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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Fictions of History

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course looks at representations of history in fiction and auto/biography.  Focussing on texts in English geographically ranging from England to the Caribbean, North America to South Africa and Australia, and temporally from the nineteenth century to the present day, throughout the course we are examining the intersections of history and literature to discuss the ways in which they work as genres and as disciplines. What are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy?   How does the memoir negotiate intergenerational histories and ideas of veracity? How do different writers reflect on questions of authorship and audience, and what are the effects on their story and mode of narration?  Looking at questions of orality and transcription, prequels and sequels, intertextuality and canonicity in a selection of colonial and postcolonial works, including film adaptations, the course is excellent preparation for third-year BA English modules Southern Spaces and Empire and the Postcolonial.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • show an advanced level of understanding of literary and critical representations of history in Africa and the diaspora
  • undertake independent research and complete it successfully
  • show advanced level of expression of his/her views both orally and in written form


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

This is a seminar, requiring a high level of participation, motivation, and independent thinking! Attendance at seminars is compulsory. Short presentations will be allocated on key critical readings; two major presentations will also be required during the year.

Method of assessment

A final written examination in May/June (50%); one essay of 1,500 words to be submitted on the last day of term 1 (10%); one essay of 4,000 words to be submitted on the last day of term 2 (30%); presentations (full details to be given by the course convenor) (10%).

Suggested reading

  • Sara SALIH (ed), The History of Mary Prince (Penguin, New ed, 2000).
  • Valerie MARTIN, Property (Abacus, New ed, 2003)
  • Caryl PHILLIPS, Cambridge (Picador, 1992)
  • André BRINK, Philida (Vintage edn 2013; also available on Kindle)
  • Harper LEE, Go Set a Watchman (Heinemann, 2015; available on Kindle)
  • Jean RHYS, Wide Sargasso Sea  (Penguin, 1997)
  • J. M. COETZEE, Foe  (Penguin, New ed, 2001)
  • Sally MORGAN, My Place  (1987; Kindle edition available*)
  • Henk VAN WOERDEN, A Mouthful of Glass (Granta, New ed, 2001)
  • Zoë W​ICOMB, Playing in the Light  (The New Press, 2007 [2006]; Kindle edition available*)
  • Alexandra FULLER, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Simon & Schuster, 2012; Kindle edition available*)
  • Louise ERDRICH, The Plague of Doves (Harper Perennial, 2008; Kindle edition available*)


  • Mansfield Park
  • Traces of the Trade
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Skin
  • The Furiosus
  • The English Patient