Course Meeting Times

Seminar: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

What do technology and innovation mean from Africa? This is the central question of this course, which tackles a double absence: Of the meanings and role of technology in African history, on the one hand, and of Africa’s place in the global history of technology, on the other. The concept of technology in the African context needs to be problematized because it is entangled within the colonial circumstances under which it arrived and the specific (Western) things it denoted. The persistent imagination of Africa is that of an untechnological continent that only wakes up when first Europeans and now the Chinese arrive. Even after being touched by the hand of civilization, Africa is prone to sleeping sickness when left to itself. Africa is seen as a powder keg of disease, wars, and refugees that might contaminate the ‘civilized world.’ Africa is the last place to look for or find technology; Africa and technology, let alone ‘African technology,’ is an oxymoron. The only thing worth talking about in Africa, a la Hegel, is what outsiders have brought in, the itineraries they have traveled, and what they have left. The course therefore focuses on three streams or directions from which one might see and define technology: From outside coming, from within (and sometimes going out), and in encounter.

The course alternates between technologies from outside and technologies from within Africa and their itineraries in everyday life. This course will spend time examining historical and cultural dimensions of technology and innovation emerging out of Africa by Africans, covering topics like plant and animal domestication, biochemistry, medicine, indigenous ecology, mining and metallurgy, architecture, urbanization, textiles, music, entrepreneurship, and many other topics. It will also explore the African experience with incoming technologies such as guns, bibles, books, and ICT applications and what they do to Africans and what Africans do to and with them. This course is designed to provide students with grounded understandings of technology in Africa for intellectual and action-oriented purposes.



Course Requirements

First paper (2 1/2 pages) 15%
Second paper (5 pages) 25%
Third paper (10–15 pages) 40%
Class participation 20%