Course Spotlight: The Global African City

Course Description

The global city in Africa has emerged as a spatial and social form that drives profound human, cultural, economic and political changes on the continent.  As a nexus of crisis and renewal, it is a site of immense importance for the future of Africa.  The seminar will put this phenomenon in multi-layered historical perspective, questioning the origin and development of large cities in Africa, the development of various metropolitan forms and processes, and their connections with global networks and infrastructures.  We will look at cities as built-spaces (laboratories for urban planning and architectural experiments) and as social milieus where people live, work and grapple with urban resources and constraints.  We will explore the rapid transformation of urban landscapes in Africa by showing how neoliberal policies are, in many ways, continuations of colonial practices wherein cities were designed to meet the needs of political and economic domination.  Moving from compounds, streets, markets and power institutions to stories of more intimate, gendered and individual experiences of the urban, we will develop sets of analytical tools for raising future research questions on the history of cities in Africa.

Global_African_City_editTo reach new levels of analytical reflection and academic intervention, the seminar will be built around an innovative assignment: you will work in a team that will study a city of your choice.  In addition to short review papers, each team-member will contribute to the planning, research, writing and assembling of an extensive dossier on the chosen metropole, together with a digital website/forum.  This task will familiarize you with the rewards and dynamics of semi-collective scholarly work, and of using digital tools for history.  At the end of the semester, we will organize a mini-conference.

Sample Readings

  • Liora Bigon, Between Local and Colonial Perceptions: the History of Slum Clearances in Lagos (Nigeria), 1924-1960
  • Silvia Bisi and Kerstin Pinther, Afropolis: City, Media, Art: Kairo, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Johannnesburg
  • Preeti Chopra, The Poetics and Politics of Space: Art, Memory, and Change in the Indian City
  • Filip De Boeck and Marie France Plissart, Kinshasa, Tales of the Invisible City
  • Toyin Falola, African Urban Space in Historical Perspective
  • Abdoumaliq Simone, For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities
  • Under Siege, Four African Cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos: Documenta 11
  • Bruce Whitehouse, Migrants and Strangers in an African City: Exile, Dignity, Belonging

Enrollment Details

History 861: The History of Africa
4 credits
Graduates only; no prerequisite needed; graduates in all fields welcome.
Wed: 3:30 pm-5:25 pm, Humanities 5245
Fall 2016

About the Instructor

Professor Florence Bernault came to UW-Madison in 1996 after being trained in African history at the University of Paris 7 and earning her Ph. D. under the mentorship of Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, a pioneer in the history of African cities and modern urbanites.  Bernault works on the history of contemporary Equatorial Africa and has published on urban, youth and political cultures in Brazzaville (Congo) and Libreville (Gabon). She is finishing a book on histories of power and spiritual agency in colonial Gabon (to be published by Duke University Press).