Course Syllabus

Peoples and Cultures of Africa

Department of Anthropology

SUNY Oswego


Course Information

Course Registration Number (CRN): 94918

Departmental Course Code: ANT 301-OY1

Semester: Fall 2020

Meetings: M/W/F 1:00pm–1:55pm

Instructor Information

Professor Rebecca Peters, PhD, MPH


Office: Mahar Hall 205

Phone: Ext. 3590

Office Hours: Wed and Thurs 4:30pm-5:30pm, and by appointment, online. Email to receive the Zoom link or find it on the course Blackboard site.

Course Description

The peoples and cultures of Africa and its diaspora are inherently global. They are, and always have been, central to world events. This course lays the groundwork for an interdisciplinary appreciation of the place of Africa and Africans in human history and current affairs. Housed in the Department of Anthropology, this course is also a showcase for the utility of the ethnographic approach in the study of the human experience across space and time.

While one semester is clearly insufficient for a comprehensive study of the continent, its peoples, and its diaspora, the course selects as foci three pressing contemporary topics shaping life and cultural experience in Africa: religion, urbanization, and infrastructural development. Each focal topic also centers on an ethnography sited in one of the three major sub-Saharan regions: Western, Southern, and Eastern Africa. Alongside and through these three topical and geographical foci, other classic topics are considered, including artistic production, politics and governance, personhood and kinship, and health and medicine. In this way, the course seeks to achieve both breadth and depth in this introduction to the African continent and its peoples.

We begin by assessing how knowledge production about Africa and Afrodescendents has historically reflected outsiders’ perspectives, prejudices, and concerns. We then proceed by reviewing Africanist correctives to such narratives, privileging Afrocentric perspectives and concerns in the present day. The trio of ethnographies that form the core of the course offer in-depth insights into the contemporary concerns and creative actions of families and individuals across the continent. This central set of texts is complemented by readings and assignments selected to broaden course perspectives.


Course Goals

At the end of the course, students will be better able to:

Work Products

At the end of the course, students will have produced:

Course Logistics

This course aims to meet online at our scheduled time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In a usual week, the Monday class period will be a lecture and short exercises introducing the week’s topics. The Wednesday meeting will be targeted to writing-specific group exercises and project work on the course’s major assignments. Friday class meetings are given over to discussions about the week’s readings and film viewings. Please be aware that all online course meetings will be recorded. Recordings from online sessions will be available after processing but in-person participation is more effective for student learning.

In compliance with SUNY Oswego’s COVID-19 reopening plans, face masks must be worn, and worn correctly, for any in person meetings pertaining to this course.

Student Assessment

Student performance will be assessed as outlined in the following table.



Week Due

Points Available

Contributions and Collegiality


80 (cumulative)

History and Geography Exam

Week 06


Art Review

Week 10


Annotated Resources Collection

Week 15


Book Review Essay

Week 16


Course Total





Attendance in class is obligatory. Student absences will adversely affect points earned toward “Contributions and Collegiality” and in group-based work generally.

Group Work

Students will each participate in two different semester-long work groups: one for course logistics and writing-focused exercises in-class, and a different group that works together to prepare a topically driven collection of Africana resources. Students will be assigned to their course logistics group but will self-select into an Annotated Resources work group based on mutual interests. Logistics groups will be assigned two weeks in the semester in which to work closely with the instructor, developing agendas for the week’s meetings and posting minutes after each. Annotated collection groups will work outside class time toward their shared project.

More information will be given in class on team building and teamwork strategies for working in groups.

Individual Assignments

More information on each assignment is available on Blackboard and will be discussed in class. Students will be responsible for an individual online exam in the early part of the semester, a short paper reviewing a selected African work of art (film or music), and a longer paper at the close of the semester reviewing the three core ethnographies read and discussed throughout the semester.

There is no final exam.

Extra Credit

Extra credit opportunities are periodically available and will be announced in class when they arise; the maximum extra credit a student can apply to their final grade is 20 points.

Course Grade Calculations

Final course grades will be awarded as detailed in the following table.


Percentage Points

Number Points


94% – 100%



90% < 94%



87% < 90%



83% < 87%



80% < 83%



77% < 80%



73% < 77%



70% < 73%



67% < 70%



63% < 67%



60% < 63%



< 60%

< 240



Schedule of Topics

Students should plan to complete roughly half of the week’s readings by the Wednesday meeting and the remainder by the Friday meeting. Prior to each class meeting, an agenda for that meeting will be posted on Blackboard and student groups will take it in turn (week by week) to post meeting reports after each course meeting. As a 3-credit course, Peoples and Cultures of Africa expects students each to work roughly 6 hours per week outside of class meetings to complete readings, assignments, and group projects.




Assignments Due


Introductions and Background

-           Studying Africa

-           Africa and Anthropology

-           Geography, Maps, Mapmakers

-           Diversities Genetic and Linguistic


Case Study: Zambia / Religion

-           Systems of Belief

-           Personhood

Unit 1 Exam, Week 06


Case Study: Senegal / Urbanism

-           Migrations Internal and External

-           Dependencies Social and Economic

Art Review, Week 10


Case Study: Ethiopia / Infrastructure

-           Development

-           International Institutions


Reviews and Project Work

Annotated Collection, Week 15

Book Review Essay, Week 16


Course Materials


Course materials including announcements, links to online meetings, assignments, some readings and student grades will be available through the course Blackboard site. Students should be aware that the “Blackboard app” for mobile devices will not show all materials within the course site. Students should use Blackboard within a web-browser such as Chrome or Firefox. You may have better results turning off any ad-blockers or “whitelisting” Blackboard. Please check Blackboard regularly for announcements and updates.

Books and Readings

The required texts are available through the campus bookstore in several versions, including e-books, and are available online for rental through major booksellers. Purchased books can often be resold at the close of the semester if used gently. Penfield Library may have some texts available for loan or as e-books.

Required Books

Naomi Haynes. 2017. Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. University of California Press. ISBN-10: 0520294254

Daniel Mains. 2019. Under Construction: Technologies of Development in Urban Ethiopia. Duke University Press. ISBN: 978-1-4780-0641-1

Caroline Melly. 2017. Bottleneck: Moving, Building & Belonging in an African City. University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0-226-48890-X

Recommended Books

Dorothy L Hodgson and Judith A. Byfield, Editors. 2017. Global Africa: Into the 21st Century. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-28736-5

Curtis Keim and Carolyn Somerville. 2018. Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind. Routledge. ISBN 13: 978-0-8133-4983-1

Additional Resources

Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Jean-Loup Amselle. 2020. In Search of Africa(s). Polity Press. ISBN-10: 1509540296

Peter Geschiere, Birgit Meyer, and Peter Pels, Editors. 2008. Readings in Modernity in Africa. Indiana University Press. ISBN-10: 0253219965

Roy Richard Grinker, Stephen C. Lubkemann, Christopher Steiner, and Euclides Gonçalves, Editors. 2019. A Companion to the Anthropology of Africa. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN: 9781119251484

Course Policies


If you have a disabling condition which may interfere with your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact Accessibility Resources, located at 155 Marano Campus Center, phone 315-312-3358,


SUNY Oswego is committed to enhancing the safety and security of the campus for all its members. In support of this, faculty may be required to report their knowledge of certain crimes or harassment. Reportable incidents include harassment on the basis of sex or gender prohibited by Title IX and crimes covered by the Clery Act. For more information about Title IX protections, go to or contact the Title IX Coordinator, 405 Culkin Hall, 315-312-5604, For more information about the Clery Act and campus reporting, go to the University Police annual report:

Students in this course are expected to behave professionally and respectfully with one another, the instructor, and guests or visitors.


SUNY Oswego is committed to Intellectual Integrity. Any form of intellectual dishonesty is a serious concern and therefore prohibited. You can find the full policy online and you are expected to be familiar with the policy as it is published.

In this course potential violations of intellectual integrity will be automatically forwarded to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for impartial adjudication. Violations include plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, fabrication or falsification, copyright violation, and facilitation of academic dishonesty. All work that you submit in this course is understood to have been produced only, and originally, by you for the sole purpose of fulfilling the requirements of this course. Group work and peer consultation is encouraged and supported in this course, and all contributions to your work by way of review, suggestion, and collaboration should be acknowledged in your submissions.


Most student concerns are best addressed in conversation with your colleagues and your instructor. Online meeting rooms will be open five minutes before class begins and remain open ten minutes after to facilitate the brief conversations that will remedy most concerns. Online office hours are another good venue for discussions, and private appointments can be made via email for online conversations outside office hours.

Outside class and office hours, email is the preferred venue for communication. I will send messages only to email accounts, either directly or through Blackboard. Please ensure you check your account regularly. To send messages to me, you should use either Blackboard or your email account to send messages to Please write a complete email message with a subject line, salutation, body of message, and closing with your preferred name. I endeavor to respond within 24 hours throughout the workweek but please be patient; within any communications venue my students always receive first priority but email itself as a venue does not receive my attention except for once or twice per day, most (but not all) days.