Instructor: Professor Susanne Klausen


In October 1899 war broke out between Britain and the two Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in Southern Africa. British political and military leaders thought their side would quickly and easily win the war but were very wrong: it would last two-and-a-half years and cost nearly 100,000 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, and it played a profound role in political events and the entrenchment of white supremacy during the 20th century. It also spurred a crisis in British confidence as well as the rise of new national identities in South Africa. Moreover, the war was a controversial international event, a late chapter of the Scramble for Africa by European imperial powers that provoked settlers in British colonies and citizens in many nations around the world to support one side or the other in the conflict.

This course will examine the causes of the conflict; the main events of the war, including the development of Boer guerrilla war tactics, the British “scorched earth policy” and establishment of concentration camps for Boer and African civilians; daily life in the racially segregated concentration camps; the role of gender in shaping Briton and Boer’s perceptions and actions; and African involvement in the war as well as attempts to use it as an opportunity to regain land and independence. Finally, the course will focus on the long-term effects of the war on British and South African culture and politics.

Class Format

The course consists mainly of lectures, however there will also be class discussions based on the examination of assigned readings, historical documents, images, and films, as well as group presentations.

Aims and Goals

  • Locate and utilize primary and secondary sources relevant to the study of the causes, nature and long-term effects of the South African War.
  • Understand key issues, historiography and methodologies in the study of the South African War.
  • Enhance life-long learning skills including: research skills; critical thinking; and communication (written & oral).


Evaluation will be based on a fact test (including map test), two midterms, group presentation, and essay.