Course of Study

The term Senegambia refers to an area of West Africa straddling Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Mali, most of which was colonized by the French at the turn of the Twentieth century. Modern Senegambian culture is the product of centuries of cultural, economic and political interactions between Arabs, Europeans, and Black-Africans. This program introduces students to the study of this part of Francophone Africa. The introduction will situate Senegambia in world history and political economy, and particularly its place in the slave trade. Lectures of weeks 2 and 3 explore the formation and transformation of the religious landscape of Senegambia. How were Islam and Christianity introduced, appropriated and transformed in Senegambia? How did they interact with African traditional religions? What factors paved the way for their spread in Senegambia? How did they contribute to the education of the elites and production of knowledge?

Then, the course will look at the educational pluralism and its impact in Senegambian societies. With the spread of Islam, an educational system using Arabic as a medium of instruction flourished in Senegambia. It trained elites who made a major contribution to the production of knowledge in Arabic language and in African languages written with the Arabic script. During the first part of the twentieth century, Senegambia was under French colonial rule. Colonial rule introduced an educational system in French, which became the official language of administration and business. Christian missions played an important role in this educational effort. The two systems of education (Arab-Islamic and French) persisted during the colonial period, influenced each other, and produced elites who set up the terms of the debate in the public sphere of postcolonial Senegambia.

The last weeks of the course look at postcolonial transformations and highlight changes (but also continuity) in gender relations and generational relations and professional specializations, and conclude on the various ways in which interactions between Arabs, Black-Africans and Europeans produced a culturally hybrid society. Focusing on novels, pamphlets, the arts, paintings, crafts and music, this part of the course explores this hybridity as well as the different expressions of social and political concerns in Senegalese society.

In addition to lectures, discussion, and movie viewing, participants will visit Islamic and Christian sites of pilgrimage in Senegal (Kaolack, Touba, Tivawane and Popenguine) as well traditional shrines. They will also visit arts villages, museums, nightclubs, and attend drumming performances by leading Senegalese musicians.

The course will also have a language across the curriculum component. Lectures will be held in English, but discussion sections will be offered in English and French. Most of the teaching materials (academic texts, novels, movies) are available in English and French versions. Students can read texts, watch movies and attend discussion sections either in English or in French. They can write part or all course papers in French or in English. Recruitment will target undergraduate students in African Studies, French and romance and languages, religion, history, postcolonial studies at Harvard and other universities in the Greater Boston area.

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