19th-20th c. Colonialism and Resistance

Colonization of Africa is usually taught as a broad concept with continent-wide generalities. In order to humanize this history and have an accurate and holistic understanding of the related but unique phenomena that took place, we focus on in-depth country studies and primary source research.  This curated resource list contains lesson plans, visuals, teaching materials, and website links for teaching about and studying colonialism in Africa.


  1. African voices (not just restatement by others of African views) are crucial for understanding this period of history.
  2. Colonialism was a new stage in relationships that had been going on for 1,000 years between many of the Africans and Europeans.
  3. Conquest was by brutal force, sometimes by trickery, sometimes by “agreement”—so that African countries could bargain for some rights.
  4. Anti-Black Racism played a role in conquest and in colonial rule.
  5. Science played a role in conquest and in colonial rule. Mapping, for example, is related to domination of the continent.
  6. Religion (Christian missionary activity) played a role in conquest and in colonial rule.
  7. The colonial period was relatively short, roughly 1870–1960—but it has had a heavy and lasting impact on economic, social, and political affairs, leading to what Nkrumah called neocolonalism.”
  8. Colonialism fostered economic dependency, with long-term effects
  9. Colonialism was authoritarian and fostered indigenous authoritarian rule, with long-term effects
  10. Resistance took many forms. Beyond the violent/non-violent binary, resistance was expressed through demands for equality and freedom, religious opposition, economic and labor organization, mass protest, and war.
  11. Colonial rule led to resistance and, ultimately, to independence.



      These select resources are a reminder to situate the colonial period in a much larger historical frame:

      British Museum Interactive Timeline – amazing artifacts on a stunning timeline

      Heilbrunn’s Timeline of Art History – extensive chronological timeline with contextual information about artifacts

      Pre-colonial European Depictions of Africans (Boston University)

      The Gold Road Project on the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali & Songhai (Howard University, Africa Access, Boston University)


      African Perspectives on Colonialism (Boahen)

      Colonization of Africa (Iweriebor, Africana Age)

      Decolonization Resource Collection from the National History Center

      Sourcebook on African Decolonization from Fordham University

      Blackpast Primary Documents on Colonialism and Resistance

      Library of Congress Country Studies – includes many African countries

      South African History Online (SAHO): A comprehensive website that provides information about the history of many African countries and contexts.


      The Africa Map Circle

      Afriterra cartographic archive with Zoomify technology

      An animated map of African history from 1872 to 2002 and an accompanying list of key participants

      Maps of Africa throughout the centuries – South African history online

      How Cartography helped make colonial Empires (Hyperallergic)

      Defining lines: cartography in the age of empire Duke-UNC exhibit on cartography

      John Lodge’s map of Africa

      What Maps Tell Us (BU lesson plan) & Follow up to BU Lesson Plan: Maps in Correct Order

      NYT A Century Later: Letting African draw their own maps An 1997 Op-Ed that calls for a “Berlin II”; useful to understand the impact of the Berlin conference on DRC & Rwanda

      Cornell University Library digital collections

      Places Europeans actually DID discover (Slate)

      Decolonizing Cartography – Elizabeth Sutton

      Maps (Scholar Blog from Emory)

      The Guardian: Africa Mapped: How Europe Drew a Continent

      To the Mountains of the Moon, Princeton University online mapping exhibit on Mapping African Exploration from 1541 to 1880.

      Indigenous Map-making in intertropical Africa (Bassett) chapter

      National Archives map analysis worksheet

      What would it look like to decolonize cartography? (Hyperallergic) 


      World War in Africa, a multi-section article on several countries

      Military Recruitment in the Gold Coast during the First World War

      Boston University’s Resources on colonialism and Mau Mau resistance

      Africa in 1914, from the British National Archives. A site full of primary sources along with context on African territories’ involvement in the war as well as resistances to colonial powers. Nigeria is a good example.


      Decolonization Resource Collection (National History Center)

      Less Scrambling, more Reflecting: Teaching about colonialism in Africa from the perspective of resistance by Bram Hubbel, February 9, 2019

      African Resistance to Colonial Rule (Talten, Africana Age)


      Select list of novels to teach about decolonization, Boston University.

      Koze! Kreol and Colonialism Lesson Plan about colonialism impacting the language of Creole in the country of Mauritius

      Lesson Plan courtesy of Deborah Johnson, a teacher at the Lakeside School in Seattle, WA

        • Thematic Skit about decolonization based on the book “Weep Not Child”


      Decolonising the Mind by Ngugi Wa Thiongo (1986) (Introduction & Chapters 1 & 2)

      What Does Decolonize the Mind mean today by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, March 23, 2018

      How Europe underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney (1973) (full text)

      Decolonize, decoloniality and the future of African Studies: A Conversation with Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatcheni by Duncan Omanga, January 14, 2020.



      Colonization and Independence in Africa (Brown Choices Program)

      Nigeria: History, Identity, and Change (Brown Choices Program)

      Freedom in our LifeTime: South Africa (Brown Choices Program)

      Exploring Africa: The Era of Global Encroachment (Michigan State University online curriculum – free)


      A General History of Africa: Africa in the 19th c. until the 1880s. UNESCO, Volume VI. (Full text)

      A General History of Africa: Africa under Colonial Domination UNESCO, Volume VII, 1880-1935 (Full text)

      A General History of Africa: Africa since 1935. UNESCO, Volume VIII. (Full text)


        The Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya

        This page on the Mau Mau rebellion features lesson plans, activities, and primary sources. Access the page here.