13 Mar

History 110B

Sects. 7 (8:30 a.m.), 10 (2:30 p.m.) and 30 (4 p.m.)

Cal. State Fullerton

Dr. J.B. Thompson

Spring 2017



Overview and goals: During the 1870s, France triggered a process by which several European nations seized and controlled African territory. The next several decades of colonial rule meant the subjugation of Africans and their natural resources. To many Europeans of the time, the African people and their resources existed for the betterment of the West.

But as early as the Second World War, Africans strongly strove to regain control over their own destiny. A dramatic example of this can be found in the Dakar-Niger Railway strike (October 1947 to March 1948), a time when African railway workers in Senegal and French Sudan (today Mali) waged a successful strike against discriminatory treatment at the hands of a French corporation and its expatriate officials.

In God’s Bits of Wood (trans., Francis Price), Sembène Ousmane (Senegalese filmmaker, novelist and trade unionist) has written a fictionalized account of this true-life struggle. The author deals with several issues that highlighted dramatic social and economic changes during the 1 ½ decades prior to the gaining of independence in 1960.

God’s Bits of Wood is a good example of the period (historical) novel, a form of literature that can be used to good effect in a college history course. A well-written period novel can supplement lectures and textbooks by giving the reader a tangible feel of the prevailing attitudes, material conditions and customs of a society in flux. In this way, a period novel can be instrumental to increasing understanding of a society’s historical development.

This writing assignment has several goals:

  • To show how imported institutions affect worker-business relations.
  • To illustrate changing gender roles of colonized women.
  • To demonstrate the psychological impact of colonialism (on imperialists and colonized peoples).


Instructions: You will write a typed, double-spaced paper, based on God’s Bits of Wood.

Begin this assignment with an introduction (between one-half and one page in length) that briefly identifies the author and the book. Your paper introduction will also preview contents of the theme you are interested in.

The core of the paper will be in two parts. The first part will be titled, “Summation of contents,” or something similar. In this section of your paper, you will give an overview of the points connected with your theme. In order to do this, you will answer at least two of the questions (indicated as “questions”) associated with that theme. To get the most out of your selected theme, read all of the chapters associated with your theme, which are identified in this prompt as “relevant chapters.” Be sure to identify the key characters that are connected with that theme. Although you are invited to do some summation of the plot, do not simply write a plot summation of the entire book as the sole basis for “Summation of contents.”Some of part one will be to summarize a portion of the aspects connected with your theme.

The summations section will be followed by the second and final part of your paper, titled “Analysis and personal reflections” (or something similar). You will answer the questions (these are required) indicated as “personal reflections questions” near the end of this prompt. Support both core parts of your paper with specific examples from Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood. Please read and follow the citation instructions in the document, “Endnote formatting 110B sections S17,” posted in Course Guides on Titanium.  

Here are the technical requirements for this assignment. The prose of your paper should be (on average) about five pages long, double-spaced, with twelve-point font and one-inch margins. (Notations will add about one or two pages to your paper. So a paper containing about five pages of prose will be about six or seven pages long when the notation–endnotes–are added.)  Be sure to paginate (number each page), and write both the class designation and the section number on the front page (History 110B, sect. __). Title the assignment and include the date you completed it. An optional title page will not be included in the total number of pages. (A five-page paper is not a title page and four pages of content, for instance.) Avoid large amounts of blank space between sections, as this is bad formatting! Instead, use sectional headings (discussed above).

For the record, I wrote an assessment of this novel. It’s identified as Brian P. Thompson and Pamela S. Loys, “Sembène Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood,” in African Literature and its Times, ed. Joyce Moss. Detroit: Gayle Research, 2000). You are free to examine it (especially the sections, “The course of the 1947-48 Dakar-Niger rail strike,” “Women’s involvement in the strike,” and “French colonialism and social change”) for gaining a clearer understanding of the issues involved in this episode in contemporary West African history. If you borrow from it, do so very sparingly, identifying this in your notations as a separate source.

EXTRA CREDIT: If you choose to write about an additional part of the book, your grade will be raised 2/3 of a grade.  To gain the credit, you will need to select a second of the three themes, answering some of the questions (indicated as “questions”) associated with that additional theme. Coverage of the “questions” from the additional theme will add about two pages to your paper. Remember, too, that you will respond only once to the “personal reflections questions,” making sure to include content from the required and the extra credit themes. The structure for an extra credit paper will, therefore, be: 1. Introduction (for both themes covered); 2. Summation for required coverage; 3. Summation for extra credit coverage; 4. Analysis and personal reflections from both themes.


DUE DATE: No later than 6 pm, Tuesday, March 21. A late penalty applies if received after this time.    

Theme selections and questions: Choose one of the following three themes. Answer at least two of the aspects questions connected with that theme as well as the personal reflections questions. DO NOT WRITE THE QUESTIONS as part of your paper; simply answer them.

Theme A: Trade unionism and the mobilization of African labor

Aspects: (Important figures include Tiémoko, Diara, Mamadou “Fa” Keïta, and Ibrahim Bakayoko. Relevant chapters include “Ad’jibid’ji” [latter half], “The City,” “Daouda-Beaugasse,” “Tiémoko,” “The Trial,” “Sounkaré, the Watchman,” “Doudou,” “The Apprentices,” “The Return of Bakayoko,” “The Meeting,” “The Edge of the Sea” and “The Camp.”)

Questions: How did African rail workers of the Dakar-Niger line organize themselves for a strike? Who led? Which Africans (and other non-Europeans) did not cooperate with the strike? What tactics and means of support did they use to sustain the work stoppage? What role did traditional African culture play in modern unionism? What did the workers demand?

Also required: answer personal reflections questions at the end of this prompt.

Theme B: Changing roles and perspectives of African women

Aspects: (Important figures include Niakoro, Ramatoulayé, Mama Sofi, and the women of Thiès. Relevant chapters include “Ad’jibid’ji,” “Ramatoulayé,” “The Trial” [look for Ha Dia], “Mama Sofi,” “Penda,” “The Apprentices” [look for women’s response to the children’s shooting deaths], “The Return of Bakayoko,” “The March of the Women,” “The Meeting” and “The Edge of the Sea.”)

Questions: Why did most women in Senegal and French Sudan applaud the participation of their male relatives in trade unions? Which women objected to the strike, and why? What types of tactics did women use in order to support their men, the unions and themselves during the strike?

Also required: answer personal reflections questions at the end of this prompt.

Theme CPerceptions of “the other” and of colonialism

Aspects: (Important figures include N’Deye Touti, and Frenchmen Dejean, Victor, Isnard, and Leblanc. Relevant chapters include “Ad’jibid’ji,” “Maimouna,” “Houdia M’Baye,” “Doudou” [look for Isnard], “The Apprentices” [look for the reaction of expatriate Europeans to the strike as it progressed], “The Vatican,” “The Return of Bakayoko,” “The Meeting” and “The Camp.”)

Questions: Contrast the views N’Deye Touti had about her own cultural background with those she held about France and the West. How might colonialism have contributed significantly to N’Deye Touti’s sensibilities? What was the psychological impact on Africans of the advent of the railroad through their land? What were some of the different perspectives the French held about their African subjects, and even the French system of colonial rule?

Also required: answer personal reflections questions at the end of this prompt.

Personal reflections questions:

Did you find God’s Bits of Wood, overall, to be engaging or problematic? Why? What aspects of this book did you react to the most strongly (whether positively or negatively?) Which aspects of this novel did you find to be the most informative about key aspects of colonial rule (whether of daily living conditions or the mentalities of persons involved in colonized French West Africa)? Note: feel free to discuss material from any part of this book.

Notations and acknowledgements:


In order to acknowledge correctly the precise locations of content (directly quoted and paraphrased), you will need endnotes. To avoid plagiarism, as a general rule, insert a notation at the end of each paragraph. For details, see “Endnotes formatting 110B sections S17,” in the Course Guides folder on Titanium.

If you include references to other works, those need to have endnotes, too. But keep the use of such “outside sources” to an absolute minimum. Since you will (most likely) be using only one source (God’s Bits of Wood) a bibliography will not be needed.

Most of your work should be in the form of paraphrasing: substantially rewording the ideas of others. Simply swapping only a few words from the original is bad paraphrasing! As for direct quotes, avoid long, direct quotes for papers in this course! Any content that is quoted verbatim should be done so sparingly (for color).




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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in academic writing, Academic Writing



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