, agriculture, deforestation, soil erosion, disease, conservation, famine, and the role of colonialism and government policy in environmental change.
    • CAS HI 352 (395): Power, Leadership, and Governance in Africa and the Caribbean Haitian Revolution; British Caribbean; leadership, governance, and power in Africa during the period of legitimate trade; visionaries, dictators, and nationalist politics in the Caribbean; chiefs, western elites, and nationalism in colonial Africa; road to governance in post-colonial Caribbean and Africa.
    • CAS HI 353 (396): State and Commerce in Atlantic Africa, 1450-1850 Examines—both by region and across the larger Atlantic area—the ways that overseas commerce, in particular the slave trade, interacted with and was shaped by African politics and economic variables.

African History Focus links on Boston University Website: