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Colonialism in the Congo

Colonialism in the Congo: Conquest, Conflict, and Commerce

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In the first decade of the twentieth century, again in the 1960s, and then as the world passed from the twentieth to twenty-first centuries, conflict in the Central African region of the Congo became the focus of global concern. This region, the site of so much violence and chaos throughout the twentieth century, still suffers today. Colonialism in the Congo: Conquest, Conflict, and Commerce helps students explore the history of precolonial Congo and European imperialism there. The unit also discusses Congo's independence and the troubles it has experienced since then. In this unit, students participate in the international debate about the future of what was then called the Congo Free State. The debate raises questions that are relevant to decision-makers today: When should citizens and governments of one country be concerned about people in other countries? How should we balance issues of economics and morality when making decisions?


The readings explore precolonial Congo and European imperialism, examine the Congo under Leopold's rule and the international responses to the atrocities there, and explain the outcome of the British debate and traces the twentieth century history of the Congo.

The Choices Role Play

At the core of the unit is a framework of three options the British government discussed in 1904 concerning possible British reaction to the events in the Congo Free State. The choices included unilaterally acting to force change in the region, cooperating with other powers to force change, and focusing on the British empire rather than on problems beyond its scope.


Understanding Precolonial Central Africa
Students interpret proverbs, paying close attention to identifying values in order to develop an understanding of precolonial central Africa.

Europe in Africa
By comparing pre- and postcolonial maps of Africa, students analyze the extent and effects of European colonialism in Africa.

Students take on the role of historians and interpret testimonies from people who lived in the Congo Free State, analyzing them for reliability and bias.

Hyde Park Corner
Students take on the roles of historical figures to explore the international response to "the Congo Question" and introduces students to important elements of the debate.

Role-Playing the Three Options
Students work cooperatively using primary sources to advocate for one of three options the British Parliament considered regarding the situation in the Congo. A fourth group plays undecided MPs, who question the groups and evaluate the options.

Congolese Independence
Students consider the legacy of colonialism and the impact of historical perspective on national identity using selections from two different independence day speeches.