History of South Africa

This is a Virtual Study Abroad (VSA) designated course in which you will engage with the culture, people, and places of others with the aid of technology. This course is designed to assist you in developing global awareness, global perspective, and global engagement through the introduction of education abroad activities and experiences.

This course explores the development of South Africa from the pre-modern period to the present day. Over the course of that period, the people of South Africa experienced a series of profound changes regarding social stratification (think urbanization and immigration), economic activity (particularly as a result of mining-centered industrialization), and developments triggered by colonial wars (that resulted in the establishment of white-minority control of the country). The emergence and growth of white supremacist ideology, systematic segregation, and Apartheid governmental policy constituted defining challenges for the young nation during the twentieth century, and it responded with black consciousness, liberation theology, and swelling social and political resistance. The eventual overthrow of the apartheid government and relatively peaceful establishment of a multi-party democracy elevated the country to the status of a continental beacon of democratic hope. Problems in recent decades, such as the eruption of class divides, the AIDS epidemic, and the heated debate over how to redress the legacies of apartheid, posed new questions about the country’s path forward. Students in this course will learn about established interpretations of and emerging themes in the history of South Africa. In a larger context, we will discuss how our understanding of the past influences our view of the present. This course neither presumes nor requires prior background in modern African history, cultures, or geography.

Learning Objectives of This Course

  • Assess key events, central themes, and questions pertaining to South African history.
  • Explain technological, economic, political, social, and intellectual factors that shaped the development of South Africa
  • Critique central ideas, make coherent arguments, and defend interpretations in an informed and respectful manner.
  • Critically analyze and synthesize a range of historical texts and interpretations.
  • Consider different perspectives on a problem or controversy in the history of South Africa and attempt to reach a resolution about it (Global Engagement)
  • Construct an evidence-based argument demonstrating how regional and/or global processes shaped the development of a local topic in Southern Africa. (Global Awareness)
  • Conduct a multi-perspective analysis of local, global, international, and intercultural problems. (Global Perspective)
  • Identify quality sources for use in research and properly cite evidence from sources in footnotes and bibliographies that reflect academic standards.
  • Exhibit proficiency in academic writing and communication skills.

Student Reflections

I no longer judge South Africa solely by its failures, nor by its successes. I always had two distinct images of South Africa: one that was reassembled by the ANC and Nelson Mandela, becoming a glowing beacon of democracy; and another that was a struggling nation that has been stymied by its colonialist and segregated past. Now, these two images have merged to create an informed, nuanced, and complex history of South Africa—one that has had its shortcomings because of an extended history of oppression that still affects it to this day, but that is slowly but surely making progress. Similarly, I no longer see the country’s people as a monolith: the black population consists of dozens of different cultures, including the Zulu, the Ndebele, the Sans, and the anaXhosa; even the white minority include the Dutch, German, English, and Afrikaners. No one mode of teaching led me to these conclusions. Rather, it was the combination of these assignments that helped inform me of the nation’s history.

– G.A., 2021

This class has been one of the most challenging, informative, and interesting courses that I have ever taken throughout my entire academic career… The American school system does not teach authentic African history to students, or at least in an informative way like this course; therefore, a connection between what I have studied in this course with the courses that I have taken previously is that the connection in myself and my African ancestry are more profound.

– K. B., 2021

In this class I learned that not everything is set in stone. I came to understand that we can learn using different methods. It’s not necessary about reading, taking a quiz, writing a discussion post and commenting on you classmates post. You can absorb information in different and more interactive way. Realizing and excepting that was the biggest skill that I mastered this semester.

– A. F., 2021

One of my favorite assignments of the semester was undoubtedly the travel guidebook project. I tend to enjoy semester long assignments the most as it gives you an opportunity to go into depth about a certain topic or, alternatively, to master certain skills throughout the duration of the class. The reason this assignment worked so well for me is because it allowed me to do both. It’s always a highlight when a course gives you the chance to choose a topic on your own, but this project also allowed me to familiarize myself with other types of assignments beyond writing papers. As a History major, I rarely get to engage with other kinds of media beyond papers, books, and other written sources. The travel guidebook certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, and it was a surprisingly engaging way to learn and explore a new society and culture.

– G.A., 2021

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