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.


  1. African voices about African experiences (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 thousands of 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. Pros-and cons- of colonialism are not an appropriate activity student learning.
  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 (political freedom with economic dependency).
  8. Colonialism fostered economic dependency, with long-term effects until today.
  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.


      Teaching about the Mau Mau in Kenya (BU African Studies)

      Colonization and Independence in Africa (Brown Choices Program)

      Colonized Women Talk Back (Howard U Center for African Studies)

      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)

      Koze! Kreol and Colonialism Lesson Plan  (BU African Studies)


      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)


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

      Indigenous Map-making in intertropical Africa (Bassett) chapter

      Decolonizing Cartography – Elizabeth Sutton

      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

      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

      Places Europeans actually DID discover (Slate)

      Maps (Scholar Blog from Emory) –An article detailing the role of maps in colonialism

      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.

      National Archives map analysis worksheet

      The Africa Map Circle

      Afriterra cartographic archive with Zoomify technology – a Boston-based non-profit that teachers can visit to see original historical maps firsthand. 


      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”


      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)


      A Lesson on international development & foreign aid (BU African Studies)

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

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

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

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


      An excellent video bank of short videos on Colonialism in Africa (Choices Program)

      Colonization of Africa – A succinct article describing the Berlin conference, African resistance and colonial effects (Iweriebor, Africana Age)

      Sourcebook on African Decolonization from Fordham University

      Blackpast Primary Documents on Colonialism and Resistance– A list of primary source documents, including the general act of the conference of Berlin, W.E.B. Du Bois’ An appeal to the world, the South African Freedom charter, and more.

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

      Africa and Europe (BBC – The Story of Africa)

      A Final, Yet Important Note:

      We encourage all teachers of colonialism & resistance to start your units  by showcasing pre-colonial African societies. This will avoid that students reduce African history = colonialism.

      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)