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Ecological Imperialism in Africa


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


Our climate and the environment around us have changed rapidly and significantly over the last two centuries. Climate change and environmental damage are usually attributed to human activity in a general sense. This course encourages us to think more specifically about human activity, by which people? When? And why? On the African continent, colonialism wrought wide-ranging and destructive ecological transformation, and this has continued to the present-day. The stereotypical images of the “African landscape” are a dry savannah dotted with scrub bushes or a dense jungle. In this course, we turn our attention to how ideas of nature and environmentalism have been produced and travelled to Africa; we focus on conservation & national parks, on the history and politics of ‘weather-related’ disasters and environmental knowledge, but also on the socio-ecological impact of oilfields, vast open pit mines and sprawling plantations carved out of the landscape, and local forms of protest that have emerged.
This course examines the ecological history of Africa from the early nineteenth century to the present and will look at environmental discourse and the entanglement of climate change, colonialism, industry, disease, population, and technology. We will also critically examine changing ideas about conservation and their relationship with colonialism, and the role of extractive industries on the African continent that remains a crucial source for oil, gas and minerals demanded by the rest of the world, notably in the “New Scramble for Africa’s Resources”. Often, these are extracted at a terrible cost for the environment and the people living and working there.
The course is structured around collaborative critical reading of literature and discussion of case studies prepared by the students themselves. From the final assessment, students write a paper.

  • Major themes and concepts that will be covered are:

  • Ecological imperialism and colonial rule;

  • The Anthropocene and Africa;

  • Conservation, safari tourism and the construction of nature;

  • Industrial development and climate change.

Course objectives

General Learning Objectives
The student will be able to:
1. Successfully complete a collaborative assignment;
2. Design and conduct a research project of limited scope, and in doing so:
a. search, select, and organize professional literature;
b. organize and process relatively large amounts of information;
c. analyse a scientific debate;
d. place one's own research in the scientific debate
3. Reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;
4. Write a problem-based paper and deliver a talk, and in doing so;
a. employ a realistic schedule;
b. formulate a problem statement and sub-questions;
c. formulate a reasoned conclusion;
d. give and receive feedback;
e. incorporate instructions from the instructor.
5. Participate in discussions during lectures.
The student:
6. Has gained an understanding of the historical processes that drove the ‘First Scramble for Africa’ and apply these insights to explore how this has shaped the ‘Second Scramble’ in the Anthropocene era, and what this means for Africa and its global connections today;
7. can navigate and make use of the digital environment to find and critically analyse primary and secondary sources and communicate these academic findings in a clear manner.
Learning objectives, specific to this course
8. The student will understand what ecological history means, and what academic debates are central to the ecological history of Africa;
9. The student will be able to establish the relationship between politics and natural resource management and master the theories discussed;
10. The student can independently select a case study that will be part of the paper that serves as the final assignment for the course.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar with mandatory attendance.
This means that students must be present at all the work seminars. If you are unable to attend, you must inform the lecturer in advance. The lecturer will then decide whether, and if so, how the missed lecture can be made up by a substitute assignment. If there are specific limitations to a class, the instructor will make this known at the beginning. If you do not meet the aforementioned conditions, you will be excluded from participation.

Assessment method


Written paper: 5 EC (2,500-3,000 words based on literature review/ and or research; excluding cover page, table of contents, bibliography, footnotes). Learning targets tested: 2-4, 6-10
Participation: Learning targets tested: 1, 3-5
Assignment 1: Input roundtable: 1,3, 5-9.
Assignment 2: Collaborative visual and oral presentation; work with a number of students (4) Learning targets tested: 1,3, & 5


Workpiece/paper: 60%
Participation: 10%
Assignment 1: 15% (input round table in week 6, see below)
Assignment 2: 15% (Collaborative visual and oral presentation; work with a number of students +/-4)
The final grade is based on the weighted average of the partial grades, with the additional requirement that the workpiece/paper must be satisfactory.


The deadline for handing in the assignments and the paper is as indicated in the corresponding Brightspace course.


The paper may be retaken. For this, the deadline as indicated in the corresponding Brightspace course applies.

Inspection and feedback

No later than when the results of the paper are announced, it will be indicated in what way and at what time the inspection and discussion of the paper will take place. In any case, a follow-up discussion will be organized if a student requests this within 30 days after the announcement of the results.

Reading list

Reading list will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats