Course Spotlight: African Intellectual History

Course Description

This course invites students to explore histories of knowledge, ideas and intellectuals in Africa. We will take a capacious definition of intellectual, exploring the lives and work not only of writers and scholars, but also healers, spiritual leaders, scientists, revolutionaries and artists. Several core questions will sustain our inquiry from week to week. Who is an intellectual? What is knowledge, and how is it generated and transmitted? How have some African intellectual traditions endured over time, even when faced with suppression and violence? How do ideas transform as they move from one context to another? What is the relationship between the material world and the world of ideas? Each week, we will explore how African thinkers have understood and created knowledge about a range of issues, including the natural world, health and healing, the slave trade, colonialism, God, technology, capitalism and beauty. Finally, this course will also consider methodological questions; for example, how do historians track the history of ideas in in the absence of written texts? How do historians uncover African perspectives in archives created by colonizers? How can historians assess the influence and reach of African intellectual traditions both within the continent and beyond?

Course details

1-3 credits
Fall 2020


Professor Emily Callaci

Required Texts

Joel Cabrita, The People’s Zion: Southern Africa, the United States and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement, (Harvard University Press, 2018)

· Kathryn M. de Luna, Collecting Food, Cultivating People: Subsistence and Society in Central Africa, (Yale University Press, 2016)

· Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019)

· Ousmane Kane, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa, (Harvard University Press, 2016)

· Clapperton Mahvunga, Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in

Zimbabwe, (MIT Press, 2014).

· Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, (Duke University Press, 2017)

· Stephanie Newell, The Power to Name: A History of Anonymity in Colonial West Africa, (Ohio University Press, 2013)

· Chika Okeke-Agulu, Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth Century Nigeria, (Duke University Press, 2015)

· Monica Popescu, At Penpoint: African Literatures, Postcolonial Studies and the Cold War, (Duke University Press, 2020)

· James Sweet, Domingos Alvares, African Healing and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World, (UNC Press 2013)

· Rudolph Ware, The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge and History in West Africa, (UNC Press, 2014)