Course Spotlight: Gender and Sexuality in African History

callacicourseCourse Description

This course explores the historiography of gender and sexuality in Africa. Through reading a selection of classic and recent works, seminar participants will engage some of the central questions that have animated historical research in this field over the past several decades. In what ways were precolonial African polities and economies gendered? How have gender roles shaped, or been shaped by historical processes such as the slave trade, colonial conquest, urbanization and economic liberalization? Are categories such as “female” or “heterosexual”, and concepts such as “gender” and “sexuality”, relevant to the study of Africa, or are they distorting western impositions? What is, or should be, the relationship between academic inquiry and activism on matters of gender and sexuality in Africa? In the course of investigating this rich historiography, we will encounter histories from various regions of Africa, from as early as 700BC through the present day.


Students in this course will:

  • develop a working knowledge of the historiography of gender and sexuality in Africa, with particular emphasis on recent scholarship
  • gain an ability to apply analytic tools and theoretical insights from the historiography of gender and sexuality in Africa to their own region and topic of research
  • consider how the logic of inquiry in this field has developed and changed over time
  • think critically about the public role of historical research on gender and sexuality in Africa

Sample readings

  • Clifton C. Crais and Pamela Scully, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost
    Story and a Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).
  • Marc Epprecht, Heterosexual Africa? : The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of Aids, New African Histories Series (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008)
  • Mark Hunter, Love in the Time of Aids Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa,
    (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).
  • Rachel Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality and Urban Life in Colonial
    Libreville, Gabon, (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014).
  • Lisa A. Lindsay and Stephan Miescher, Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, Social
    History of Africa, (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003).
  • Emily Lynn Osborn, Our New Husbands Are Here: Households, Gender, and Politics in
    a West African State from the Slave Trade to Colonial Rule, (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011).
  • Oyèrónké Oyewùmí, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western
    Gender Discourses (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
  • Rhiannon Stephens, A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900,
    African Studies (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • Lynn M. Thomas, Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya,
    (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Enrollment details

History 861: Seminar-The History of Africa (Topic: Gender and Sexuality in African History)
1-3 credits
TH 3:30-5:25pm, Humanities 5255
Fall 2014

About the instructor

Assistant Professor Emily Callaci is a historian of modern East Africa, with a research focus on twentieth century urban Tanzania. Her teaching interests include urban African history, gender and sexuality, popular culture, Islam in Africa, and African intellectual history. She is currently at work on a book about urban migration and cultural politics during Tanzania’s socialist era, from 1967 through 1985.