EGMT 1530: Africa Imagined

What is “Africa,” and what do we think we know about the African past? The idea of “Africa” holds a powerful constellation of ideas and representations in the Western imaginary that have little to do with the actual history and people who inhabit this vast, diverse continent. In the words of Achille Mbembe: “more than any other region, Africa thus stands out as the supreme receptacle of the West’s obsession with, and circular discourse about, the facts of “absence,” “lack,” and “non-being,” of identity and difference, of negativeness—in short of nothingness.” Mbembe 2001:4). In this course, we will examine colonial and postcolonial approaches to how Africa has been imagined across time and space and critically examine how these ideas continue to circulate in popular culture, media, film, science, literature, and the international development industry. The primary goals of this course are for students to 1) recognize tropes of “Africa” 2) understand and deconstruct these tropes as historical inventions 3) and to begin to understand “Africa” in more nuanced and intricate ways. Topics we will focus on include the intellectual legacies of colonialism, poverty and international aid, “ethnic” and “religious” conflict, portrayals of “Africa” in American and European film and media, the looting and marketing of African art, and counter-discourses of Afrocentricity.
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