MSc in African Studies
MSc in African Studies
About the course
The MSc in African Studies is a three-term course, designed both as a stand-alone interdisciplinary introduction to current debates about Africa, and as a preparation for doctoral research on Africa. This advanced degree programme provides an excellent foundation for those who wish to expand their knowledge of African studies.
There are four components to the MSc degree in African Studies:
- The Core Course on ‘Methodology, Ethics and Research Strategies’
- The Core Course on ‘Themes in African History and the Social Sciences’
- An Optional Paper
- A Dissertation of 15,000 words
Applications must be submitted by 12 noon on one of the following dates:
Friday 11 November 2022
Applications more likely to receive earlier decisions
Friday 20 January 2023
Latest deadline for most Oxford scholarships
Final application deadline for entry in 2023-24
MSc in African Studies - Programme Details
The MSc is a cross-disciplinary degree that introduces students to the main currents in recent scholarship on the African continent and provides training in key methodological approaches. The course draws on History, Politics, Anthropology, Media Studies and Gender Studies amongst other disciplines and requires students to take an inter-disciplinary approach towards their studies. The taught element of the degree prepares students to undertake their own research project and to write an original dissertation. The course is best suited to students with a primary interest in sub-Saharan Africa, although dissertation projects occasionally include North Africa and the diaspora.
Alumni of the MSc course go on to have careers in academia, research and journalism, and with NGOs, national governments and international institutions.
Core Course 1
This core course introduces students to the many disciplinary, thematic, practical and ethical and epistemological issues involved in researching Africa. Awareness of methodology is central to a critical approach to scholarship and essential in developing the skills in research design that must be the first step toward the completion of a successful dissertation within this MSc programme. This course is therefore both intellectually rigorous and practical.
The emphasis is on the distinctive approaches of the various disciplines involved in African Studies, although many of the research strategies to be addressed are of course not unique to Africa. Therefore, whilst readings for the course will focus upon African examples, students will also be encouraged to consider the ways in which methods devised in other areas may be adapted and applied in the circumstances of research in Africa. The course also tackles issues of interdisciplinary and methodological pluralism, as well as the practical issues of preparing for fieldwork and preliminary issues of research ethics in the African context.
The topics to be covered during the course include:
- Researching Africa: These lectures consider the ways in which the social sciences have framed Africa and explore the ethical, epistemological and political issues of doing research in or on Africa today. They foster a critical reflection on African Studies and on “Africa” as its underlying unit of analysis.
- Investigating Africa’s past: Documentary sources are of central relevance to all disciplines engaged in the study of Africa. These lectures survey the range of approaches to archival and documentary study and chart the evolution of the methodologies for collecting oral evidence.
- Anthropology and Africa: The theoretical and historical origins of social anthropology are examined along with a critical analysis of the claims made for the discipline’s key method, participant observation. We also interrogate the use of visual sources and material culture.
- Political Science: Qualitative methods are crucial elements of research in the social sciences in Africa. These lectures aim to give a general introduction to the uses of qualitative methods. The lectures also trace the development of the discipline of political science, paying particular attention to methodological shifts.
The course is taught by a series of eight lectures, each dealing with a particular methodology or research strategy or ethical/epistemological issue. The lectures are supported by classes, in which students consider specific examples of research practice through a close reading of case study materials. A series of research design lectures run in parallel to complement the teaching curriculum. Faculty present their own research projects and discuss the research strategies, methodological decision-making, use of sources and the ethical issues that have arisen during their own research. The course is assessed by an examined essay.
Core Course 2
This course runs through Michaelmas Term and Hilary Term and introduces students to major debates in the contemporary study of Africa, aiming to set these issues within their historical, social and cultural contexts. The approach is necessarily selective, but features many of the most important and influential scholarly works on Africa. Central to the course is the analysis of the evolving nature of the state and society in Africa and the shifting balance between the two, from the so-called 'precolonial' period to the present day. The weekly themes will be examined with reference to continental patterns and variations and will reflect key areas of academic and public debate.
Students are encouraged to engage with some of the most important questions facing Africa today: Did colonial rule have a significant and lasting impact on Africa? Has development been a help or a hindrance? What are the legacies of nationalism? Is Africa democratising? What impact does economic change have on society? How unequal is Africa's relationship with the rest of the globe? Is 'Africa' a useful concept for study?
The course is taught through 16 1-hour lectures and 16 participatory classes, running through Michaelmas and Hilary Terms. Students complete two examined essays.
Lectures and seminars in Michaelmas Term consider the shifting character of the state and society in Africa, from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial. Power, culture, gender, trade, slavery, colonialism, urbanization, nationalism, 'patrimonialism', economic collapse, state ‘failure’, and democratization are all examined with reference to continental patterns and variations and set within the context of current debates about the value of indigenous forms of authority and the need for political accountability.
While each week focuses on a key area of debate about state and society in Africa, the course is organized in broadly chronological order. We begin with African states and society in the so-called ‘pre-colonial’ period, before analysing colonial conquest and local resistance, the impact of the colonial state and its vision of ‘modernity’, nationalism and independence. The course then analyses authoritarianism and patrimonialism in the 'post-colony', before considering more contemporary themes such as economic and political liberalisation, and the good governance agenda.
Lectures focus on identifying historical continuities and critical junctures and cover a broad range of key themes:
- Polities and societies in African history
- The impact of colonialism on society, polities and economies
- The hopes (and failures) of the nationalist state project
- The politics of economic crisis
- Why African states ‘failed’
- Structural adjustment and its impact on Africa
- The characteristics of democracy in Africa.
The course outline for Hilary Term features lectures on a wide range of contemporary social, political and economic issues and is regularly updated. Lecture topics will be circulated toward the end of Michaelmas Term of each academic year.
In recent years the topics covered in Hilary Term have included:
Three Rival Responses to Colonialism: Mandela, Fanon, Gandhi
The Question of Language in African Studies
Sexual and Reproductive Health in African History
Engaging with China from Africa: The Question of Agency
Extractives in African History - Minerals and Mining
Extractives in African History - Minerals and Mining
Extractives in African History - Oil
News Media in Africa, 1800-2000
In the spring term (Hilary Term) students choose one from a broad range of thematic Options Courses. The Options courses are taught by weekly classes and examined by an extended essay. In recent years the following courses have been offered:
Politics of the Security Sector in Africa – Miles Tendi
The South African City – Rebekah Lee
African Decolonisation, 1945-1994 – Peter Brooke
Contemporary African Popular Culture – Carli Coetzee
Themes in the Anthropology of Africa (Extractives and Environment) – David Pratten, Doris Okenwa, Ramon Sarro & Thomas Cousins
African Literature – Tiziana Morosetti
Warfare and the Military in African History – Richard Reid
Pathologies of Power: Politics, Epidemics and Global Health in Africa – Simukai Chigudu
The Politics of Film in Africa – Dan Hodgkinson
The culmination of the MSc programme is a dissertation of 12,000-15,000 words which must be based on original research and discussion of the comparative reading, historiography, or theory relevant to the dissertation. Students are allocated a supervisor and are offered supervisions approximately once a fortnight.
Most students conduct fieldwork as part of their dissertation. This is carefully planned and discussed with the supervisor. However, fieldwork is not an essential component of the course and students are encouraged to make use of the wide range of under-studied documents and archives available via the Bodleian Libraries. Supervisors will be able to offer information on past dissertation topics, and to suggest potentially rewarding areas of research.
Good African Studies MSc dissertation topics vary in character a great deal, but generally have four things in common. Firstly, they are focused on a manageable question (or set of questions). Secondly, they advance a powerful and consistent argument that is supported with ample empirical evidence. Thirdly, they add something to the discipline in that they present original empirical material or original interpretations of an established debate (ideally both). Finally, they are well-organised so that the argument develops in a logical manner and the key aims set out in the introduction are thoroughly answered in the conclusion.
Some examples of recent MSc dissertation titles include:
- The Farmer-Herder Conflict in Nigeria: The Role of the Media
- Self and Society in the Aftermath of War: Women’s Narratives of the Biafran War
- Where is the pain? A critical analysis of Ghana’s tramadol 'crisis'
- International Criminal Justice & Complex Political Victimhood: An Analysis of the Dominic Ongwen Trial
- Violence Against Women in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and in Ethiopia Today Approved
- Imperial Prisons, tensions and ‘reform’: the significance of Alexander Paterson’s visits to Africa c.1938-1946
- From the Nation’s Capital to a Contested City: Questioning the status of Mogadishu in federal Somalia
- Sustainability of South Africa Abalone Production: Review of Fisheries and Aquaculture
- Tourism and Identity: Investigating the Contributions of Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’ to the ‘Back to Africa Movement’.
- The Evidence for Financial Education Programmes in Africa: Assessing the Applicability of Global Evidence to Eswatini
- Marking, Mapping and Making Congolese Space: Cartographies and Colonialism 1885 -1960
- Questioning the Mauritian Democracy Success Story: the case of Creole women
- Regional Accountability between outcome and policy: A Comparative Study of Transitional Justice in West Africa and Latin America
- Regional Organisations in Peace and Security: A Comparative Study of the EU-AU and the EU-ECOWAS Partnerships in Mali
- Morocco’s Africa Policy from the 2010s: A Motivated Reconnection
- Perceptions of China’s COVID-19 pandemic aid in Africa: a case study of Tanzania
- Les Évolués: Eurocentrism and the Black ‘elites’ in the Belgian Congo.
- The Politicisation of Self-determination through Social Media: A Netnography of the Homeland Study Group Foundation, 2016-2021
- What comes after racist science? Investigating institutional and researcher responses to two race-related research controversies in South Africa
- The Relationship Between Southern African States and Mining Transnational Corporations in the 21st Century: Constancies and Reconfigurations in Relation to Domestic and Global Processes.
- Cultural Identity, Resistance & Cartoons In Post-Colonial Ghana. The Case of Ananse the Spider.
- The Context of Beauty-work among Young Nigerian Women.
- Start-ups and the State in Lagos: motorbike-hailing, digitalisation, and future technology adoption
- Nature and identity in the poetry and short stories of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
- Deconstructing Power at the ICC in Relation to Africa
- Njuindem to 'Bangwa Queen': gender, power and the restitution of 'African Art'.
Students in African Studies at Oxford benefit from the rich resources of the University's libraries and museums and the numerous Africa related student societies and research groups which are active throughout the University.
There are numerous Africa related student societies and research groups active throughout the University who organise a large variety seminars and events. These include the following:
Oxford University Africa Society (AfriSoc)
AfriSoc is one of the most vibrant student-focused organizations at the University of Oxford, providing a strong and legitimate voice within the university community and beyond to African students and others who are linked to the continent by way of ancestry, research, experience, or interest. The society is a platform for informed debates and stimulating events, and strives to create a sense of community amongst members. It currently has over 230 members representing a vast array of disciplines and nationalities.
Horn of Africa Seminar Group (HoA)
The Horn of Africa Seminar brings together students and scholars interested in examining the region from a multidisciplinary and comparative perspective. By hosting lectures by experienced researchers alongside post-graduates, and by mixing academic and policy research, they hope to come to a shared, factually informed and politically relevant understanding of trends in the region. The group also runs the Focus on the Horn website, which acts as a collaborative platform for commentary on contemporary issues in Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya from a variety of researchers, journalists, and activists with expertise on the region.
Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN)
The Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN) is an academic, multi-dimensional organisation that seeks to forge cross-disciplinary and trans-regional links between researchers, practitioners, and officials around the emerging phenomenon of Chinese engagement with Africa. Past OUCAN events have included successful workshops on new research horizons, regular seminar series focused on a variety of issues -ranging from the role of Maoist China in nation building in Guinea over the Exim-Bank and Angola's post-conflict reconstruction to barefoot doctors in Tanzania and Zambia- and a post-graduate study group.
Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF)
The Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF), founded in 2010, hopes to push forward the research on a wide range of explicitly interdisciplinary issues pertaining to the many challenges faced by the fascinating region of Central Africa. It seeks to bring together academic researchers, graduate students, development practitioners and policy-makers to informally discuss current events as well as historical developments. It pools the incredible knowledge on Central Africa present in Oxford and further afield and stimulates debate and research through a variety of activities. Thus, OCAF fills a gap long identified by scholars and practitioners alike; it supports the diffusion of solid research and provides a forum for exchanges of ideas between stakeholders who don’t always find it easy to dialogue with each other.
Oxford Transitional Justice Research (OTJR)
Oxford Transitional Justice Research (OTJR) is an inter-disciplinary network of more than 150 Oxford staff and students working broadly on issues of transition in societies recovering from mass conflict and/or repressive rule. Founded in 2007, it is now one of the largest and most diverse academic communities conducting research in this field. OTJR is dedicated to producing high-quality scholarship that connects intimately to practical and policy questions in transitional justice, including the following themes: theoretical and philosophical debates in transitional justice, domestic and international prosecutions, truth commissions and other truth-recovery processes, commemoration and memorialisation, local and traditional practices, compensation & reparations and institutional reform.
Oxford University Student Union (OUSU)
The Oxford University Student Union represents the student body to the University and the outside world. They also offer advice, support and training to students and common rooms, as well as a number of other services.
Students and researchers in African Studies at Oxford benefit from the rich resources of the University's libraries and museums. The African Studies Centre also houses its own book collection in the Terence Ranger Reading Room, this being primarily intended for the use of students on the MSc programme.
The libraries listed below have substantial collections of library resources on Africa. Some important libraries for graduate work are mentioned here, but several others may be useful for specialised purposes. A comprehensive list of all of the Libraries associated with the University is available on the main Bodleian Libraries website, as is a map of Oxford libraries.
Central Bodleian Library: the main University library and the second largest library in the UK, the Central Bodleian Library contains extensive and long-established collections covering most aspects of the history, culture and contemporary affairs of Africa.
Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House: commonly known as Rhodes House Library, this is an excellent resource with one of the best collections of books on Africa in the UK. It is the part of the Bodleian Library that specialises in the history and current affairs - political, economic and social - of the Commonwealth and sub-Saharan Africa including the offshore islands. It also contains a large manuscript collection.
Social Science Library: Books, journals and reading list material relating to African politics, economics and statistics are in the Social Science Library (SSL). This library contains substantial collections (mostly in English) relating to contemporary African social science, politics, economics and statistics.
Balfour Library (Pitt Rivers Museum): founded in its present form in 1939, the Balfour Libraryhas a dual function, as the teaching and research library of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and as the research library of the Pitt Rivers Museum. The library holds an extensive collection of books, pamphlets and journal titles on Archaeology and Anthropology, especially material on culture, including art and traditional music.
Tylor Library: housed within the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at 51 Banbury Rd the Tylor Library houses numerous books, print periodicals, and pamphlets dealing with social anthropology and related fields, such as sociology, history and linguistics. In addition to books and journals it provides online access to the university’s electronic resources, including several useful databases for anthropologists.
Pitts Rivers Museum: holds a unique collection of material cultural artefacts from around the world, including Africa.
OxLIP+: In addition the University's numerous libraries, the Bodleian also has an extensive collection of online subscription databases, electronic reference works, e-Journals and e-Book packages which can all be accessed via OxLIP+.
Accessing Library Resources
The Oxford University Library Information System (OLIS) computer catalogue covers holdings in almost all Oxford libraries, including the Bodleian Library and the Social Science Library. It contains records for more than 13 million items held by libraries within, or associated with, the University. The primary public search interface for OLIS is SOLO: Search Oxford Libraries Online, which can be searched by anyone interested in the resources held by Oxford libraries. OLIS can also be searched within Mobile Oxford and via Z39.50.
A series of induction sessions on the use of catalogues, bibliographies and libraries for graduate students working in African Studies is given each year. An individual hands-on session on the use of electronic resources will be given to any reader on request by a specialist member of the staff, who will be happy to discuss any particular interests or requirements.
The Terence Ranger Reading Room
The Terence Ranger Reading Room is located in the African Studies Centre. It houses a non-circulating collection of specialist Africanist books and periodicals. The main holding is a donation from Chris Allen who studied at the University of Oxford and lectured in African Studies for many years at the University of Edinburgh.
Opening Hours: The Reading Room is open during office hours (During Term: Monday to Friday 9:00-5:00 or by special arrangement with the Administrator).
Catalogue: The catalogue to the reading room collection is now available online via EndnoteWeb (Shibboleth authentication required) using the email and password below. Please consider the database as read only.
Nexus Email: the central system for email at Oxford.
WebLearn: allows students to access many useful resources related to the MSc in African Studies, including the course handbook, Core Course reading lists, scanned copies of recommended readings and other documents relevant to the course.
OXAM: provides students with online access to the past exam papers.
SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online): the catalogue for the major collections of the libraries of the University of Oxford.
OxLIP+: provides access to all the online subscription databases provided by the Bodleian Libraries, including electronic reference works, e-Journals and e-Book packages.
Student Gateway: provides a single point of access to information, services and resources available to current students at the University of Oxford.