Professor of African History at New York University, distinguished scholar in the history of African Independence, of Empires, of development and the social sciences, Frederick Cooper is among the most important contemporary historians.
Challenging many established narratives, Cooper’s writings have demonstrated both (1) the need for excellent historical scholarship to understand the past in a perspective that decenters Europe, and (2) the centrality of history for social science attempts to make sense of the present and to think about the future. This course will therefore be devoted to Frederick Cooper’s scholarship. In the first part, we will concentrate on his two major empirical studies of the British and French colonial empires and look very carefully at his approach, method, sources, and conclusions. In the second part, we will read some of Cooper’s most powerful and influential texts on international development and the social sciences, modernization, global or connected history, colonialism and empires in world history.

This course will offer insights into the history of 19th and 20th century Africa and its global connections from an unusual perspective. Following theorists of history such as Koselleck and Hölscher, the past is considered here not primarily as a prehistory explaining the present, but as a series of moments of uncertainty and openness, producing expectations, aspirations and anxieties about the future and calling on historical actors to develop categories and strategies to cope with it. Such a perspective appears to be particularly appropriate for Africa, as this continent has been an important screen for projections and interventions towards a better future since at least two centuries. The Course will firstly give an overview of relevant approaches to research on ‘future’ in historiography and related disciplines. Secondly, a series of case studies will be reviewed from the ‘history of the future’ perspective. These case studies address a variety of different themes of African history in the 19th and 20th century, ranging from the abolition of slavery, precolonial production and trade, colonial border-making, postwar departures in Africa, social and religious movements before and after Independence, up to recent struggles about land and migration. This material has been produced over the recent decades partly by the lecturer himself. It does not always make the ‘history of the future’ perspective very explicit, but seems to be highly instructive for this perspective and therefore deserving a revisit and new discussion.

Participants are expected to read selected texts and discuss them under the general theme of the Seminar/Exercise both in the group and through individual presentations. The course is mainly intended for MA and advanced BA students as well as interested guests, from history as well as from neighbouring disciplines, with some prior knowledge on history and/or African studies.

Introductory reading:

Koselleck, Reinhart, 1985: Futures past. On the semantics of historical times. Cambridge, Mass., London: The MIT Press (Deutsch: 1984: Vergangene Zukunft. Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp)

Hölscher, Lucian, 2004: Zukunft und historische Zukunftsforschung. In: F.Jäger u.a.(eds.), Handbuch der Kulturwissenschaften, vol.1. Stuttgart: Metzler, S. 401–416.

Goldstone, Brian; Obarrio, Juan (eds.) 2016: African futures: essays on crisis, emergence, and possibility. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Staatsgrenzen sind in Afrika fast ausschließlich das Produkt des europäischen Kolonialismus. Ihre Bedeutung ist heute aber vielleicht wichtiger, ihre Sichtbarkeit größer denn je, auch und vor allem durch die steigende Aufmerksamkeit für das Phänomen der Migration.
Das Seminar soll die Entstehung und die Aushandlung der Grenzen vor, im Zuge und nach der kolonialen Aufteilung Afrikas, ihre Sichtbarmachung und ihre Implementierung untersuchen ,und dabei zeigen, wie und von wem sie herausgefordert und an wandelnde Bedingungen angepasst wurden. Der Startpunkt sollen dabei Definitionsversuche von „Grenze“ sein. Darauf aufbauend werden die Rolle von Grenzen in präkolonialen Ordnungen, die Konzeptualisierung, Fixierung und Wirkung kolonialer Grenzen, und aktuelle Neudefinitionen staatlicher Grenzen in den Fokus genommen.
Die Geschichte der Grenzen in Afrika kennenzulernen, bedeutet auch, die fortdauernde Wirkung des Kolonialismus für afrikanische Gesellschaften sowie aktuelle Diskussionen über Migration und die Verlegung der Außengrenzen der EU auf den afrikanischen Kontinent besser verstehen zu können – das ist Ziel dieses Seminars.