Fall 2010

Africa: Power and Representation

Listed in: Subject-First Year Seminar, as FYSE-20


Miriam R. Goheen (Section 01)


The right to represent oneself has always been an important piece of symbolic capital and a source of power. External representations of Africa have consistently distorted and misinterpreted the peoples and cultures of the continent. Within Africa, this right--to produce and display particular images--has been inseparable from both secular and sacred power. The discrepancy in interpretation of various images, whether these are in the form of visual objects or in the form of philosophies or concepts, has produced a misunderstanding of African institutions and art. In addition, historically the right to represent and claim one’s identity has become increasingly politicized. Control over various representations and images of Africa and things African has become contested. Using an interdisciplinary focus from the fields of art history, history and anthropology, this course will examine representations and interpretations of images of Africa both from within and from outside the continent. Ultimately we will link these with various forms of power and legitimacy to consider the complexity behind the development of an idea of Africa.

This course will be organized in classic seminar format: it will focus on class discussions of assigned readings, on class presentations by students, and on various weekly writing assignments. For at least one assigned reading per week, students will be asked to write about that reading in order to facilitate their understanding of the ways in which readings are framed, and to learn to read for ideas and arguments as well as the facts that support these. Each student, in concert with one or two others in the class, will be asked to give brief presentations on assigned readings and to lead the class discussion of these. In addition, each student will pick an African country to be responsible for during the term: this includes writing a short background paper to be shared with the rest of the class and acting as a news reporter during the term. We will spend time each week talking about the news from Africa and relating current events to readings assigned for the course.  Much of the focus of the course is on learning what one needs to know to take a course at Amherst College: to learn to present ideas clearly and lucidly in writing and speaking. The overall aim is to give students an understanding of what they need to know about African cultures and societies and the historical contingencies that have created these internally and externally in the global political economy to understand fully modern Africa.

Fall semester. Professor Goheen.


2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2010