West African Mariners and the Making of the Atlantic World HIST4297

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Humanities
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

This course investigates the maritime history of West Africa from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, a period of increased European capitalist and imperialist encroachment. It first provides an overview of pre-modern African maritime history before analysing several case studies of key West African ports where students will examine the complex, and often violent, interplay between coastal communities and European traders and powers. It then focuses on the centrality of African mariners as ancillaries to competing European imperial and commercial interests in the Atlantic world. Throughout the course, students will evaluate a wide range of primary sources - both written documents and material objects - which illuminate African contributions to Atlantic maritime culture, commerce, and empire building.


Two hours of seminars over ten weeks as scheduled in MyCampus. This is one of the Honours options in History and may not run every year. The options that are running this session are available on MyCampus

Requirements of Entry

Available to all students fulfilling requirements for Honours entry into History, and by arrangement to visiting students or students of other Honours programmes who qualify under the University's 25% regulation.

Excluded Courses





Source assignment/presentation - 10-min presentation (equivalent to 800 words): 10%


Book review (1,000 words): 30%


Essay - 3,000 words (including 250-300-word abstract): 60%

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. Where, exceptionally, reassessment on Honours courses is required to satisfy professional/accreditation requirements, only the overall course grade achieved at the first attempt will contribute to the Honours classification. For non-Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

This course aims to:


■ Develop a broad understanding of West African maritime history across several centuries.

■ Engage with the historiographical debates concerning African agency in the making of the Atlantic world.

■ Compare the experiences of West African mariners to other colonised coastal peoples in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

■ Interpret archival and other primary sources particularly as they relate to African mariners and coastal communities in a critical manner, evaluating some of the key challenges historians face when working with documents or accounts primarily written by white colonial or imperial voices.

■ Make connections and comparisons between the past and the present, particularly as relates to current societal debates surrounding empire and African agency.

■ Practice and enhance oral presentation and analytical skills.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:


■ Communicate effectively about the maritime history of West Africa from the pre-colonial period to the nineteenth century.

■ Assess the ways in which West Africans shaped Atlantic economies, empires, and maritime culture.

■ Critically analyse, synthesize and evaluate primary documents and secondary materials related to West African mariners and coastal communities.

■ Identify and discuss the key theoretical, methodological, and historiographic issues concerning the study of West African mariners and coastal communities.

■ Engage with the long-term legacies of European empire and colonialism on West African mariners and coastal communities.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.