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TexasDude's avatar

Who wants to help me come up with an Africa-related research paper topic?

Asked by TexasDude (25244points) April 27th, 2011

I have to write a 6 to 7 page research paper about African history (yeah, that’s pretty damn broad) and I’m having a bit of trouble coming up with an appropriate topic. That’s why I’m coming to you guys for suggestions.

I originally wanted to write about the disparity between European and African technology during the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, because I’m super interested in technology, specifically historical military tech but my professor said this topic wouldn’t focus on “African perspectives” enough. I can understand why.

I’d really like to write about the Zulu Wars or the Boer wars, but I don’t really know where to start or what type of specific issue to address. If you guys could offer some suggestions, I’d be extremely grateful. Let’s also use this thread to discuss issues in African history.

For anyone who is interested, I can provide the actual text of the assignment itself.

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48 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

Is it cheating to talk about the current events in north Africa? History is being made right now…

TexasDude's avatar

@nikipedia, sadly, it is cheating. My professor said that for our purposes, history ends in 1990. :-(

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Please accept my apology in advance for the lack of knowledge on the topic, but I must ask…Have you seen the movie Breaker Morant? I saw it decades ago, and it has piqued interest in the Boer War (the second one). It is based upon the story of Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant. Since his story has become such a folk legend, it might be interesting to explore how much truth is really really there.

Another suggestion is to consider Patrice Lumumba.
Patrice Émery Lumumba (2 July 1925 – 17 January 1961) was a Congolese independence leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960. Only ten weeks later, Lumumba’s government was deposed in a coup during the Congo Crisis.[1] He was subsequently imprisoned and murdered in circumstances suggesting the support and complicity of the governments of Belgium and the United States.

The thought that the US was involved in this leader’s assignation disturbs me. If what I’ve read is true, it was a brutal murder and for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

zenvelo's avatar

Perhaps you could research the Zulu perspective on the Zulu wars? What it was like to face guns armed with spears and animal skin shields?

TexasDude's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer, I haven’t heard of Breaker Morant, but I’ll check it out. We actually watched a film about Lumumba and wrote a paper about his political career and Belgian intervention and whatnot. The film was really interesting.

@zenvelo, I’m considering it. Shaka Zulu was a total badass and a very interesting historical figure and the Zulus whooped some serious British ass, for a while. Their ethnographic history is probably most interesting to me of all groups in Africa. I may actually write about Shaka Zulu’s military reforms… Thanks for the suggestion.

linguaphile's avatar

It’s a long, but a good read—check out Barbara Kingsolver’s “Poisonwood Bible.” It talks about African history.
Another possible topic is to research King Leopold of Belgium’s genocide. He is reputed to have killed more people than Adolf Hitler (Hitler: 6mil Jews, 11mil total; Leopold: 15mil by some counts), but history books don’t talk about it.

TexasDude's avatar

@linguaphile, I’ll check it out… haven’t heard of it. I have researched King Leopold II (may fuck be upon him) rather extensively. He’s one of the biggest douchebags of history and it’s a shame that he’s relatively unheard of. We read King Leopold’s Ghost in class and wrote a paper or two about his psychotic, despotic rule over Congo. I may consider revisiting him for a new topic if I can’t think of anything else, because I know quite a bit about him. Did you know that he wrapped his beard up anytime he went out because he was so afraid of germs? And he also drank large quantities of scalding water daily because he thought it was good for him.

TexasDude's avatar

@linguaphile, so I just read some info on Poisonwood and it gave me another idea… I am thinking about the role Christian Missionaries played in exposing Leopold’s human rights abuses in Congo and I’m trying to come up with a way to explore the Congolese response to this… or their role, or whatever.

linguaphile's avatar

@Fiddle that’s a great idea! I like the idea of taking what you already know, but researching a different angle on the same topic. I don’t know anything about the Christian Missionaries, but I’d love to see the final draft and learn from what you know!

TexasDude's avatar

@linguaphile, I can tell you right now off the top of my head that Christian missionaries were among the first to report to the outside world about the human rights abuses that were going on in the Congo Free State… stuff like hands being hacked off and barbecued as trophies that made even the imperialist British shake their heads. Despite their ostensibly paternalistic motivations, the missionaries did provide a valuable weapon to the oppressed Congolese as well as other indigenous groups: Literacy.

TexasDude's avatar

@linguaphile, additionally, the Christians, particularly Protestants, tended to support free market ideals and they believed that creating modern economies among “tribes” (tribe is a dirty word in African history, but I’m using it because it’s easily understood in this context) by introducing them to Christianity would empower them.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@linguaphile The Poisonwood Bible is what led me to do a bit of research on Patrice Lumumba. It is one of my favorite novels. It is interwoven with her experiences of living in the Congo.

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard If you are seriously considering taking on this topic, author Barbara Kingsolver doesn’t live that far away from you. She and her family are now running a farm in NC and attempting to be self-sufficient. Why not track her down and ask for an interview?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

The Rhodesian civil war in the 1970s.

linguaphile's avatar

OOOwee! If you get to meet Barbara Kingsolver… awww… she’s one of my all-time favorite writers. I love how she writes about a variety of cultures- and for me, she just has a knack of making me feel like I’m actually there, observing the culture.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

How about “Apartheid” in South Africa, the Sharpeville riots etc?????

TexasDude's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer, hmm, perhaps I could tie some Poisonwood stuff in with Lumumba somehow? My brain’s gears are a’turnin’. I may shoot Ms. Kingsolver an email. Thanks for your input.

@MyNewtBoobs, I’ve always been interested in the Selous Scouts, who I know played an integral role in the war, but I don’t know much about them. I’ll add that to my list.

@linguaphile I’ll tell her hello for you if I do wind up talking to her.

@ZEPHYRA, I’ll look up the Sharpeville riots. I haven’t heard of them and we only discussed apartheid for a day.

anartist's avatar

Where was the first beer brewed? did it begin with Louis Leakey’s Lucy and her mate?
What did Jane Goodall learn from chimpanzee research in Tanganyika that caused her to cage her child when in the field?

A nasty one worth more than seven pages:
how did African tribal politics and warfare contribute to Afr4ican slavery? {hint—among others, use Admiral Foote’s book]

TexasDude's avatar

@anartist, whoa. Now those are some unique topics. Is there evidence to suggest that the first beer was brewed in Africa?

anartist's avatar

another or 2
Liberia was set up by citizens of the United States as a colony for former African-American slaves.
also Sierra Leone set up by Brits same reason

fiddle—beer is essential. Africa is the birthplace of homo sapiens. Most African aboriginal cultures have a beer fermentation recipe. Do they beat out the Euros etc?

btw if you read Jane Goodall’s books she had to keep her young son in a cage to protect him from the chimps. why?

anartist's avatar

Fiddle, below from wikipedia
also has some fierce illustrations—like how to pack a slaver ship

From 1849 to 1851, Foote commanded the USS Perry, cruising the waters off the African coast. He was active in suppressing the slave trade there.[3] This experience persuaded him to support the cause of Abolition, and in 1854, he published a 390 page book, Africa and the American Flag. In this book, Admiral Foote described the geography of the African continent, the customs of many of the African people, the establishment of American colonies in Africa, the slave-trade and its evils and the need to protect American citizens and commerce abroad. He also became a frequent speaker on the Abolitionist circuit.

lillycoyote's avatar

I really would like to see the wording of the actual assignment. There is just such a tremendous amount of history, obviously, so many possible topics, fascinating ones, big continent with long history and I don’t know what your professor wants in terms of an “African perspective.” Just as an example, I wrote a paper in college on the Igbo Women’s War‘s_War that occurred in 1929. I thought it was very interesting and was really about the Igbo themselves and not about African v.s. or compared to the West. I don’t know if that’s what your professor means by wanting papers that have more of an African perspective so it would help me, at least, to see the assignment as written.

I have a feeling my link isn’t going to work but you can look it up on wikipedia if you’re interested.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I was just bitching to my mom today about King Leopold

I always had a thing for Ethiopia, so I would recommend something on how Italy invaded during WWII. Or maybe on the slave trade within Africa, particularly in the north? But that’s not really what you want to do so I guess I’m no help!

linguaphile's avatar

Oh, Ethiopia! One of things I find the most fascinating about Ethiopia is how the Ethiopian clergy did not go to the Council of Nicea (Constantine forgot to invite them), so they weren’t present when the Council canonized books of the Bible. Consequently, they also didn’t get the instructions to burn and destroy anything that contradicted the canonized books, so the Ethiopians became a rich, rich source of Christian history.

anartist's avatar

fiddle—thanx for King Leopold II info—interesting

Here’s another African big-man-rules dictator to study [from wikipedia]:
Amin titled himself as “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC,
DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”]

—or a sociological study of “big Man politics and why elections don’t work in Africa” [use the Foote book for background] and current or recent events for support. Power is brute force—not the ballot box.

TexasDude's avatar

@tragiclikebowie, awesome! Even though I’m an Italian, I still think it’s pretty badass how ballsy the Ethiopians were in fighting them. Speaking of the slave trade in North Africa, I could write about early Arabic slavers in the area.

@linguaphile, the Coptic church has a fascinating history. does the Coptic language.

@anartist, you’re on a roll tonight. Well, you’re always on a roll. I really like your idea about somehow tying Foote and Idi together in a study. ...Power is brute force, not the ballot box. I like that. Would you mind if I co-opted that phrase if I chose this topic?

@lillycoyote, ask and ye shall receive:

Come up with an appropriate historical issue
Using our class readings, the textbook, and other resources, decide on a question—
usually beginning with ‘how’ or ‘why’—that interests you about the history of Africa.
Your topic may also concern a present-day issue so long as you focus primarily on its
origins in history (for our purposes, history “ends” in 1990, though this cutoff is
negotiable). Note that one of the biggest challenges will be to come up with an issue that
is proportionate to the length of the assignment, so please consult with me during this
phase. Finally, if you are covering an event or phenomenon in African history that
involves other parts of the world, you will need to make sure that at least half of your
paper looks at this event from African perspectives. (So, for example, a history of World
War II on the Horn of Africa will only meet this requirement if it looks at the war from
the Ethiopian and Somali perspectives, not exclusively from the viewpoints of the British,
Germans and Italians.)
Gather sources
Find academic secondary sources—academic books and journal articles— to help you
answer your question. Primary documents would be welcome here as well. In either
case, remember that this is a research essay, so you must use multiple academic sources
that were not assigned in class in order to support your assertions. (You may use in-class
sources to get started, but the vast majority of your documentation must come from
elsewhere.) When relevant, you can also make use of our textbook’s “Further reading”
section which begins on page 329 in Iliffe.
Write an essay
Write an essay of approximately five to six pages, word processed and double-spaced,
that attempts to address your issue. You should drop by my office hours to discuss
your project at least once during the remainder of the semester. I will be happy to
look at as many outlines and/or rough drafts as you would like.
This essay is due at the start of our class’s exam period, along with the
final mini-test. Please get started on this early because grades are due
shortly after final exams.

anartist's avatar

oh do help yourself. I am flattered.

TexasDude's avatar

@anartist, did I mention that I’m dedicating my thesis to you?

lillycoyote's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard The tough part of the assignment is this, I think, as your professor notes:

“Note that one of the biggest challenges will be to come up with an issue that
is proportionate to the length of the assignment…”

The paper is only 5–6 pages long so you will need to come up with a fairly specific area of focus. And, while many of the suggestions mentioned so far are good I don’t think there are many that you can do justice to in 5–6 (double spaced!) pages.

Here is at least some food for thought, it’s the best I can do. This is a wikipedia article on the/some history of technology in Africa.. That is something you have said interests you. Look at the entry and check out some of the links and maybe there will be something that appeals to you that can be explored in some depth in a 5–6 double spaced paper. Too big or broad a topic will sink you, I think. You will spend too much time researching a subject that cannot possibly be covered in such a short paper and then will try to write it and will have too much to cover in such a short piece.

TexasDude's avatar

@lillycoyote, that’s an awesome link. I’m really leaning towards writing about Shaka Zulu’s military and technological reforms. He was a brilliant tactician and leader, and I think I might write something laid out like this:

I. Introduction to topic
II. Background of Zulu War
III. Zulu tech and tactics (the iklwa, the buffalo horn maneuver, etc)
IV. British tech and tactics (the Martini-Henry, Webley revolver, pith helmets, etc)
V. The showdown: Roarke’s Drift
VI. Results and analysis
VII. Conclusion

…kind of a “Deadliest Warrior” sort of analysis. My professor is almost as interested in weapons and tactics as I am, so I think he might dig this topic.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard Sound great. Hope you can do it in 5–6 double spaced pages. :- But you just might be able to pull it off if you focus on weapons and tactics but I’m not completely convinced.

TexasDude's avatar

@lillycoyote, I’m super wordy when it comes to writing essays, usually, but I’m also pretty good at shaving down to the real “meat and potatoes” when I need to. Trust me ;-D

lillycoyote's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I do trust you. I’m just kind of a fussbudget.

TexasDude's avatar

Fussbudget? I’m gonna have to steal that…

lillycoyote's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard LOL. Someone asked a question the other day about how to increase his/her vocabulary and I made a few suggestions but decided against warning the OP that if you have a large enough vocabulary you end up with a head full of words you almost never get to use and fussbudget is only one of the many cluttering up my head.

cazzie's avatar

There was TV series about Shaka Zulu. I don’t know if it aired in the US, but it’s South African made and I remember seeing it when I lived in New Zealand.

You might be able to stream it or download it from somewhere.

TexasDude's avatar

@cazzie, I’ve totally seen it. That’s where I first learned about Shaka and his military reforms. :D

ucme's avatar

You made a reference to the zulu wars, here’s some inspiring stuff you may want to consider. War may be a messy business, but it does sometimes bring out the best in men.

TexasDude's avatar

@ucme, thanks for the link! I actually have settled on a topic that is rather relevant to the link you posted. I’m comparing British and Zulu military technology and tactics and writing a proposition about how the Zulu managed to be relatively successful despite being at a technological disadvantage.

ucme's avatar

@tHeMoDwitHaLoNgNaMe Until they managed to get their hands on their foes rifles that is. I think the single most heroic/noble act achieved throughout that battle was when the zulus acknowledged the bravery displayed by the British forces. In doing so they showed in overwhelming numbers how the battle was now won, but still recognised that the depleted enemy had put up an incredible resistance. The fact that they then chose to beat an honourable retreat was hugely impressive & unbelievably compassionate. Long winded but from the heart man!

TexasDude's avatar

@ucme, I didn’t know about that… that’s pretty cool. I love stories like that.

ucme's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I like the movie, only a dramtised depiction it’s true, but the salient facts are much in evidence.

etignotasanimum's avatar

This is unrelated since you’ve already chosen your paper topic, but did you learn anything about Angola and its civil war in your class? I found that topic really fascinating when I was taking an African History course.

anartist's avatar

If you go Zulu,
don ‘t forget your4 required movie watching.
The first is damned good, never saw second, very different treatment, but also based on Cy Enfield’s scripting.

The scene described by @ucme is beautifully done at the end of Zulu
Zulu Dawn

I think the first is the movie with some fascinating and hilarious bits of translation like the marching song the African bearers of the white men’s litters are singing—including lines like “my white man, his feet stink”

TexasDude's avatar

@etignotasanimum, we didn’t even touch on the subject. We spent a ton of time talking about Belgian Congo, South Africa, and Ghana. Pretty much every other country was only mentioned in passing.

@anartist, I’ve seen Zulu Dawn, but I’ll watch it again. I haven’t seen Zulu.

anartist's avatar

Curious which you like better—the Zulu salute to the defeated English beautifully done in Zulu
I’ll have to watch Zulu Dawn

TexasDude's avatar

@anartist, I’ll let you know when I watch Zulu.

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