Skip to main content
African women walking on a road

African Studies

The Program in African Studies provides a systematic introduction to the complex historical, political and social issues of the African continent. Its major and minor are structured to give students interdisciplinary training within key fields of knowledge: literature and the arts, social science and historical studies. 

Requirements & Courses

African Studies Minor

The African studies minor at Smith allows students to complement their major with a program that provides a systematic introduction to the complex historical, political and social issues of the African continent. The minor is structured to give the student interdisciplinary training within key fields of knowledge: literature and the arts, social science and historical studies.


Six semester courses on Africa

  1. One course from arts, literature and humanities
  2. One course from historical studies
  3. One course from the social sciences
  4. Three electives
Minor Requirement Details
  • No more than two courses from a student’s major may be counted toward the minor.
  • Equivalent courses at other colleges may be substituted for Five College courses, with permission of the minor adviser.
  • Students interested in African studies are encouraged to study French, Portuguese or an African language.
  • Intermediate-level competence in an African language may count as one of the required courses in the field of arts, literature and humanities, with permission of the minor adviser.


AFS 113 Themes in African Studies (1 Credit)

This one-credit, eight-week course will ask the question of what it means to study Africa. As the world’s second largest and most linguistically and culturally diverse continent, Africa is also one of the world’s least understood historically, politically, socially, and culturally. This course thus aims to challenge conventional representations of the continent. In doing so, it also aims to introduce students to the broader interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study of the continent. S/U only.


AFS 222 Colloquium: Fanta Faces and Coca Cola Bodies: Popular Culture, Gender and Sexuality in Africa (4 Credits)

This course uses popular culture as a tool to analyze gender and sexuality issues in Africa. It discusses relevant issues in gender and sexuality across the continent, using selected African songs and movies, which feature these issues as centralized themes. It also examines the lived experiences of African actors, musicians and artistes, both historical and modern, as a means of discussing social norms on gender and sexuality and their subversion. Enrollment limited to 18. (E) {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

Crosslisted Courses

AFR 202aa Topics in Africana Studies-Anthropology and the African Diaspora (4 Credits)

The African continent’s place as the cradle of humanity has made it central to Anthropology. However, Anthropology’s imperial origins have long put it at odds with the people of the African Diaspora. This course examines the complexities of the relationship between Anthropology and the African Diaspora. The course explores the African Diaspora as space, place and identity; critically examines Anthropology’s history; explores the discipline’s core theories and thinkers; broadens students' thinking of the discipline’s canon; and examines key ethnographies of and from the African diaspora. Enrollment limited to 50. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

AFR 210 Colloquium: Black Political Economy-From Slavery to Reparatory Justice (4 Credits)

What constitutes the field of study called Black Political Economy? This course excavates a radical tradition of political economy in African diaspora studies, a tradition which has sheltered some of the most thoroughgoingly insightful perspectives on Black oppression in the Americas over the last 500 years. The course takes a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary approach which draws on several fields, including Africana intellectual history, political economy, sociological studies and cultural studies in its presentation of the field of study termed Black political economy. Enrollment limited to 18. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

AFR 345 Seminar: Classic Black Texts (4 Credits)

This course looks closely at a series of canonical black texts. The intention is to examine these texts in their specific historical context with careful attention to their place within Africana intellectual history. This course either focuses on a series of intensive investigations of a set of major texts within Africana studies, or it operates thematically. A thematic treatment of the course involves taking one leading critical figure within the field – for example Frantz Fanon, Toni Morrison, Aimé Césaire, Paule Marshall or Kamau Brathwaite – and constructing the course around a reflection on their work and influence on the field of Africana studies. Enrollment limited to 15. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {H}{L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ANT 229 Africa and the Environment (4 Credits)

In Western discourses, African environments are defined by violence, famine and degradation. These characteristics are depicted as symptoms of an African resistance to Western values such as private property, democracy and environmentalism. This course encourages students to think critically about such portrayals by learning about specific environments in Africa and how humans have interacted with them across time. The syllabus is anchored in cultural anthropology, but includes units on human evolution, the origins and spread of pastoralism, the history of colonial conservation science and more. Discussions covered include gender, race, land grabbing, indigenous knowledge, the commons, the cattle complex, desertification, oil, dams and nationalism. {H}{N}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ENV 326 Seminar: Environmental Justice and Natural Resource Management (4 Credits)

This course will examine the connections between natural resource management and environmental justice in the US and the Global South. We will study the benefits and limits of traditional top-down approaches to the management of forests, land, fisheries, biodiversity, underground resources, water, food, and genomes in different parts of the world. By discussing case studies of environmental justice issues from tar sands mining in Alberta to the impact of biofuels and GMOs on local populations in Mexico, students will question and rethink the management of natural resources. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

FRN 230ww Colloquium: Topics in French Studies-Women Writers of Africa and the Caribbean (4 Credits)

An introduction to works by contemporary women writers from Francophone Africa and the Caribbean. Topics studied include colonialism, exile, motherhood and intersections between class and gender. The study of these works and of the French language is informed by attention to the historical, political and cultural circumstances of writing as a woman in a former French colony. Texts include works by Mariama Bâ, Maryse Condé, Yamina Benguigui and Marie-Célie Agnant. Basis for the major. Students may receive credit for only one section of FRN 230. Enrollment limited to 18. Prerequisite: FRN 220. Course taught in French. WI {F}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

FRN 252cl Topics in French Cinema-Cities of Light: Urban Spaces in Francophone Film (4 Credits)

From Paris to Fort-de-France, Montreal to Dakar, this class studies how various filmmakers from the Francophone world present urban spaces as sites of conflict, solidarity, alienation and self-discovery. How do these portraits confirm or challenge the distinction between urban and non-urban? How does the image of the city shift for “insiders” and “outsiders”? Other topics to be discussed include immigration, colonialism and globalization. Works by Sembène Ousmane, Denys Arcand, Mweze Ngangura and Euzhan Palcy. Course taught in French. {F}

Fall, Spring, Variable

FRN 262 After Algeria: Revolution, Republic and Race in Modern France (4 Credits)

From the colonial conquest in the early 19th century through independence in 1962, Algeria has evoked passions on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, passions frequently resulting in violence that has not entirely subsided. Through a variety of perspectives and readings, this class explores a post-Algerian French society that appears to be permanently marked by its Algerian experience. To what extent has the experience in and of Algeria transformed contemporary French culture? In what ways can one speak of the Algerian experience in revolutionary terms? Prerequisite: FRN 230, or equivalent. Course taught in French. {F}{L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

FRN 380tw Topics in French Cultural Studies:Travel Writing and Self-Discovery (4 Credits)

A survey of Francophone travel writing from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Students are exposed to a literary form that achieved popularity and cultural prestige early on, was then significantly challenged and diversified, and is presently enjoying a resurgence. We consider fictional and nonfictional accounts reflecting different geographies of travel and migration. While early voyagers tended to assert the relative superiority of French culture, subsequent generations of travelers abandoned discovery for self-discovery, and critiqued colonialism instead of indigenous cultures. Countries and regions surveyed include the Holy Land, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Central and West Africa, the United States, Iran, France, Indonesia and Thailand. {F}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

FYS 112 #FlipTheScript: Hot Topics in African Feminism(s) Today (4 Credits)

Does affirmative action in politics improve human rights conditions for African women or lead to tokenism? Are the decisions of religious African feminists to submit to their husbands or wear head coverings, choices that display female agency or choices steeped in oppression? This course considers some of the most controversial and hotly debated topics relevant to feminism in Africa today. In doing so, it aims to teach students how to identify both the core issues and points of divergence underpinning these debates and to be able to analyze and articulate their own positions on controversial issues. Enrollment limited to 16 first-years. WI {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

FYS 165 Childhood in African Literature (4 Credits)

A study of childhood as an experience in the present and as a transition into adulthood, and of the ways in which it is intimately tied to social, political and cultural histories, and to questions of self and national identity. How does the violence of colonialism and decolonization reframe our understanding of childhood innocence? How do African childhood narratives represent such crises as cultural alienation, loss of language, exile and memory? How do competing national and cultural ideologies shape narratives of childhood? Texts include Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Zoë Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Weep Not Child and Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child. Enrollment limited to 16 first-years. WI {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

GOV 227 Contemporary African Politics (4 Credits)

This survey course examines the ever-changing political and economic landscape of the African continent. The course aims to provide students with an understanding of the unique historical, economic and social variables that shape modern African politics, and introduces students to various theoretical and analytical approaches to the study of Africa’s political development. Central themes include the ongoing processes of nation-building and democratization, the constitutional question, the international relations of Africa, issues of peace and security, and Africa’s political economy. Designation: Comparative. Enrollment limited to 35. {S}


GOV 233 Problems in Political Development (4 Credits)

This course explores the practical meaning of the term "development" and its impact on a range of global topics from the problems of poverty and income inequality to the spread of democracy, environmental degradation, urbanization and gender empowerment. We examine existing theories of economic development and consider how state governments, international donors and NGOs interact to craft development policy. Designation: Comparative. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

GOV 247 International Relations in Africa (4 Credits)

This course provides an introduction to the international relations of contemporary Africa. It explores how Africa has redefined our understanding of international relations and its role as a global actor. Core themes include the politics of post-independence international alignments, the external causes and effects of authoritarian rule, and the continent's role in the global political economy. The course concludes with a consideration of pressing current issues on the African continent, including state failure, health interventions, issues of peace and security, and China’s growing economic and political influence. Designation: International Relations. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

GOV 257 Colloquium: Refugee Politics (4 Credits)

This course examines refugees--i.e., people displaced within their country, to another country or, perhaps, somewhere "in between." Refugee politics prompt a consideration of the cause of refugee movements; persecution, flight, asylum and resettlement dynamics; the international response to humanitarian crises; and the "position" of refugees in the international system. In addition to international relations theory, the seminar focuses on historical studies, international law, comparative politics, refugee policy studies and anthropological approaches to displacement and "foreignness." Although special attention is devoted to the Middle East, other cases of refugee politics are examined. Designation: International Relations. Open to majors in government; others by permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 20. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

GOV 258 Colloquium: African Security (4 Credits)

This course serves as an introduction to the field of security studies with a focus on Africa. It provides an overview of the major theories, concepts and debates in security studies and explores current trends in political violence and conflict across Africa, key drivers of insecurity and the current and future security challenges facing African states. It tackles questions such as: What is “security” and how should it be studied? What are some of the most pressing security challenges facing the continent? How have these challenges evolved over time? What new types of conflict may future economic and social stressors create? When should states employ force? How can the international community assist African governments and institutions with harnessing future changes to result in peace and security? How can states begin to truly secure their borders? Designation: International Relations. Prerequisites: Gov 227, GOV 241, GOV 242 or GOV 247. (E) {S}

Spring, Variable

GOV 347cr Seminar: Topics in International and Comparative Politics-Comparative Regionalization (4 Credits)

This course investigates the role of international organizations as global actors and their involvement in the domestic politics of, and beyond, their member states. Areas of intervention include efforts in democracy promotion, economic development, peace and security, and regional integration.  This course moves beyond the focus on the traditional, Western actors, like the United Nations and European Union, and incorporates the processes undertaken by the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Organization of American States, among others. The goal of this course is to understand how these continental and regional organizations navigate the complexities of international and domestic politics. Juniors and seniors only. Enrollment limited to 12. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

GOV 347na Seminar: Topics in International and Comparative Politics-North Africa in the International System (4 Credits)

This seminar examines the history and political economy of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, focusing on the post-independence era. Where relevant, Egypt and Mauritania will be treated. The seminar sets Maghrebi (North Africa) politics in the broader context of its regional situation within the Mediterranean (Europe and the Middle East), as well as its relationship to sub-Saharan Africa and North America. Study is devoted to: (1) the independence struggle; (2) the colonial legacy; (3) contemporary political economy; and (4) post-colonial politics and society. Special attention will be devoted to the politics of Islam, the “status” of women and political change. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 157 Africa and the Making of the Modern World (4 Credits)

Often seen as peripheral to the modern world, Africa and African peoples are often ignored in both popular and scholarly world histories traversing the last several centuries. This course aims to turn these narratives on their head by not only injecting African histories into world historical narratives, but by using these histories to detail Africa’s centrality to understanding the world. In doing so, the course examines the development of and African experiences with the varying forms of capitalism and trade that developed out of both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean trade networks, the genealogical roots of European imperialism and the ways in which African peoples navigated, resisted and transformed these broader global phenomena in the construction of the world around them. This course is open to all students and assumes no prior knowledge. Enrollment limited to 40. (E) {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 234 Colloquium: Global Africa (4 Credits)

This course interrogates how scholars have engaged the "transnational" and "global" in African history. In doing so, the course explores the complex networks of identities, loyalties, and attachments forged by diverse groups of African peoples in their attempts to live within and transcend the boundaries of the modern nation-state. As a result, over the course of the semester, the class will investigate issues of trade, nationality, citizenship, race, and identity as it queries the many ways in which Africans have shaped (and reshaped) their views of themselves and communities over seemingly vast distances in time and space. Enrollment limited to 18. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 235 Independent Africa: A Social and Cultural History (4 Credits)

This course provides a general, introductory survey of African social and cultural history from approximately the end of World War II to the present. In doing so, the course will look beyond the formal political maneuvering of elite figures, focusing instead on the many and competing ways in which a broad array of African actors engaged the changing political and social contexts in which they lived. As such, key themes of the course such as anticolonialism, decolonization, development, and HIV/AIDS will serve as lenses into a range of perspectives on life in an independent Africa. Enrollment limited to 40. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HST 258 Modern Africa (4 Credits)

This course provides an introductory survey of African history under colonial rule and beyond. In doing so, the course offers students a framework for understanding the political, social and economic history of modern Africa by foregrounding the strategies African peoples employed as they made sense of and confronted their changing historical landscapes. Key subjects include the construction of the colonial state, African experiences with colonial rule, the dilemmas of decolonization and life in an independent Africa. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

HST 259dc Colloquium: Topics in African History-Decolonization: A People's History (4 Credits)

Recently, talk of “decolonization” seems to be everywhere. Yet, absent from much of the contemporary discourse on decolonization is a reflection on the experiences and perspectives of those who lived through this era of upheaval, uncertainty and, for many, hope. Focusing on African history from approximately 1945-1980, this course centers such perspectives as it traces how activists, youth, political leaders, everyday women and men, and many others understood and articulated their hopes, ambitions and struggles in their attempts to construct a world after empire. This course is open to all students and assumes no prior knowledge of African history. Enrollment limited to 18. (E) {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 259dd Colloquium: Topics in African History-Discourses of Development (4 Credits)

This course interrogates and historicizes the problem of “development” in 20th-century Africa. In doing so, we query the assumptions made by colonial officials, postcolonial leaders, social scientific experts and local communities as they sought to understand and articulate African pathways into a largely ill-defined social and economic modernity. Key subjects of enquiry include an analysis of the relationship between western and non-western “modernities,” and explorations into the link between knowledge and power in our own interpretations of the past and of the so-called “underdeveloped world.” Enrollment limited to 18. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 259fm Colloquium: Topics in African History-Femininities, Masculinities and Sexualities in Africa (4 Credits)

This course examines the political, social and economic role of women, gender, and sexuality in African history, while paying particular attention to the ways in which a wide variety of Africans engaged, understood, and negotiated the multiple meanings of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality in the changing political and social landscapes associated with life in Africa. Key issues addressed in the course include marriage and respectability, colonial domesticity regimes, sex, and religion. Additionally, students interrogate the diversity of methodological techniques scholars have employed in their attempts to write African gender history. Enrollment limited to 18. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 259sp Colloquium: Topics in African History-Sport in Modern Africa (4 Credits)

This course explores the social and cultural history of sport in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Africa. Key subjects covered will be how a focus on sport helps us rethink African colonial encounters, the popular politics of the postcolonial state, and pan-Africanism. We will also reflect on how African sports history challenges us to think more deeply about African ideas of work, gender, and social mobility. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 276rj Colloquium: Topics-Historians Read the News-Race, Democracy and Reproductive Justice (4 Credits)

This course interrogates the intersection between current events and historical research. Exploring topics including race, debt, citizenship, democracy and reproductive justice, the course offers a comparative and transnational perspective of how historians and other historically focused scholars have approached topics that have dominated the recent news cycle, while thinking through the challenges and possibilities of doing historical research on subjects of contemporary importance. Enrollment limited to 18. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

WLT 100cw Introduction to World Literatures-Cannibals, Witches, Virgins (4 Credits)

An examination of the rewritings and adaptations of the three iconic figures of Shakespeare’s The Tempest—Caliban the demi-devil savage other, Sycorax the devil-whore, and Miranda the virgin-goddess—by writers from different geographies, time periods and ideological persuasions. Using texts such as Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest, Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban, Lemuel Johnson’s Highlife for Caliban, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day and Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven, we seek to understand how postcolonial, feminist and postmodern rewritings of The Tempest transpose its language and characters into critiques of colonialism, nationhood, race, gender and difference. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

WLT 205 Contemporary African Literature and Film (4 Credits)

A study of the major writers and diverse literary traditions of Africa, with emphasis on the historical, political, social and cultural contexts of the emergence of writing, reception and consumption. We pay particular attention to several questions: in what contexts did modern African literature emerge? Is the term "African literature" a useful category? How do African writers challenge Western representations of Africa? How do they articulate the crisis of postcoloniality? How do women writers reshape our understanding of gender and the politics of resistance? Writers include Achebe, Ngugi, Dangarembga, Bâ, Ndebele and Aidoo. Films: Tsotsi , Softie and Blood Diamond. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

WLT 240 Imagining Black Freedom: African, Caribbean and African American Literature (4 Credits)

An examination of race, identity, and resistance in African, Caribbean, and African American literatures through the lens of coming-of-age novels. This course will enable students to critically engage the political and aesthetic imperatives of black writing by interrogating the thematics and legacies of slavery, colonialism, and racism. How do writers of Africa and the African diaspora appropriate the Bildungsroman as a literary form in their constructions of identity, freedom, and citizenship? What makes this genre particularly useful for the liberatory project of black imagination? Writers include Ngugi, Dangarembga, Wicomb, Cliff, Kincaid, Morrison and Wright. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

WLT 266md Colloquium: Topics in South African Literature and Film (4 Credits)

A study of South African literature and film with a focus on adaptation of literary texts to the screen. The course pays particular attention to the ways in which the political, economic and cultural forces of colonialism and apartheid have shaped contemporary South African literature and film: for what purposes do South African filmmakers adapt novels, biographies and memoirs to the screen? How do these adaptations help us visualize the relationship between power and violence in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa? How do race, class, gender, sexuality and ethnicity complicate our understanding racial, political and gender-based violence in South Africa? Enrollment limited to 18. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

WLT 271 Writing in Translation: Bilingualism in the Postcolonial Novel (4 Credits)

A study of bilingualism as a legacy of colonialism, as an expression of exile, and as a means of political and artistic transformation in recent texts from Africa and the Americas. We consider how such writers as Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya), Assia Djebar (Algeria), Patrick Chamoiseau (Martinique) and Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/U.S.) assess the personal and political consequences of writing in the language of a former colonial power, and how they attempt to capture the esthetic and cultural tensions of bilingualism in their work. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable


Kuukuwa Andam

African Studies

Gwendolen Carter Postdoctoral Fellow in African Studies

Colin Hoag


Associate Professor of Anthropology

Colin Hoag

Aaron Kamugisha

Africana Studies

Ruth J. Simmons Professor of Africana Studies; Chair of the Department

Caroline Melly


Associate Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning

Caroline Melly

Gregory White


Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of Government; Chair of Environmental Science and Policy

Gregory White

Five College Center for the Study of World Languages

The Five College Center for the Study of World Languages (FCCSWL) offers courses in less commonly taught languages for Five College students.

Learn More About Language Courses
African Studies

Contact African Studies

Wright Hall 107

Smith College

Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3572 Email:

African Studies Program Director: 

Jeffrey Ahlman

Administrative Assistant: 

David Osepowicz

Individual appointments may be arranged directly with the faculty.