history, research, teaching

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World War II in Africa

This week in the Modern African history course we’re discussing African participation in World War II and its impact on the continent. Like the growing attention to World War I highlighted by the World War I in Africa project, it is increasingly easy to access media for classroom use. A few I have used successfully:


British Pathe coverage of Italian departure for Ethiopia, 1935:

Halie Selassie I speaks at the League of Nations after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, 1936:

Rare color footage (Kino Library) of Prisoners of War from the French colonies in Germany:

British Pathe footage of South African war effort & troops:


Ato Yanney’s His Majesty’s Sergent trailer

Ousmane Sembene’s (1988) Camp de Thiaroye

Rachid Bouchareb (2006) Indigènes (Days of Glory) trailer


BBC World Service three-part series “Africa’s Forgotten Soldiers” can be listened to by signing up for the radio archive.

My students listened to Afripod Episode 81: The Nigerian homefront in WWII.


Royal West African Forces SOURCE: Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Royal West African Forces
SOURCE: Source: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

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Repost: Lecture Prep and Digital Humanities

This is a re-post from my #DayofDH2014 page (April 8, 2014). 

Some portion of my Tuesday is usually devoted to grading and lecture prep for the rest of the week. Tomorrow the Modern Africa History course will cover decolonization in Portuguese Africa, so I want to blog about some of the great online digital sources and tools I use in this lecture.

The African Activist Archive (hosted by our #DayofDH2014 sponsor, MATRIX) has an awesome collection of posters on Angola and Guinea Bissau.

Angola for the Angolans

by Ato Seitu,Toronto Support Committee for MPLA
Montreal, Canada. No date, apparently late 1975 or early 1976

by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau Chicago, Illinois, United States Fall 1973

by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Fall 1973

The posters do not just operate as colorful background to the lecture. They serve as a tool for students to identify and discuss several important themes I hope to cover:

1) The role of international activists, here a U.S. campaign to boycott Gulf. Portugal received significant income from Gulf’s exploitation of Angolan oil that helped pay for its military activities in Angola against the struggle for independence.

by Pan-African Liberation Committee Brookline, Massachusetts, United States. Most likely late 1972 or 1973

by Pan-African Liberation Committee
Brookline, Massachusetts, United States. Most likely late 1972 or 1973

2) The role of women in the struggle for independence. Both the poster above and the items below portray female freedom fighters, allowing us to examine women at war. But students also discuss the decision to feature mothers and their children in these activist materials.

big32-131-3E6-98-LSM Angola 83

by Liberation Support Movement Information Center
Richmond, Canada. 1973


by Chicago Committee for the Liberation of Angola Mozambique and Guinea
Chicago, Illinois, United States. No date, 1972?

3) The context of the Cold War. Both the button and poster below provide entry into the discussion of U.S. support for UNITA in one of the Cold War proxy wars.

London, United Kingdom 1993 Publisher: Mozambique Angola Committee

London, United Kingdom
Publisher: Mozambique Angola Committee

by Young Socialist Alliance United States 1976 or later

by Young Socialist Alliance
United States
1976 or later

Finally, I use the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Africana Age page for photographs of important leaders to accompany our discussion.

Agostinho Neto. UN photo from the Schomberg Center.

Agostinho Neto. UN photo from the Schomberg Center.

What other great digital sources do you use in lecture?

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Last Day of Class!

Today was the last day of class, so my six Overcoming Apartheid Junior Seminar students enjoyed a South African feast! World Market provisioned us with Ceres litchi juice and Mrs. Ball’s chutney.

The bobotie on the way into the oven

The bobotie on the way into the oven

Bobotie is certainly one of the Cape”s best known dishes with a bit of a controversy around it. Is it of Cape  Malay descent? Created by Dutch settlers and infused with Eastern spices from their trade in the Dutch East Indies? Sarah Emily Duff sheds some light:

One of the ironies of boerekos [farmers’ food, comfort food] is that so much of it is derived from the cooking of the slaves who were transported to the Cape from southeast Asia during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. The sambalsatchars, and chutneys of Afrikaner cooking are a particularly obvious debt to the food traditions imported to South Africa from present-day Indonesia and Malaysia.

Although Leipoldt, an unusually thoughtful nationalist, acknowledge that many of the recipes he found were cooked and invented by ‘Malay’ women – a term which he used to describe the largely Muslim and Afrikaans-speaking descendants of slaves who lived in the Cape –their presence gradually disappeared in other, later boerekos recipe books.

There is no neat boundary between Afrikaner cuisine and what most South Africans dub ‘Cape Malay’ cooking: there are recipes for bredie (mutton stew), bobotie, and sosaties (kebabs) in both boerekos and Malay recipe books. But in order to use food to construct distinct, discrete national or group identities, the differences between these two cuisines had to be emphasised over their similarities.

Sarah Emily Duff, in “National Kitchens

I always forget to take “during” photos, but we’ll use this “after” shot to suggest that the bobotie was enjoyed by all!

Bobotie aftermath

Bobotie aftermath

Now they’re off to finish their research papers with full stomachs.


Twitter in the Classroom: Early African History

This week Gradhacker hosts #digped week. Their “Seven Things I Learned from Teaching with Twitter” post forced me to reflect on my experience teaching with Twitter in the fall semester. As I plan for next year, is it something I will try again?

I used Twitter in a course on African History to 1880. For many students here, this is their first introduction to African history. When I made the decision to use Twitter, I had two goals. The first was to use social media to get students to think beyond stereotypes of the continent and the second was to encourage alternate forms of class participation. I introduced the assignment during the course’s first discussion session, for which they read Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write About Africa” in preparation. As we covered the prevalent images of the continent seen so often in the press and popular imagination, we also talked about the role of social media in countering some of those stereotypes.

As part of the assignment, students were responsible for tweeting an article, photo, poster, event on campus, etc. that perpetuated these common images or fought back against them. I tried to be wise about the assignment. I gave them concrete goals. Tweet once a week and respond to at least one of your classmates’ tweets. I gave them a class hash tag #HIST2391. And I planned to use Martin Hawksey (EdTech Explorer)’s Twitter Archiving Google Doc Spreadsheet to keep track of it all. (That lasted only a couple of weeks…. I think more on account of my lack of diligence than anything else.) I also laid out these expectations in a handout on participation, making it clear this assignment would be graded as part of their participation score.

We opened The plan was to open every class with the Twitter exercise. I would browse their tweets before class. We could view the tweets via #HIST2391 on the classroom screen and our own devices and talk about what we had posted. Some days these discussions were just about current events. In other classes, we had posts that directly applied to course material, such as this one on the use of satellite technology to understand earliest African histories.

How did it go? What did I learn? I came to a lot of conclusions similar to those Natascha Chtena describes in the Gradhacker post, but these are worth noting:

  • Not all of my students had Twitter accounts. Many of them refused to get Twitter accounts on principle, even though I offered the incentive made it part of their grade. Those who jumped on board did not all understand the mechanics: how to post, how to add your own comments, how to correctly use the proper hash tag. The learning curve was steeper than I expected and made for more work than I had planned. Chtena’s suggestion for integrating an in-class tutorial will be key if I repeat the assignment.
  • Another issue centered around privacy. I manage my Twitter account for public consumption and did not want to see all of my students’ tweets, knowing they might not. With the course hash tag, I did not have to follow students with public accounts and could view only their course-related material. But students with private accounts, that was a different story. Some students created new accounts for the project, so their private lives would not overlap. But this meant that they were missing out on some of the benefits of our twitter assignment, only logging in often enough to meet the course requirement and not catching the regular streams of posts. I am not sure there is a way to get around this.
  • Allow me to repeat Chtena. Participation is one thing, engagement is another. Several students would post the first Africa-related article they found on the NYT Africa page. They needed encouragement to read the article, comment on the article, and to interact with their peers’ posts. They especially needed prodding to leave their comfort zones. Even though I had introduced them to great African-content blogs and Twitter accounts, NYT was quick and easy.
  • I had to be committed if I expected them to be committed. We needed to do the assignment every class, or they would slack in their postings. In theory, this seems easy. But when you are pairing the assignment along more traditional lectures with a certain amount of material to cover in between essays, exams, and unplanned bad weather days (this is Texas, after all, who plans for bad weather days?) it grew difficult for me to strike the right balance between my course goals, of which the Twitter assignment was only one.
  • This could be rewarding for me too.  I thought about what I wanted them to get out of it. But I had not thought about what I might get out of it. While some students were not digital natives and were not eager participants, others did really take to the assignment. A few made it their mission to seek out really different stories to compete with the prevalent images. They posted about Nollywood celebrity marriages, South African literary prizes, or this crazy Vine (I did not know of this “Vine” technology before this) about how your “normal African” wakes in the morning. Others posted about African-related events on campus and across Dallas. In some of their tweets, I recognized that they were applying course lessons to their everyday interactions around campus and the city. Those kind of tweets were the best course evaluations for which a teacher can hope.

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One of my favorite Modern African History lectures

I was going to share all of these great links on Twitter, but thought a single post might bring it all together.  This lecture on decolonization and Pan-Africanism in Ghana is one of my favorites to give in the Modern African History course because of the great videos and reading materials with which students can engage.

We open with a clip of war veteran Geoffrey Aduamah discussing his return to the Gold Coast Colony after serving in Burma during World War II (~8:30-9:40):

There is also this short color clip of Kwame Nkrumah’s independence speech:

and news footage of the 1958 All-African People’s Conference:

The students read a resolution of the 1958 All-African People’s Conference in Accra and several chapters from Kwame Nkrumah’s I Speak of Freedom (of which you can read a short excerpt here).

There are also great images available through @GhanaInPix and NYPL’s Africana Age: