SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Travelling Africa: Writing the Cape to Cairo

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module looks at writing and images of Africa, from the Cape to Cairo, from colonial times to the present day.

Remembering that the territorial boundaries defined by European colonial powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 resulted in a certain construction of the continent and its nations, how does this affect the way we ‘read’ Africa locally and globally, and in terms of gendered histories?  

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 colonial journeys, or rethinking ideas of ‘home’ or travel as history.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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 and archival 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

Please note that this is a highly interactive advanced level graduate seminar.  The focus is on cultures of travel and travelling archives.  

For a brief introduction to the course and to three published archive projects, see the Archive Notes in Issue 5 of the Journal of History and Cultures 2015: 

Journal of History and Culture 2015 Vol. 5

Journal of History and Culture

This course is designed for engaged and dynamic students who have either majored in English at undergraduate level, or have a strong grounding in literary studies or relevant background in the humanities.  It is interdisciplinary in approach and provides an excellent pathway for students considering further research at postgraduate level. Excursions, film viewings, archival work, research seminars and conferences are invaluable additions to our weekly two-hour seminars.  Students who have a high level of self-motivation, with a sense of adventure, enthusiasm, and interest in travel, archives, and writing from and about Africa, are encouraged to apply.  Meetings to discuss enrolment in the course will be offered in Registration Week and our Week 1 Introductory session before the teaching term begins; prospective students are also very welcome to contact me during term-time in the preceding session to find out more about the course.  The course is currently offered as a major on MA African Studies; it is also offered on MA Postcolonial Studies and MA Comparative Literature, and it serves as a postgraduate companion to our new degree in English: see e.g., 152900102: Southern Spaces 

Topics include:

  • Colonial South Africa & the ‘Cape-to-Cairo Imaginary’
  • State Visits & Royal Tours
  • Archiving Mandela
  • The Cape Cosmopolitan
  • Indian Ocean Archives (via riverboat to Greenwich, NMM)
  • The Congo
  • ‘Journey without Maps’: Sierra Leone
  • Nigerian Travel Writing
  • Zanzibar and ‘the landscape of memory’
  • 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

Set texts include

  • J. M. COETZEE, ‘Nietverloren’, in Three Stories
  • Zoë WICOMB, ‘A Trip to the Gifberge’, in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town
  • Nelson MANDELA, A Prisoner in the Garden: Opening Nelson Mandela’s Prison Archive (Penguin, 2014)
  • Ishtiyaq SHUKRI, The Silent Minaret (Jacana, 2006)
  • Aminatta FORNA, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Memoir (Flamingo, 2010; available on Kindle)
  • Noo SARO-WIWA, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Granta Books, 2012; available on Kindle)

  • Teju COLE, Every Day is for the Thief (Faber & Faber, 2014; available on Kindle)
  • Michela WRONG, In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz (Fourth Estate, 2001; available on Kindle)
  • Adulrazak GURNAH, By the Sea
  • Emily RUETE, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess (Gallery, 2000). NB digital version online
  • Leila ABOULELA, The Translator (Polygon, 2005)
  • Katherine FRANK, Lucie Duff Gordon: A Passage to Egypt
  • Amitav GHOSH, In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveller’s Tale


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules