Instructor: Dr. Ryan Patterson


In October 1899, war broke out between Britain and the two Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State in Southern Africa. British political and military leaders believed that they would quickly and easily win the war but were very wrong: it would last over two years and cost many lives, including those of more than 20,000 British and 14,000 Boer troops, at least 26,000 Boer women and children, and a minimum of 20,000 Africans. The South African War remains the most destructive modern armed conflict in South Africa’s history. It made a profound impact the region, stimulated a clash between new national identities, and left its mark on the entrenchment of white supremacy during the 20th century. It was an internationally controversial event that provoked citizens of many nations to speak out in support of one side or the other. It also spurred a crisis of confidence in Britain and forever changed the relationship between colonies and Empire.

This course will examine the causes, nature, and effects of this war in the region that became South Africa in 1910. Themes include the history of Boer settlement in the area; African displacement; society in the Boer republics; political and economic disputes; Boer guerrilla warfare; British “scorched earth” methods; British concentration camps for Boer and African civilians; the complicated roles of gender and race; the participation of women; the influence of medicine and technology; African involvement in the war; African attempts to regain land and independence; the rise of Afrikaner nationalism; and impacts on post-war British and South African culture, society, and politics.


Evaluation will be based on weekly assignments on the assigned readings, a midterm, and a final exam.

Class Format:

Most weeks will feature one scheduled lecture and one scheduled discussion group in which we examine assigned readings and historical documents. Each week the lecture, discussion group, readings, and short assignment will all complement each other, focusing on the same theme.


There is no textbook or course pack to purchase for this course. The readings and historical sources that I assign will be available either online, on the course website, or through the MacOdrum Library Reserves.


Please get in touch at