Soldiering is one of the oldest professions in African history. Throughout the continent’s long history, ordinary soldiers have risen to become kings, queens, presidents, and held other positions of significance. Soldiers in African history have hailed from diverse backgrounds, ranging from the enslaved to those from the nobility. Notable soldiers in African history have been both men and women. Certainly, in Africa as in other world regions there is a tendency to associate the military profession with men. Yet, there have been famous female military warriors in African history, some of the most famous ones being Queen Nzinga in the seventeenth century; the all-female military units in the kingdom of Dahomey, known for their rigor and being effective fighters; and, more recently, Alice Lakwena who commanded a rebellion that nearly brought down the Ugandan government in the late twentieth century. Some of the other themes which we will explore include how warfare was organized from the precolonial era to more recent times; the impact of changing technologies on warfare and the everyday life of armed soldiers; colonial conquest and the soldiers who fought for Europeans and those who resisted; recruitment criteria during the colonial period, and colonial military identities; service in the military as labor and rebellions and mutinies over pay and work conditions; the army and nationalism. Throughout the course we will challenge the enduring Western image and stereotype of Africa as a violent place by focusing on a) the changing conditions that have pushed individuals and communities to go to war, and b) by examining how Africans have initiated and resolved conflict. Students will analyze a variety of resources including soldiers’ biographies, films, oral traditions, and archival sources that will help them to come up with their own arguments about the role of the soldiers and the military in Africa.
The Class: Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: active participation in discussion, map quiz, response papers, a short analytic paper (3-5 pages), presentation, and one research paper (8-12 pages).
Enrollment Preferences: if course is over-enrolled, preference to history majors and students with a demonstrated interest in African studies
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: This course examines the critical questions of how and why Africans have waged military campaigns, and how they have inspired others to join them. From the pre-colonial era to the present, all forms of military action in Africa were in many respects expressions of societal imbalances based on ethnicity, race, gender, generation, and class.
Attributes: GBST African Studies Electives
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- AFR 311 - Soldiering in African History