Undergraduate Classes

A number of classes taught at the University of Chicago feature Africa prominently, see below for a sampling. Check the Course Catalogue for current offerings. African Civilization is taught on an annual basis, as is the Colonizations Core, which may also be of interest to students studying Africa.


CIC CourseShare Language offerings. As of Autumn 2015, the University of Chicago is strengthing its language offerings by being an active member of the CIC CourseShare initiative. These courses combine in-person and remote students via Skype. Course offerings include Zulu, Wolof, Yoruba, Bamana, Mandinka, and Malagasy.

LING 28355. Linguistic Introduction to Swahili I (Mpiranya). Spoken in ten countries of Eastern and Central Africa, Swahili has more speakers than any other language in the Bantu family, a group of more than 400 languages most prevalent in sub-equatorial Africa. Based on Swahili Grammar and Workbook, this course helps the students master key areas of the Swahili language in a fast yet enjoyable pace. Topics include sound and intonation patterns, noun class agreements, verb moods, and sentence structures. Additionally, this course provides important listening and expressive reading skills. For advanced students, historical interpretations are offered for exceptional patterns observed in Swahili, in relation with other Bantu languages. This is a general introduction course with no specific prerequisites.

LING 28370. African Languages (Mpiranya). One third of world languages are spoken in Africa, making it an interesting site for studying linguistic diversity and language evolution. This course presents the classification of different African language families and explains their historical development and interactions. It also presents the most characteristic features of African languages, focusing on those that are common in Africa but uncommon among other world languages. Additionally, the course addresses the issue of language dynamics in relation to socioeconomic development in Africa. Using living audio and written material, students will familiarize themselves with at least one major language selected from the Niger-Congo family, the most prevalent family in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a general introduction course with no specific prerequisites.

Arabic, including Elementary, Intermediate, High Indermediate Modern, High Intermediate Classical, Advanced, and regional colloquial. This sequence concentrates on the acquisition and mastery of speaking, reading, and aural skills in a variety of types of Arabic.



HIST 10101-10102. Introduction to African Civilization I-II. Completion of the general education requirement in social sciences recommended. Taking these courses in sequence is recommended but not required. This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. African Civilization introduces students to African history and cultures in a two-quarter sequence.

  • Introduction to African Civilization I. Part One considers literary, oral, and archeological sources to investigate African societies and states from the early iron age through the emergence of the Atlantic World: case studies include the empires of Ghana and Mali, and Great Zimbabwe. The course also treats the diffusion of Islam, the origins and effects of European contact, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Equivalent Courses: AFAM 20701,ANTH 20701,CRES 20701HIST 10102.
  • Introduction to African Civilization II. Part Two takes a more anthropological focus, concentrating on Eastern and Southern Africa, including Madagascar. We explore various aspects of colonial and postcolonial society. Topics covered include the institution of colonial rule, ethnicity and interethnic violence, ritual and the body, love, marriage, money, youth and popular culture. 

CRES 10201. Themes in West African History (Osborn). This course will explore major themes in West African history, from the emergence of the Empire of Mali in the thirteenth century through the jihad of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the European colonial conquest and occupation of Africa in the nineteenth century. Themes of study include: the expansion of Islam; the creation of ethnic trading diasporas; the trans-Atlantic slave trade; metissage and the creation of coastal Creole communities; and legitimate commerce.

ARTH 14211. Introduction to African Art (Fromont). This course is an introduction to the arts of Africa and its Diaspora. It surveys selected monuments of African expressive culture from a variety of places and times. Lectures, readings and discussions explore the relationship between art and leadership, religion, and society on the continent and in African diasporic communities in the Americas. Class meetings and assignments make use of local collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum.

ARTH 17611. Envisioning the Colonial Metropolis in the Early Modern Atlantic World (Fromont). This course explores urbanism and its representations in the colonial enterprises of Spain and Portugal from the 16th to the 18th century. Focusing on four cities, Mexico City (Mexico), Cuzco (Peru), Luanda (Angola), and Salvador da Bahia (Brazil), we will analyze how the policies adopted by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns led to the development of different types of cities, and how indigenous populations contributed to the distinctively local texture of each urban fabric. Bringing together analytical writings on urbanism, architecture, and space with close formal consideration of these cities and their representations in pictorial, cartographic, and literary media, we will consider how urbanism on the one hand and its social uses on the other hand contributed to the political and religious enterprise of colonialism, shaped colonial identities, and helped fashion notions of race and gender.

HIST 20010. African Women in Chicago. Since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act altered previous restrictions on immigration to the United States, African immigration has increased fourfold, constituting what scholars refer to as "the new African immigration." By 2000, Chicagoland's African population constituted 21,828 in the city and 35,000 in Cook County. Initially, the vast majority of immigrants were men, but by the 1980s, nearly fifty percent of African immigrants were women, However, there has been relatively no research and we know little about the experiences of African women immigrants. This colloquium explores the question "how does gender matter in a transnational context?" by analyzing African women and their varied modes of immigration and documenting the experiences of African women who migrated to Chicagoland over the course of the twentieth century. We will explore this question not only through intensive course readings and discussions, but also through fieldwork and collecting oral histories that document African women's life histories. This course will work partnership with the United Africa Organization that has launched the Africans in Chicago Oral History Project. The final class assignment will be an original research paper on the themes of gender, immigration, and human rights based on the oral histories collected.

HIST 20101. Colonial Autobiography (Austen). The focus of this course will be the reading of works which deal, in one way of another, with "coming of age under colonialism" in Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Some are autobiographies in the normal sense, other are works of fiction, and many fall in between. Most are colonial but some are literally postcolonial. The focus will be upon themes of developing a personal identity in negotiation between a local culture and a dominant colonial one, with formal schooling as a major common site. There are obviously major issues of "postcoloniality" as stake her, in a mixture of political and cultural terms which we ourselves will need to negotiate. The two weekly session will normally(but not always) be divided between a lecture, which will introduce the historical context and author, and a discussion of the assigned text. Additional texts will be suggest both for background reading and potential paper topics.

CRES 20103. Urban History in Colonial and Contemporary Africa. This course traces the rapid expansion of and migration to cities in sub-Saharan Africa from the 1950s through today. Though cities and towns have existed in varied parts of the continent since early history, the last decades of the twentieth century witnessed unprecedented urbanization. Topics to be explored include: city planning and colonialism; the informal economy; marriage and family life; youth, crime and punishment; prostitution; and labor.

HIST 20200. Sierra Leone: Slavery and Freedom in the Atlantic World, 1750 to 1900 (Osborn). This course meets the requirements in the major. This course uses what becomes the British colony of Sierra Leone to examine the linked histories of West Africa and the Atlantic World. In the eighteenth century, European and American slave dealers resided on the Upper Guinea coast and engaged African political elites and commercial networks in the trade in human beings. At the end of the eighteenth century, a small group of former slaves from North America Christians committed to abolition took up residence in the The Province of Freedom. These settlers were later joined in the colony of Sierra Leone by others: Maroons from Jamaica and Recaptives, who were captives liberated from slave ships by the British after the banning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807. This course draws on primary sources (correspondence, missionary records, government documents, and the writings of prominent Sierra Leoneans such as James Africanus Horton and Samuel Ajayi Crowther) to investigate the trans- national circulation of ideas about civilization , freedom, and citizenship. It also considers in comparative perspective the experiences of Africans and people of African descent in West Africa.

HIST 20204. Women in Modern Africa. This course surveys key themes and debates in twentieth-century colonial and postcolonial African women’s history. Exploring both women’s history and the history of gender, this course examines shifting conceptualizations of “woman” in diverse case studies and historical contexts across the continent. Topics include sexuality, reproduction, and health; public activism and political roles; work and economic activity; religion; and policy and the law. Course material includes analyzing historical monographs, fiction, and material culture, as well as a service-learning component with Chicago-based community organizations that focus on advocacy in Africa.

HIST 20208. African Sources of African History (Osborn). One of the challenges that historians face in writing about Africa prior to the twentieth century is locating and using historical documents produced by Africans. This discussion-based course will consider the sources and methods that historians use to access African perspectives and African voices. We will investigate an array of primary sources, including Arabic chronicles, oral traditions, epics, and songs. We will also consider technology, architecture, and material and visual culture. Non-majors with an interest in Africa are welcome, as are students concerned with historical methodologies generally.

CRES 21217. Intensive Study of a Culture: The Luo of Kenya (Dietler). This course offers an overview of the history and contemporary culture of the Luo, a Nilotic-speaking people living on the shores of Lake Victoria. It examines the migration of the Luo into the region, the history of their encounter with British colonialism, and their evolving situation within the post-colonial Kenyan state. 

ANTH 21255. Intensive Study of a Culture: The Senegambia (Richard). This course is an overview of history, culture, and society in the Senegambia, a territory situated between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers, and roughly corresponding to the political boundaries of modern-day Senegal. We examine the region in broad historical perspective. We begin with oral accounts of migration and state formation. We then track the gradual entanglement of local societies with global political economic forces during the Atlantic era. We also discuss the legitimate trade, French colonialism, and road to political independence. The focus of the last portion of the course is on cultural, artistic, and political experiences in the postcolonial state of Senegal.

ANTH 21525. Love, Capital and Conjugality: Comparative Perspectives from Africa and India (Cole and Majmdar). Are love and money necessarily opposed? Is arranged marriage primitive? Many would argue yes. It is widely accepted that in modern societies romantic love, the couple and the nuclear family are the ‘correct’ ways to organize intimate life. But, like many other normative ideas, these too were the product of particular historical developments in post-enlightenment Europe. A look at societies in other parts of the world demonstrates all too often that modernity in the realm of love, intimacy and family had a different trajectory from the European one. To characterize marriage, love, and familial relationships as backward or retrograde on grounds of their difference with (normative) models prevalent in the west results in a fundamental misunderstanding of the variety of different ways that societies have forged intimate relations. This course surveys ideas and practices surrounding love, marriage, and capital in the modern world with aparticular focus on comparison between Africa and India. The first half of the class concentrates on key theoretical texts that lay the foundation for the study of gender, intimacy and modern life. The latter part of the class examines case studies from Africa and India. Using a range of readings the course will explore such questions as the emergence of companionate marriage in Europe; arranged marriage, dowry, love and money.

ANTH 22205. Slavery and Unfree Labor (Palmié). This course offers a concise overview of institutions of dependency, servitude, and coerced labor in Europe and Africa, from Roman times to the onset of the Atlantic slave trade, and compares their further development (or decline) in the context of the emergence of New World plantation economies based on racial slavery. We discuss the role of several forms of unfreedom and coerced labor in the making of the ‘modern world,’ and reflect on the manner in which ideologies and practices associated with the idea of a free labor market supersede, or merely mask, relations of exploitation and restricted choice.

CRES 22210. African Intimacies: Gender, Sex and Marriage in Africa (Cole). This course explores the intersection between ideas and practices around the body, reproduction, and intimate social relations and broader political and economic processes in contemporary Africa. Drawing on recent ethnographies as well as historical studies of diverse African societies, we will explore the nature of body and person in Africa, and how ideas about the body and intimate social relations inform wider political formations and social dynamics.

ARTH 22311. Exhibiting African Art (Fromont). This course explores the display of African art in Western contexts from the Renaissance to now. Texts, discussions, and student research will analyze the production and uses of art in Africa, and investigate how African art has been collected, preserved, and exhibited in Europe and the Americas since the fifteenth century. Topics include the early modern trade in Afro-Portuguese ivories, the scientific and artistic project of the cabinets of curiosities, the birth of ethnology and the advent of the museum, art, commerce and colonialism, primitivism, and 20th and 21st century politics of collecting, museums, and exhibits.

CMLT 22900. Cinema in Africa (Kruger). This course examines cinema in Africa as well as films produced in Africa. It places cinema in Sub-Saharan Africa in its social, cultural, and aesthetic contexts-ranging from neocolonial to postcolonial, Western to Southern Africa, documentary to fiction, art cinema to TV. We begin with La Noire de... (1966), a groundbreaking film by the "father" of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, contrasted with a South African film, The Magic Garden (1960), which more closely resembles African-American musical film. We then continue with anti-colonial and anti-apartheid films, from Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa (1959) to Sarah Maldoror's Sambizanga, Ousmane Sembene's Camp de Thiaroye (1984), and Jean Marie Teno's Afrique, Je te Plumerai (1995). Lastly we examine cinematic representations of tensions (between urban and rural life; between traditional and modern life) and the different implications of these tensions (for men and women; for Western and Southern Africa; in fiction, documentary, and ethnographic film). 

CRES 23400. Gender, Generation and Social Change in Contemporary Africa (Cole). In recent years there has been an explosion of research on youth and children in Africa. Much of this research is premised on the idea that the current demography of Africa, where a huge proportion of the population is under the age of 25, paired with recent social and economic changes, creates what some have called a crisis of social reproduction. Taking the current concern with a crisis of social reproduction as a point of departure, this class uses the categories of gender and generation in order to investigate processes of continuity and transformation, both in the past and in contemporary Africa.

CRES 24001-24002-24003. Colonizations I, II, and III. This three-quarter sequence approaches the concept of civilization from an emphasis on cross-cultural/societal connection and exchange. We explore the dynamics of conquest, slavery, colonialism, and their reciprocal relationships with concepts such as resistance, freedom, and independence, with an eye toward understanding their interlocking role in the making of the modern world. Themes of slavery, colonization, and the making of the Atlantic world are covered in the first quarter. Modern European and Japanese colonialism in Asia and the Pacific is the theme of the second quarter. The third quarter considers the processes and consequences of decolonization both in the newly independent nations and the former colonial powers.

LING 24500. Dialect Voices in Literature (Mufwene). This course is a "hands-on" application, to literary criticism, of findings in the study of nonstandard language varieties. Students are taught to evaluate the accuracy of nonstandard-speech representation in fiction, in an effort to determine whether a particular author commands it well, and whether the representation matches characters and contexts. In other words, how much stereotyping is there and to what extent does the representation diverge from the real "dialect"? We go from the entertaining aspect of "dialect" representation to its emblematic/indexical function, assessing particular authors' artistic skills, in more or less the same way an art critic would be assessing, say, a classical painter's skills, analyzing, for instance, the way he/she uses his/her brush and combines colors and lighting to produce specific effects. It is usually also useful to invoke history in order to have an idea of the writer's intentions, which can shed light on his/her decisions. Students learn to do both library and field research to find information about the relevant "dialect." The term is used loosely here to apply also to what some linguists would treat as separate languages, such as creoles and pidgins. Yes, it is an indirect way of teaching dialectology to literary critics and making them aware of the relevance of research in dialectology to their research area. Students are encouraged to work on books of their own choices. Some students have also proposed to apply the techniques they learn to cinema.

ARTH 25011. Africa, America (Fromont). This seminar explores the dynamic exchanges in the expressive cultures of Africa and the Americas. It examines a range of visual and material traditions that emerged and grew from the sustained contact between the two continents from the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade to now. Class discussion, readings, assignments and museum visits address topics such as carnival performances, santería and candomblé traditions, Vodou ritual forms, Luso-African architecture on both continents, and contemporary art.

HIST 25701. North Africa, Late Antiquity-Islam (Kaegi). Examination of topics in continuity and change from the third through ninth centuries CE, including changes in Roman, Vandalic, Byzantine, and early Islamic Africa. Topics include the waning of paganism and the respective spread and waning of Christianity, the dynamics of the seventh-century Muslim conquest and Byzantine collapse. Transformation of late antique North Africa into a component of Islamic civilization. Topography and issues of the autochthonous populations will receive some analysis. Most of the required reading will be on reserve, for there is no standard textbook. Readings in translated primary sources as well as the latest modern scholarship.

ANTH 26610. Archaeological Field Studies: Method and Theory in African Historical Archaeology (Richard). Takes place in Senegal.

ANTH 26611. Archaeological Field Studies: Material Culture Analysis (Richard). Takes place in Senegal. 

ANTH 26612. Archaeological Field Studies: Readings/Research (Richard). Takes place in Senegal.

ARTH 26612. Circa 1650: Art in a Global Age (Fromont). This course explores the artistic forms born of the exchange of knowledge, images, materials, and ideas among distant peoples across the globe in the wake of the age of exploration. Readings, discussion, and student research investigate the phenomenon of the cabinet of curiosity, the visual interactions between Europe and the Africans kingdoms of Benin and Kongo, colonial art and urbanism in Latin America, fumi-e ìpicture-treadingî in Japan, the visual culture of Dutch Brazil, and Baroque architecture from Rome to India. Class discussion and assignments make use of local collections such as the Art Institute and the Regenstein rare books collection.

HIST 29414. Human Rights in Africa.