Leading the Exploration of the West African Past

The History department is currently without question the best equipped department in the country – and one of the best in the whole Anglo-American academic world – for the teaching and study of the history of West Africa. The department currently has 5 historians specialising in the history of different aspects of the West African past, a situation that is almost unique in British academic history.

Current staff members include Bronwen Everill (Abolition and Humanitarianism in Liberia and Sierra Leone; Consumer cultures in West Africa and the Atlantic World); Toby Green (Precolonial West Africa; Atlantic slavery; oral history; economic history); Vincent Hiribarren (space and borders in Africa; the history of Borno in northern Nigeria; archives); Tim Livsey (Universities in West Africa and their role in creation of colonial and postcolonial subjects); and Sarah Stockwell (British colonialism in twentieth-century Africa, especially in relation to the history of colonial development and welfare, end of empire). Dr Hiribarren has just been appointed as Lecturer in Modern African History (from July 1st 2015), alongside Dr Green (Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture) and Dr Stockwell (Senior Lecturer in Imperial & Commonwealth History) as a permanent staff member, and so the department offers a real research strength in West African history from the distant past to the present day.

Toby Green said: “The current strength in West African history is a great feature of the current History department, and a unique opportunity for students to learn more about a region of the world which is becoming of increasing geopolitical significance, but remains very poorly studied and understood. It’s a real privilege to teach in a department where students can learn about everything from the Historical Origins of Economic Underdevelopment in Africa, through abolition and imperialism and their impacts in West Africa, to the history of colonial and postcolonial Nigeria. I find that students are very keen to learn about something about which they often know very little beforehand, and the chance to learn from specialists and with the latest research is something that they seize with both hands. This is also filtering through to a thriving research culture and the development of new areas of wider impact in the public sphere.”

One of these is the new OCR A Level option in Precolonial African Kingdoms, currently being developed by the OCR in collaboration with Dr Green. This is the first time that precolonial African history has been offered at A Level in British schools, and will also see for the first time an OCR-KCL prize in Precolonial African history being offered for the best A level student essay in the area.

OCR Interview with Dr Toby Green

More information can be found in this OCR opinion piece and this sample exam script.

Dr Hiribarren added:

“Quite strikingly, our students know that Africa has a very long history but they have never studied it before. Archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, geographers and historians have now gathered so much material that it has become difficult to choose which aspect of African History to study! The continent is often depicted in rather pessimist terms but there is so much more to say about one billion of Africans. Our modules at King’s College London clearly show the wealth of Africa but also link Africa to the rest of the planet. We believe this is the strength of our teaching at Kings as we can relate the history of specific countries such as Nigeria to wider themes relevant in other parts of the world.”