History 8C From Leopold to Kabilia: The Bad Twentieth Century in Central Africa

Here’s the last of my three syllabi for the spring of 2008.


History 8C
From Leopold to Kabila: The Bad Twentieth Century in Central Africa
Spring 2008
Professor Burke x8115 Trotter 206

This course is a survey focusing centrally on the 20th Century in Central Africa, from its tragic beginnings to its tragic conclusion. We have three major questions that we will be pursuing throughout the semester. The first concerns the relative meaning and weight of suffering and evil in history, and whether we can meaningfully compare genocide, famine and warfare from one moment in time to other times. The second question involves the causal relationship between colonialism and postcolonialism in African history, and whether Africa’s contemporary sufferings owe more to internal or external factors. Finally, we will be trying to understand what it is like to exist within modern Africa’s failed states, what it is like to live on the margins of the contemporary world system. The deep underlying question we will be exploring is when and how history matters for understanding why the present is the way it is, and whether history offers any insights in resolving or healing suffering.

This class is broken into a series of discussions and lectures. The lectures will introduce issues which are not covered in readings, but which are crucial for participating intelligently in discussions and which will covered heavily on the final exam. Attendance, as per History Department policy, is required. Unexcused absences will have a serious effect on your grade. Participation in discussion is important. There will also be two short (3 pp.) discussion papers. Your final grade will be determined by attendance, participation, the papers and the final exam.

Monday Jan. 21st
The moral and political problem of the 20th Century in Africa
Comparative studies in tragedy and suffering
Afro-pessimism and its critics

Wednesday Jan. 23rd
Lecture: The longue duree of Central Africa
Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, The Congo, short selection

Central Africa Before the 20th Century

Friday January 25th
Lecture: The Kongo kingdom, the Portuguese and the slave trade

Monday January 28th
Lecture: Empires and Peoples: From the 17th Century to the 19th Century in Central Africa

Wednesday January 30th
Lecture: The Scramble for Africa: causes and overall sequence
Henry Morton Stanley, Across Central Africa, selection

Friday February 1st
The Congo Free State
King Leopold’s Ghost, pp. 1-114
Discussion: Causes and nature of the “new imperialism”

Monday February 4th
King Leopold’s Ghost, pp. 115-184
Discussion: Genocide, its meaning, origins, reasons

Wednesday February 6th
King Leopold’s Ghost, pp. 185-306
Discussion: Humanitarian motives, African agency

Friday February 8th
Black Livingstone , all
Discussion: Missionaries, race and the African diaspora

The Belgian Congo
Monday February 11th
Lecture: The formalization of colonial rule in the Belgian Congo

Wednesday February 13th
Lecture: Colonial actors, colonial stories
Document camera: Tintin au Congo

Friday February 15th
Discussion: Medicine as a snapshot of colonial society
Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon, selection
Albert Schweitzer, African Notebook, selection

Monday February 18th
Lecture: Kimbanguism, Kongo religion and colonial social movements

Wednesday February 20th
Lecture: The colonial political economy
Revised first paper due

Friday February 22nd
Lecture: Chiefship and corruption in the Belgian Congo

Week of February 25-29th
Film showing: “Lumumba”

Monday February 25th
Lecture: Comparative colonial administrations in the region: the range of possible outcomes

Wed. February 27th
Lecture: The process of decolonization in Africa

Friday February 29th
Discussion: “Lumumba” and the “Congo crisis”

Monday March 3rd
Discussion: Lumumba to Mobutu
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz pp. 1-168

Wednesday March 5th
Discussion: Neocolonialism, the Cold War, and development: Who made Mobutu possible?
In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, pp. 171-319
Larry Devlin, Chief of Station, Congo, short selection

Postcolonial Society in Central Africa

Friday March 7th
Discussion: Life and change
Emmanuel Dongala, Little Boys Come From the Stars, all


Monday March 17th
Discussion: The world in Central Africa, Central Africa in the world
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Film showing: “When We Were Kings”

Wednesday March 19th
Discussion: The ties that bind
Film showing: “Pieces d’Identities”

Friday March 21st
Lecture: Survey of the political history of Central African states, 1950-2000

Monday March 24th
Comparative social life in four nations, circa 1975

Wednesday March 26th
Discussion: The ethnography of the postcolonial African state
Redmond O’Hanlon, No Mercy

Friday March 28th
Discussion: The world of the big man
Film showing: “The Last King of Scotland”

Monday March 31st
Discussion: The informal sector and the global economy
Janet McGaffey, Congo-Paris, pp. 9-49
Second paper due

Wednesday April 2nd
Discussion: The nature and meaning of corruption and crime
McGaffey, Congo-Paris, pp. 79-172

Genocide, civil war and the meaning of it all
Friday April 4th
Lecture: Rwanda and Burundi from the 17th Century to 1994

Monday April 7th
Lecture: The problem of genocide in the modern world

Wednesday April 9th
Discussion: The Rwandan genocide and the world’s responsibility
Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You, all

Friday April 11th
Discussion: The Rwandan genocide, continued
Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers, short selection

Monday April 14th
Lecture: The end of Mobutu and the origins of the Congo civil war

Wednesday April 16th
Discussion: The Congo Civil War
Thomas Turner, The Congo Wars, selection
Honwana, Child Soldiers in Africa, selection

Friday April 18th
Discussion: Current news from the Congo civil war and elsewhere in the region
Material TBA

Monday April 21st
Discussion: Oil, diamonds, coltan and the “Dutch trap”
Reading: The Wonga Coup, selection

Wednesday April 23rd
Discussion: The wreck of the 20th Century

Friday April 25th
Discussion: Postcolonialism and colonialism, internal and external. Causation and resolution.

Monday April 28th
Discussion: Justice and history: What is to be done?

Wednesday April 30th
Discussion: Why should we care about Central Africa?

Friday May 2nd
Review: Final exam


This entry was posted in Academia, Africa, Swarthmore. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to History 8C From Leopold to Kabilia: The Bad Twentieth Century in Central Africa

  1. Jerry White says:

    I see you’re showing Raoul Peck’s LUMUMBA. He’s got an earlier film, a very poetic essay-documentary called LUMUMBA: DEATH OF A PROPHET. It’s quite great, might be something to have a look at (although I like the later film too); you can get it from California Newsreel.

    Peck is quite an interesting guy; he was born in Haiti, and eventually returned there (he was Minister for Culutre under, I think, Rene Preval(?)), but his father answered Lumumba’s call for professionals from the Africa and the diaspora to come to Congo to build the nation. Anyway, he’s made films in Haiti too — COPRS PLONGE and MAN BY THE SHORE, both quite good, although both hard to find. His brother, Hebert, is a Philly guy, and last I heard worked for Scribe Video Center.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    I actually dislike the earlier film, which I’ve seen (and used in this course in the past). The thing that’s really excellent about Peck’s second try, partly due to his direction but also due to the intensity of the performances, is that the film escapes the limitations of nationalist hagiography. Lumumba isn’t just a martyred saint, but he’s allowed to be human, to make tactical and (arguably) even philosophical/political errors at times while remaining a sympathetic figure whose assassination is tragic and outrageous. I think the earlier film is a much more conventional kind of celebration of Lumumba, plus the pace of the voice-over commentary is so lugubrious and pretentious in parts that it drives me wild.

  3. jpool says:

    I used Le Mort du Prophet in a class on nationalism and found that while students found it interesting as a work of art, they found it not all that interesting as a treatment of the Lumumba, since, of necessity, it ends up being mostly about Belgian historical (distorions of) memory.

    I’m curious as to why this course, unlike any of the others I seen you post, is so lecture heavy. Is this more about knitting together specialist materials or the level that the class is pitched at?

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    It’s how I do my survey courses, since I focus more intensively in those courses in acquisition of specific knowledge than critical thinking. Plus in the three surveys that I do, I feel there really isn’t an overall textbook that I like much, so I’m using the lectures to give the overview that I can’t get from a text (and if I assigned via a text, wouldn’t be sure was fully grasped in a way that I liked). Plus I find there are some students who vastly prefer to get material via lectures, actually–so this is the class for them. Also, these tend to be large classes (for Swarthmore) and it’s just hard to do a discussion-oriented class really well when you have more than 25 students in it.

  5. Jerry White says:

    Surprised to hear of the widespread dislike for the earlier Lumumba film. Surprised especially, Tim, to see you think it’s overly conventional. Do you mean ideologically (as far as the martyred saint thing goes)? Because as jpool eludes to, I do think it’s interesting formally (seems to be using the form of the essay film in interesting ways), although part of that that seems to be what you like the least! Did your students feel the same way when you showed it earlier?

    I agree with jpool that a lot of it has to do with Belgian historical memory, though; I particularly remember those tracking shots through the Brussels metro, which seemed to me to work very nicely indeed. I suspect they irritated Tim, though!

Comments are closed.