Greetings from the Director of Undergraduate Studies

Prof. Jean ComaroffThe Department of African and African American Studies brings together scholars and scholarship from many disciplines to better understand the histories, societies, and cultures of African and African-descended people. We are equally concerned to understand how the peoples of Africa and their descendants have influenced and been impacted by the course of world history and contemporary global developments. The field of African and African American studies is not only interdisciplinary but also comparative and cross-cultural. Africans and people of African descent have developed cultural forms that have profoundly shaped the fine arts and popular culture in the Americas and all around the planet. Comparative and cross-cultural studies of Africa and its diaspora are essential to understanding race and ethnicity, and ideas about race are among the central objects of study in the field of African and African American studies. In addressing the ethical, social, and political consequences of racial thinking and racist practices, the African and African American Studies faculty raise questions relevant to the experiences of all peoples.

The department offers two distinct though related courses of study: the African track and the African American track. African track concentrators come to the program with diverse interests, such as environmental concerns, public health issues, music and dance, ethnic relations, varieties of religious experience, politics and war, economic development and globalization, and art and literature. Many are interested in studying the history of colonialism in Africa along with contemporary post-colonial developments. Components of the African track include study in the African Languages Program, courses in African history, various electives in the humanities and social sciences, and the option of studying abroad. The Department offers seminars and lecture courses on a wide variety of Africa-related topics. Concentrators in the African track are also encouraged to take relevant courses in other departments, including History of Art and Architecture, Music, Economics, Government, History, Anthropology, Social Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Religion. Courses in the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Education, and Kennedy School of Government may also be available for credit.

The African American track attracts students with an equally wide range of interests. There are many reasons to pursue African American Studies. First, African American music, literature, and visual arts are significant cultural achievements worthy of study in their own right. Second, African Americans have played a crucial role in the history of the United States, participating in the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, women's suffrage, and the New Deal, and they have led the struggle for equality in the second half of the twentieth century. Third, because American political life continues to be shaped by racism and its historical legacy, a proper historical, sociological, and economic understanding of race relations continues to be essential for those who seek to make or evaluate public policy. Fourth, some of the social relations that have developed in countries such as the United States, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Brazil provide important examples of ethno-racial conflict, and through the study of them it is possible to gain insight into what remains a problem across the globe.

Exploring African and African American cultures requires us to study aspects of the many other cultures and peoples that have created the mosaic of the modern world. Thus diaspora studies are integral to each track. In many parts of the Caribbean and Latin America, for example, religions and performance arts are influenced by traditional African belief systems and practices. The cultures of the African Atlantic diaspora have also developed in interaction with other peoples: the many Native American cultures; the Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scandinavian, Scottish, Spanish, and other European groups that came with colonists and immigrants; and with the traditions that have come with immigrants from East and South Asia.

Students who graduate with a concentration in African and African American Studies go on to pursue advanced degrees in fields such as history, literature, political science, and sociology. They also go on to work in a wide variety of careers in education, business, medicine, arts and entertainment, law, public policy, and the humanities and sciences.