BA History and Spanish

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Sub-Saharan Cities

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32482
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course covers the urbanisation of sub-Saharan Africa over the longue durée by exploring how urban life and the built environment of cities were mutually constituted. Beginning in precolonial times it considers how cities were changing as the result of both shifting local knowledges and early interactions with European capital. It then examines how colonial infrastructures reconfigured urbanity, and how at once Africans adapted imported technologies to persistently remake their own cities. The course finishes with emergent forms of urbanisation, in the context of rapidly changing climates and dramatic demographic shifts, to push students to make connections between Africa’s urban pasts and futures. Students will be introduced to a diversity of case study cities from ancient Ilé-Ifẹ̀ to the sprawling megacity of Kinshasa. A wide range of sources and creative methodologies of urban research will be central to a hands-on encounter with urbanity in sub-Saharan Africa. 


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


To develop knowledge of the breadth and depth of the history of urbanity in sub-Saharan Africa.

To identify the shifting terrain of African urban history scholarship.

To analyse urban histories of sub-Saharan Africa in relation to broader global processes such as colonialism, slavery, and neoliberalism.

To evaluate a diverse range of sources that relate to African urban histories.

To create and present arguments that explore complex processes of change in sub-Saharan cities. 

Teaching and learning methods

Workshop activities:  

Introductory lectures, seminar activities (eg. source analyses, group discussion, structured debate, essay planning), student-led presentations primary source analysis.



one primary source analysis and one essay.


Online archives and eLearning:  

interactive online histories using GIS eg. New Maps of Old Lagos, Accra Wala; archives of music and sound eg. British Library Sounds Decca West Africa Series; material culture collections eg. Sierra Leone Heritage; interactive climate histories eg. Feral Atlas.

Knowledge and understanding

Familiarity urban histories from across West, East, Central and Southern Africa, and across precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial times.

Develop a critical understanding of how global historical processes have shaped urbanisation in Africa.

Appraise and analyse how urban residents have produced the cities they have lived in.

Ask questions about how and why urban life and the built environment in sub-Saharan Africa have changed over time.

Intellectual skills

Learn to analyse a diversity of primary sources, including colonial documents, oral histories, photographs, films, maps, music, and newspapers.

Become familiar with the key themes and concerns of African urban historiography.

Become familiar with the various methodologies used by urbanists to access histories of the city in Africa. 

Practical skills

Essay writing

Verbal presentation of critical analysis in a group setting

Analysis of primary and secondary sources to formulate arguments

Independent research

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Critical thinking and analysis

Working collaboratively as part of a group

Presenting nuanced arguments, both written and verbally

Engaging in critical discussions 

Assessment methods

Source Analysis Summative 1,500 40%

Essay Summative 2,500 60% 

Feedback methods

Verbal feedback on group discussions and workshop presentations.  Formative

Written feedback on the source analysis and the essay assignments via Turnitin. Formative and Summative  

Additional one-to-one feedback during office hours. Formative 

Recommended reading

Anderson, David, & Rathbone, Richard (eds.) 2000. Africa's Urban Past. Oxford: James Currey.

De Boeck, Filip, and Sammy Baloji. 2016. Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds. London: Autograph ABP

Freund, Bill. 2007. The African City: A History. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Myers, Garth. 2011. African Cities: Alternative versions of urban theory and practice. London: Zed Books.

Newell, Stephanie. 2020. Histories of Dirt: Media and Urban Life in Colonial and Postcolonial Lagos. Durham: Duke University Press

Salm, Steven, and Toyin Falola (eds). 2009. African Urban Spaces in Historical Perspective. University Rochester Press.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2004. For the City yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities. Durham: Duke University Press.

Quayson, Ato. 2014. Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Milo Gough Unit coordinator

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