Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

Afro-Asian transcultural memory: texts and textiles

Key information

  • Module code:


  • Level:


  • Semester:


  • Credit value:


Module description

Amongst the people who inhabit the countries of the Indian Ocean rim, there exists an intercultural understanding of the oceanic space they share and its relationship to the continental landmasses of Africa and Asia that borders it. How is this understanding inflected by changing political circumstances over the modern period-- from colonialism to decolonisation and the different phases of postcocloniality, including the Cold War and its aftermath, the rise of neoliberalism, and, most recently, the global spread of populism? Does this understanding offer a way for people in other parts of Africa to participate in a wider Afro-Asian cultural and political dialogue? How are earlier transcultural encounters between Africans and Asians remembered today?

This module will address these issues by examining the relationship between texts and textiles that were produced through the flow of ideas, people, and commodities that connected the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Worlds, and, in the process, the African and Asian continents. In particular, it will study the ways in which industrially printed textiles now popular in East and West Africa (the 'kangas' of East Africa and the 'African print' or 'Dutch Wax' produced for primarily West African markets) are remembered: as the product of complex transcultural interactions between China, Japan, Indonesia, India, countries on the Western and Eastern African coasts, and European (neo)colonial powers (mainly Britain and the Netherlands). Hence, although drawing on historiography of the Indian Ocean textile trade and studies of Dutch production of printed textiles for African consumers, the module will focus on developing literary critical and new materialist methods for reading the semiotics of patterned textile. It will do so by close study of a range of texts and films that imaginatively recover the memory of Afro-Asian encounters as deposited in the patterns and production of printed textiles for the African market. We will also ask if the patterns tell their own stories and encode transcultural memories. Our investigations will be framed by explorations of the decolonising politics of the Afro-Asian region.

This module will advance your understanding of how material culture, transcultural aesthetics, and consumer preferences can be studied to reveal conditions of resistance to different hegemonic regimes that have defined modernity: colonialism, slavery, and globalisation under the sign of advanced capitalism. The hidden histories of textile production and consumption we will uncover through the ways they have been remembered in imaginative texts will teach you to recognise the complex, often contradictory relationships between race, territoriality, commerce, and aesthetics that characterise our self-fashioning as modern subjects. All throughout, attention will be paid to the foundational role that concepts such as 'Africa', 'Asia', 'the Indian Ocean' and 'the Atlantic World'-- as a historical reality, lived experience, and colonial phantasm, has played in that self-fashioning. Along the way, we shall have the opportunity to debate and discuss complex concepts such as cultural appropriation, authenticity, creolization, counterfeit, and piracy.

Assessment details

4000 word essay (100%)

Educational aims & objectives

This module will help students understand how material cultural exchanges between African and Asian continents created and sustained South-South solidarities in the immediate aftermath of decolonisation, how these exchanges built on earlier colonial histories of intercontinental trade in textiles, and how they continue and are transformed in the contemporary moment. Students will approach this issue through a novel approach: the relationship between texts, textiles, and memory. In the process, they will learn about the flows of commodities that shaped relations between peoples and cultures on both African and Asian sides of the Indian Ocean world as well as further connections between the Indian and Atlantic Oceanic spaces; but, most importantly, they will become familiar with the ways in which literary and artistic production returns to the textiles that were produced and traded through those flows, in order to imagine an 'Afro-Asian' identity, mourn its demise under colonial and neoliberal conditions, and celebrate its potential postcolonial possibilities.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 7 module in English and in particular will be able to: (1) understand how to mobilise critical bibliographic skills to select and organise material across different disciplinary areas and time periods to develop their familiarity with a topic that sits between fields (2) recognise the complex, often contradictory relationships between political solidarity and commercial motivations during the colonial and postcolonial period, so as to nuance their understand of cultural history; 3) conceptualise and devise appropriate modes of analysis for the dialogic relationship between the written text and textiles; (4) employ analysis of audio-visual material and material cultural production to understand their relationship to the critical study of written texts; and (5) master and deploy the paradigms of creolisation theory and memory studies to illuminate their analysis of these relationships.

Teaching pattern

One two hour seminar weekly

Module description disclaimer

King’s College London reviews the modules offered on a regular basis to provide up-to-date, innovative and relevant programmes of study. Therefore, modules offered may change. We suggest you keep an eye on the course finder on our website for updates.

Please note that modules with a practical component will be capped due to educational requirements, which may mean that we cannot guarantee a place to all students who elect to study this module.

Please note that the module descriptions above are related to the current academic year and are subject to change.