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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Travelling Africa: Writing the Cape to Cairo

Course Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of this course, students will have . . . 

  • explored the challenges of trying to ‘read’ Africa by engaging critically with a variety of texts from the Cape to Cairo, from colonial times to the present day
  • a solid understanding of key theoretical debates around issues of travel and diaspora in a postcolonial context
  • undertaken significant independent research and completed it successfully
  • shown confidence in expressing his/her views orally and in written form


A total of 22 weeks teaching with two hours classroom contact per week and approximately one hour of film viewing per week.

Scope and syllabus

This module looks at writing and images of Africa and travel. Set texts will focus on contemporary writing across a range of genres and a number of national and geographical positions: each of the chosen texts engages with travel or diaspora – re-enacting, fictionalising, or interrogating notions of the journey, or rethinking ideas of ‘home’ or travel as history. The reading list below will be supplemented by extracts, films, and critical readings which will be required for our weekly seminar.
Topics may include:
• How to Write Africa
• The Hottentot Venus: Documenting Saartje Baartman
• Gender, Travel, Cape
• Fictionalising Mandela and the TRC
• Cultural Discourses on AIDS
• Gender and Transcriptions of War : Zimbabwe, Zambia & Mozambique
• Out of Lusophone Africa!
• Writing the Congo
• Imagining Rwanda: Scenes of Genocide
• Destination Biafra: Nigeria’s Civil War
• New(s) from Uganda
• Zanzibar and the Landscape of Memory
• Indian Ocean Diasporas
• Translations of Home – Scotland and Sudan
• Scripting Egypt

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (40%); a 1,500 word travelogue to be submitted on the last teaching day of term 1 (10%); an essay of 5,000 words to be submitted on the last teaching day of term 2 (40%); presentations (full details given by the lecturer) (10%).

Suggested reading

Texts for Term 1:

• NoViolet BULAWAYO, We Need New Names (Chatto & Windus, 2013)
• Binyavanga WAINAINA, One Day I Will Write About This Place (Granta, 2012)
• Noo SARO-WIWA, Looking for Transwonderland (Granta, 2012)
• Tayi SELASI, Ghana Must Go (Viking, 2013)
• Véronique TADJO, The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda  (Heinemann, 2002)
• Abdulrazak GURNAH, By the Sea  (Bloomsbury, 2002)
• Johnny STEINBERG, Three-Letter Plague (Vintage 2009)

Possible texts for Terms 2 and 3 (not finalised):

• Zoë WICOMB, Playing in the Light (Umuzi, 2006)
• J. M. COETZEE, Disgrace (Vintage, 2000)
• Njabulo NDEBELE, The Cry of Winnie Mandela (Ayebia, 2004)
• Ishtiyaq SHUKRI, The Silent Minaret (Jacana, 2006)
• Yvonne VERA,  The Stone Virgins (Weaver Press, 2002)
• José Eduardo AGUALUSA, Creole (Arcadia, 2002)
• Ryzard KAPUCINSKI, Another Day of Life (Penguin, 2001)
• Michela WRONG, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz (Fourth Estate, 2001)
• Uwem AKPAN, Say You’re One of Them (Penguin, 2008)
• Chimamanda Ngozi ADICHIE, Half of a Yellow Sun (Harper Perennial 2007 [2006])
• Aminatta FORNA, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Memoir (Flamingo, 2010)
• Doreen BAINGANA, Tropical Fish:  Tales from Entebbe (Harlem Moon, 2006)
• Emily RUETE, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess (Gallery, 2000)
• Zubeida JAFFER, Love in a Time of Treason (Kwela, 2008)
• Leila ABOULELA, The Translator (Polygon, 2005)
• Katherine FRANK, Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage to Egypt (Taurus, 2007)
• Ahdaf SOUEIF, The Map of Love (Bloomsbury, 2000)

Key critical texts:
(SOAS Library, Senate House – University of London Library, British Library)
• Derek ATTRIDGE and Rosemary JOLLY (eds), Writing South Africa
• Rita BARNARD, Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place
• Elleke BOEHMER, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (2nd edition)
• Iain CHAMBERS, Migrancy, Culture, Identity
• James CLIFFORD, Routes: Travel and Translation in the 20th Century
• J. M. COETZEE, White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa
• James DUNCAN and Derek GREGORY (eds), Writes of Passage: Reading Travel Writing
• Simon GIKANDI, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism
• Graham HUGGAN, The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins
• Catherine HALL (ed), Cultures of Empire
• John McLEOD, Beginning Postcolonialism
• Sara MILLS, Discourses of Difference: Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism
• Sarah NUTTALL and Carli COETZEE (eds), Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa
• Tejumola OLANIYAN and Ato QUAYSON (eds), African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory
• Mary Louise PRATT, Imperial Eyes: Travel and Transculturation
• Ato QUAYSON, Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process?
• Edward SAID, Orientalism
• Edward SAID, Culture & Imperialism
• David SPURR, The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration
• Patrick WILLIAMS and Laura CHRISMAN (eds), Colonial Discourse/Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader

Further reading:
• Benedict ANDERSON, Imagined Communities
• Kwame Anthony APPIAH, In My Father’s House
• Bill ASHCROFT, Gareth GRIFFITHS and Helen TIFFIN, The Empire Writes Back: Theory & Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures
• Bill ASHCROFT, Gareth GRIFFITHS and Helen TIFFIN (eds), The Post-Colonial Studies Reader
• David ATTWELL, Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History
• Karin BARBER (ed), Africa's Hidden Histories: Everyday Literacy and Making the Self (African Expressive Cultures)
• Susan BASSNETT, Comparative Literature
• William BEINART, Twentieth-Century South Africa (2nd edition)
• Homi K. BHABHA, The Location of Culture
• Homi K. BHABHA (ed), Nation and Narration
• Alison BLUNT, Travel, Gender and Imperialism: Mary Kingsley and West Africa
• Elleke BOEHMER, Empire Writing
• Elleke BOEHMER, Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation
• Karen BOUWER, Gender and Decolonization in the Congo: Lumbumba’s Legacy in Literature and Film
• Duncan BROWN, To Speak of this Land: Identity and Belonging in South Africa and Beyond
• Robert BURROUGHS, Travel Writing and Atrocities: Eyewitness Accounts of Colonialism in the Congo, Angola, and the Putamayo
• Barbara BUSH, Imperialism and Postcolonialism
• Patrick CHABAL et al (eds), The Post-Colonial Literature of Lusophone Africa
• Michael CHAPMAN, Southern African Literatures (2nd edition)
• Clifton CRAIS and Pamela SCULLY, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography
• Kate DARIAN-SMITH, Liz GUNNER & Sarah NUTTALL (eds), Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia
• M. J. DAYMOND and Dorothy DRIVER (eds), Women Writing Africa: The Southern Region
• Alex DE WAAL, AIDS and Power: Why There Is No Political Crisis - Yet
• Saul DUBOW, A Commonwealth of Knowledge: Science, Sensibility and White South Africa (1820-2000)
• Saul DUBOW, Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa
• Nigel ELTRINGHAM, Accounting for Horror: Post-Genocide Debates in Rwanda
• Katherine FISHBURN, Reading Buchi Emecheta: Cross-Cultural Conversations
• Charles FORSDICK and David MURPHY (eds), Francophone Postcolonial Studies: A Critical Introduction
• Katherine FRANK, A Voyager Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley
• Simon GIKANDI, Reading the African Novel
• Paul GILROY, The Black Atlantic
• Michael GREEN, Novel Histories
• William Mervin GUMEDE, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC
• Abdulrazak GURNAH (ed), Essays on African Writing: A Re-evaluation
• Abdulrazak GURNAH (ed), Essays on African Writing: Contemporary Literature
• Adam HOCHSCHILD, King Leopold’s Ghost
• Isabel HOFMEYR, The Portable Bunyan
• Peter HULME and Tim YOUNGS (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing
• Linda HUTCHEON, The Poetics of Postmodernism
• F. Abiola IRELE, The African Imagination
• Shihan de Silva JAYASURIYA and Richard PANKHURST (eds.), The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean
• Eileen JULIEN, African Novels and the Question of Orality
• Kadiatu KANNEH, African Identities: Race, Nation and Culture in Ethnography, Pan-Africanism and Black Literatures
• Sue KOSSEW, Writing Women, Writing Place: Contemporary Australian and South African Fiction
• Dominick LaCAPRA, History, Politics and the Novel
• Dominick LaCAPRA, Writing History, Writing Trauma
• Alan LESTER, Imperial Networks: Creating Identities in Nineteenth Century South Africa and Britain
• Amandina LIHAMBA et al (eds), Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region
• Ania LOOMBA, Colonialism/Postcolonialism
• John McLEOD, Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis
• John McLEOD (ed), The Routledge Companion to Postcolonial Studies
• Anne McCLINTOCK, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
• Mahmood MAMDANI, When Victims Become Killers : Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda
• Paul MAYLAM, The Cult of Rhodes: Remembering an Imperialist in Africa
• Achille MBEMBE, On the Postcolony
• Toni MORRISON, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
• V. Y. MUDIMBE, The Idea of Africa
• V. Y. MUDIMBE, The Invention of Africa
• Robert MUPONDE and Ranka PRIMORAC (eds), Versions of Zimbabwe: New Approaches to Literature and Culture
• Robert MUPONDE and Mandi TARUBINGA, Sign and Taboo: Perspectives on the Poetic Fiction of Yvonne Vera
• Mpalive-Hangson MSISKA and Paul RYLAND (ed), Writing and Africa
• Susheila NASTA (ed), Writing Across Worlds: Contemporary Writers Talk
• Njabulo NDEBELE, Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture
• Stephanie NEWELL, Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: How to Play the Game of Life
• Stephanie NEWELL, West African Literatures: Ways of Reading
• Emmanuel NGARA, New Writing from Southern Africa
• Ngugi wa THIONG’O, Decolonising the Mind
• Ngugi wa THIONG’O, Moving the Centre
• Rob NIXON, Homelands, Harlem and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond
• Sarah NUTTALL and Cheryl-Ann MICHAEL, Senses of Culture: South African Cultural Studies
• Obioma NNAEMEKA (ed), The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity and Resistance in African Literature
• Michael PEARSON, The Indian Ocean (Seas in History)
• Kirsten Holst PETERSEN and Anna RUTHERFORD (eds), Chinua Achebe: A Celebration
• Johan POTTIER, Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century
• Lindy STEIBEL and Liz GUNNER (eds), Still Beating the Drum: Critical Perspectives on Lewis Nkosi
• Cheryl STOBIE, Somewhere in the Double Rainbow: Representations of Bisexuality in Post-Apartheid Novels
• Florence STRATTON, Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender
• Marie UMEH (ed), Emerging Perspectives on Buchi Emecheta
• Kerry WARD, Networks of Empire
• Bettina WEISS (ed), The End of Unheard Narratives: Contemporary Perspectives on Southern African Narratives
• Hayden WHITE, Metahistory
• Hayden WHITE, Tropics of Discourse
• Robert YOUNG, Colonial Desire
• Robert YOUNG, Postcolonialism
• Robert YOUNG, White Mythologies

Key journals:
• Research in African Literatures
• Journal of African Cultural Studies
• scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa
• English in Africa
• English Academy Review
• Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa
• Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings
• Journal of Commonwealth Literature
• Wasafiri
• Ariel
• Journal of Southern African Studies
• Contemporary Literature
• World Literature Today
• Critique: A Cultural Review
• Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
• Transition
• New Formations