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Ecological Imperialism in Africa


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges


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 the ‘construction’ of nature and 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 through capitalism and its underpinning extractive industries. 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 ‘natural’disasters and environmental knowledge, but also on oilfields, vast open pit mines and sprawling plantations carved out of the landscape.

This course examines the ecological history of Africa from the early nineteenth century to the present and will look at climate change, colonialism, industry, disease, population, and technology. We will also critically examine changing ideas about conservation and their relationship with colonialism. The course also focuses on the extractive industries as the African continent remains a crucial source for oil, gas and minerals demanded by the rest of the world. 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 (including digital sources and documentary material) 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 and the construction of nature;

  • Histories and politics of ‘natural’disasters and environmental knowledge;

  • 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. analyze 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 in the format of the first-year Thematic Lectures, 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.

Learning objectives, specific to the specialisation.

  • 6) The student has gained knowledge of the major field(s) to which the BA Seminar belongs;
    -in the track General History: for the placement of European history after 1500 in a global perspective; in particular the development and role of political institutions;
    -particularly in the History of European Expansion and Globalization track: for the creation of world-wide networks that bring about an increasingly intensive circulation of people: animals, crops, goods and ideas, and the central role of European expansion in this from around 1500 onwards.

  • 7) The student has knowledge and understanding of the core concepts, research methods and techniques of the specialisation, with special emphasis;
    -in the General History: to the study of primary sources and the relativity of nationally defined histories;
    -particularly in the History of European Expansion and Globalization track: for combining historiographical debates with empirical research in primary sources and/or connecting separate historiographical traditions through innovative questioning.

Learning objectives, specific to this lecture

  • 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 avialable through MyTimetable.

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


  • Paper (5,000-6,000 words based on literature and (empirical) research; excluding cover page, table of contents, bibliography, footnotes)
    measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-10

  • Oral Presentation (group oral presentation in session 11 or 12)
    measured learning objectives: 1-3, 5-10

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 1,3-5

  • Assignment 1 discussion of literature and summary; organizing debate around literature
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 5-9

  • Assignment 2: Collaborative visual and oral presentation; work with a number of students (4) on a historical case study of environmental change in Africa.
    measured learning objectives: 1-3, 6-9


  • Paper: 50%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Participation: 10%

  • Assignment 1: 10%

  • Assignment 2: 10%

The final grade is based on the weighted average of the partial grades, with the additional requirement that the paper must be satisfactory.


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


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Brightspace course.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

The prescribed literature will consist of individual articles and chapters that will be made available on Brightspace.


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


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

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


The lectures will be in English. Final papers may be written in Dutch.