African Studies


Week 1

Africa - historical and cultural entanglements

Diaspora, Historical Memory, and the Transnational Reinvention of African-Descended Cultural Identities in Cuba and Brazil

From the very onset of colonization in the Americas, peoples of diverse regional, ethnic and religious identities settled in the Spanish and Portuguese domains. Africans from Iberia, from Muslim cultures and from a variety of coastal kingdoms entered the colonial complex early, some free, most in bondage; they mixed over time with indigenous populations, Europeans, other Africans and Asians, generating multiple repertoires of creolization and syncretism that later influenced how “race” was experienced and remembered in different areas of the Southern Americas. In the period of national state formation, some black populations became virtually invisible (Argentina, Mexico, Peru, etc.) while others generated or participated in powerful movements of social, cultural, and political emancipation (Cuba, Brazil).
While grounded in a thorough, layered and differentiated understanding of the formative colonial experience in so-called “Latin” America, this course will focus on the recovery and reinvention of the historical representation by contemporary movements of “African-descended” peoples, whose awareness or rediscovery of past racial trauma, exclusion and erasure informs their claims to rights, recognition, citizenship and empowerment today. The two most salient case studies will be Cuba and Brazil, both archetypes in modern historiography of assimilationist nationalism and whitening that have profoundly revisited their African heritage, and where transnational social movements promote black consciousness in local and global forums
Cuba will he highlighted as a world-historical fulcrum of Black Atlantic history, not only though its prominent role in the Spanish empire (including its late 19th-century rendition) and the slave trade, but also its multiple diasporic experiences in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regions, South America, and Africa (Fernando Poó, in modern-day Equatorial Guinea, and Nigeria); and, of course, the impact of the Cuban Revolution on Africa itself (Algeria, West and Southern Africa, Lusophone Africa, the Horn). The key questions addressed will be that of how collective historical memory is created, contested, reformulated, and cast as a battlefield for contemporary emancipation struggles and anti-racism in the age of globalization; and how Africa continues to influence controversies over Cuban national as well as Caribbean transnational identities.
Brazil, the largest black nation in the world after Nigeria, was the prize of the Portuguese empire and shares with Cuba the peculiarity of having preserved the institution of slavery into the 1880s (in Brazil’s case, well after an empire independent of Portugal had been established). Like Cuba, it bears the mark of strong syncretic African traditions and of ethnic diversity, including the re-invention of African polities and lineage groups in new and creolized forms. While in the Cuban case the two prominent cities that will be explored are Santiago and Havana, in Brazil we will examine the very different histories of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. We will also examine the heritage of the insurgent African state of Palmares under the slave leader Zumbi, of the black consciousness movements in the early 20th century leading up the Frente Negra Brasileira in Sao Paolo, subsequent Black Power movements, and struggles for civil rights and affirmative action in the post-dictatorship era. The Brazilian diaspora in Nigeria will be of specific interest to the transnational and comparative analysis of ideologies and cultural forms that emerged from black activism in both Brazil and Cuba.
The question of whether diaspora should be theorized as unifying discourse of belonging across the Americas, or a regionally differentiated and woven into local constructs of identity and empowerment will be addressed using approaches from Latin American, North American, European and African sources. Tensions between paradigms of hybridity (mestizaje, miscigenação), assimilation, and cosmopolitanism will be explored using anthopological perspectives and the etymological analysis of the naming of racial identities in historcal perspective. Finally, the active participation of Cuban and Brazilian African-descended movements in discourses of anti-colonialism in the 20th century and of post-coloniality in the 21st will be discussed, in correlation with their counterparts in Africa.

•    Cuba: Role in the Atlantic slave trade and the Spanish colonial empire; African traditions and religions, syncretism, and creolization; impact of the Haitian revolution, 19th century slave rebellions, and black participation in independence wars; Afro-Cuban emigration to Africa and participation in anti-slavery and anti-colonial movements in Florida, Louisiana, Mexico, Colombia, etc.; black consciousness in the early Republic, the ages of Garveyism, Negritude, black nationalism and decolonization; the Cuban Revolution, blacks, and Africa; contemporary race-conscious movements; Afro-Cuban religion, art, music and diasporic expression.

•    Brazil: Slavery and the Portuguese empire; the black Muslim slave uprising of the 17th century in Bahia; Yoruba traditions, Candomblé and comparisons with Cuban Santería (Regla de Ochá or Ifá); Portuguese America and Portuguese Africa; the Brazilian Empire and the rise of liberal racism; race and resistance in the Brazilian Republic; Afro-centrism, black power and anti-colonial movements in modern Brazil, and their impact on contemporary debates about race in Latin America.
Teaching materials: Book excerpts and articles (bound in a compendium), short documentary films, art samples and recordings.

Prof. Dr. Geoffroy de Laforcade
Norfolk University


Week 2

African popular culture - the entanglements of the everyday

Popular culture in Africa is the product of everyday life. For centuries, popular genres have been created in Africa by the less privileged, less powerful, less wealthy sections of society to speak of their experience and affirm their values. While always articulating a local point of view, they have also been ready to incorporate elements from outside, in a dynamic and constantly changing process of creative “entanglement”. In this course, we engage with popular texts and performances across the continent, and explore the social transformations that have given rise to them. We look at emerging and locally-based genres such as neo-traditional oral poetry; improvised popular theatre; popular print culture; television and video drama; and creative innovations in social media and the internet. Engaging with primary material (audio and video recordings, local publications, photographs), the course will explore theories of improvisation and popular creativity in Africa past and present.



Prof. Dr. Karin Barber
University of Birmingham

- 5 ECTS available -


Please have a look on our short video for the upcoming course:

Video Shot African studies



Those who want to get a short impression of upcoming courses, please click on video below:

Video Shot African studies


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