Fall 2024

The Idea of Africa

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-256  |  English, as ENGL-256


Cheikh A. Thiam (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 256 and BLST 256 [D]) In this course, we will develop a thoughtful understanding of the idea of Africa and the African diaspora and a complex appreciation of the meanings of black presence in the world. We will ask five questions that will allow us to explore the ways literary and philosophical texts from Africa and the African Diaspora challenge the Global Matrix of Power, question anti-Black racism in philosophy, literature, and cultural studies, and shape conceptions of being and identity in Africa and the African diaspora, namely: What is Africa? What is the African-Diaspora? How do these concepts engage with each other? How does race help make sense of both? How does the comparative analysis of the lived experiences of people of African descent allow us to understand the limits of Western modernity, question coloniality, and comprehend people of African descent’s presence in the world? These questions will be examined from the perspectives of three pivotal movements in African literature: Negritude (Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism and Leopold Seda Senghor, selected essays), the postcolonial and decolonial traditions (Ngugi Wathiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind and Cheikh Hamidou Kane, The Ambiguous Adventure), and Afropolitanism and the Afro-chic (Chimanda Adichie, Americanah, Taiye Selasie, Ghana Must Go, and Blitz Bazawule, The scent of Burnt Flowers). These readings will be supplemented by visual material and Afrobeat music. Students will develop a clear understanding of processes that lead to the “invention” of Africa, learn how to synthesize historical processes, key figures, and ideas that have led to contemporary conceptions of Africa and the Diaspora, and refine their critical thinking and writing skills.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Thiam.

How to handle overenrollment: Preference is for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with preference for students who need the course for graduation..

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: emphasis on written work, readings, group work.

Course Materials


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024