Syllabus (2020) Processes of Refuge Seeking in the 20th Century Africa and Beyond

Johanna M. Wetzel's picture

This course examines processes of refuge seeking, bringing refugee studies and history into conversation. Drawing on case studies mainly from twentieth century Africa, we ask what a refugee is and whether we can speak of a common refugee experience. We explore whether historians can and should distinguish between refugees, forced migrants and exiles. To do so, we draw on literature from a variety of disciplines, including history, anthropology, political science, and law. The selected case studies cover East, West, South and North African and European contexts.
The course is designed to introduce students to the nascent and vibrant research field of the historical study of refugees and forced migrants on the African continent. By the end of the course students will have gained a grasp of the field and its most important research questions and challenges. The course is organized thematically: it starts by discussing why studying processes of refuge seeking in historical perspective is important. It provides key readings that orient students in the debates about refugee vs. forced migration studies before delving into case studies dedicated to a range of issues concerning the lived experiences of forced migrants in camps, in political exile, their relations with host populations, and with the sending and receiving states. Other topics concern the political and legal management and perception of refugees by states and international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organization for African Unity (OAU). Finally, the course considers recent refugee movements to Europe in historic perspective.
Some of the questions that motivate this course are: Who is a refugee, forced migrant, exile and how do definitions and perceptions change during the twentieth century? What are refugee experiences like and how do they vary over time and in different geographic areas? What role did colonialism, the decolonization process and the Cold War play with regard to creating, classifying and managing refugee flows in Africa and beyond? How does a discussion about forced migration integrate Africa into global history? And how can we look at the recent refugee crisis historically?

Keywords: Syllabi