African history has often been overlooked by the general public, with perceptions of the continent being ravaged by famine, Aids, tribal conflict and many other negative connotations. At times this lead to donations to various charities but is quickly forgotten. Indeed Africa faces many problems; its very mention evokes Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ novel, which in turn demonstrates Western apathy to events and conduct on the continent itself. Being born and having the majority of my family live in South Africa, has brought with it some knowledge and at times warped opinions of the continent. I had also previously studied a module on the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which greatly interested me and had read the stimulating book by Martin Meredith The State of Africa. Thus when Vincent Hiribarren’s African module appeared as a module choice I quickly signed up.
The module was very well organised and engaging covering a variety of African issues like; Impact and nature of Colonial rule, rise of Nationalism, Apartheid, Famine, Aids and many more. The module was engaging as we were required to write short essays to be submitted on the seminar topics prior to lectures. I took a particular interest in the origins of ethnicity, especially the theory of primordialism and instrumentalism being very fascinating, with historians like Jan Vasina challenging my previously held views on the origins of the dichotomy between Hutus and Tutsis. The studying of apartheid was of particular interest to me as I could learn the facts behind the rise and fall of the system, which S. Gelb’s theory of ‘racial fordism’ I believe to be a fine explanation for long term decline of apartheid. Vincent Hiribarren’s himself brought highlights to the module, with trips to Liverpool to see a slavery exhibition and keeping the seminars stimulating.
The module has introduced me to many new concepts and topics I previously had little knowledge of. For this reason it has been a highlight in my university studies, I look forward to picking future African modules and possibly contemplate a dissertation on an African topic. I urge future students to do the module as it not only teaches you the facts; it makes you face them as you uncover the turbulent issues facing the continent.