by York Bradshaw
What do you think of when the word "Africa" is mentioned? Many Americans envision a land of famine, civil war, poverty, bombings, and disease. Although Africa clearly has its share of challenges, these difficulties often are exaggerated when people lack understanding of the continent.
In contrast to these negative images, a real dynamism is associated with many features of Africa. Consider four brief examples:
York Bradshaw, professor of sociology and director, African Studies Program, Indiana University Bloomington --credit
Indiana University's African Studies Program has been researching and teaching about Africa for nearly forty years. The program's three previous directors are responsible for our growth and pre-eminent position in the field. J. Gus Liebenow started the program in 1961, when many African countries were achieving political independence. For eleven years, his clear vision and hard work provided the foundation for the program's success. Patrick O'Meara, professor of political science and of public and environmental affairs and dean of international programs at IUB, took the program to new heights over the next twenty-one years and is largely responsible for the outstanding international reputation enjoyed by the program. During his three years as program director, N. Brian Winchester, now director of the IUB Center for the Study of Global Change, initiated a number of innovative programs, particularly in the field of technology. The African Studies Program has grown dramatically since the early 1960s. It now features more than fifty faculty members across fourteen departments and five professional schools. The humanities, social sciences, and arts are included, as are professional schools of education, medicine, public and environmental affairs, library science, and journalism. Faculty, students, and the overall program have received extensive funding from a large number of government agencies, private foundations, corporations, and individuals. Recent research conferences and institutes in African studies have focused on gender and health, women and law, divination, the changing role of oral tradition, economic and social development, and the transformation of education in South Africa.
The vast majority of research projects draw on multiple disciplines and specialties. For example, we have a substantial new three-year grant from the Ford Foundation which examines how African "systems of knowledge" (e.g., oral tradition) can be combined with outside "systems of knowledge" (e.g., Western technology) to better understand the continent and its development. Many Westerners mistakenly assume that knowledge developed in Africa lacks innovation and sophistication. As you will read in this publication, however, African systems of music, language, literature, environmental management, and development are dynamic and creative. The Ford Foundation grant will enable us to establish a global network of scholars including eight African institutions and many U.S. universities. The scholars will work together to create Web sites, exchange opportunities (including annual summer institutes at IUB), and forms of video conferencing that will enable U.S. scholars to "meet" with African colleagues.
Africa Today, one of the premier journals in the field, has just moved to IU. The journal is edited by a multidisciplinary team of IUB scholars associated with the African Studies Program, including Bradshaw; Ruth Stone, professor of folklore and chair of the Folklore Institute; Gracia Clark, assistant professor of anthropology; John Hanson, associate professor of history; and Virginia DeLancey, associate director of the African Studies Program. The journal will be published by IU Press in both print and electronic formats. --credit
Our research projects are assisted by some of the finest facilities in the country. We have one of the best Africana library collections in the world, featuring more than 130,000 volumes of print and electronic materials. The African Studies Program and the larger Africanist community owe a special debt of gratitude to Nancy Schmidt, who has just retired after serving fifteen years as African studies area specialist and librarian at IU.
In addition, the Archives of Traditional Music are a treasure on the IUB campus. They hold the largest collection of "oral data" (music and interviews) on Africa in the world. The IU Art Museum is also in this preeminent category. It holds one of the finest collections of African art in the United States--and many of their art objects grace the pages of this publication.
Our many research projects and activities contribute to classroom activities on the IU campuses. Some of our best researchers are also our best teachers, winning impressive teaching awards; three African Studies faculty members have won the President's Award for distinguished teaching (considered IU's top teaching honor). We teach nearly 100 Africa-related courses a year to more than 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on the Bloomington campus alone. The students come from the humanities, social sciences, and professional schools. Many of them learn an African language, including Twi, Hausa, Zulu, Chichewa, Swahili, Arabic, or Wolof. Since the African Studies Program was started, more than 350 Africa-related dissertations have been completed at IU.
Although we continue to attract outstanding students from Africa, their numbers are declining because of economic hardship on the continent. Governments and universities in Africa used to send their best candidates to the United States for higher education. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible due to lack of funds. Today, African students can normally attend American educational institutions only if these institutions will provide them with fellowships or other financial assistance. In response to this situation, the African Studies Program last year initiated a special African Student Scholarship Fund, designed to raise money specifically for outstanding students from the continent. Research initiatives have also spawned unique international exchange opportunities for IU faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in every major region of Africa. We currently have active linkages with eight African institutions, including the University of Ghana, Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal), University of Malawi, University of Nairobi, Makerere University (Uganda), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the University of Cape Town (South Africa). One of our most active exchange programs has been between IU (including our regional campuses) and the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, funded by the United States Information Agency and directed by Virginia DeLancey, associate director of the African Studies Program. The program there is higher education administration and curriculum development. Collaborative research projects have been initiated by scholars in history, comparative literature, English, philosophy, education, art history, museums, and the library.
Research programs also contribute to our outreach efforts to Indiana schools, libraries, community groups, other colleges and universities, and businesses. During the year, our faculty and students are active ambassadors for the African continent. They talk about the different cultures, teach African games to children, perform music for the community, discuss similarities and differences between the United States and various African countries, and advise businesses that are active in Africa.
Some people claim that Africa is becoming less important in the global system. We hope this special issue helps to dispel this view. The African continent, though facing many challenges, is also vibrant and dynamic. Researchers, students, artists, musicians, businesspeople, and tourists are visiting the continent in large numbers. Americans are learning about African cultures, lifestyles, and values--and Africans are learning the same about America. Intercultural knowledge and understanding are critical for establishing international collaboration and cooperation, and they are central to the African Studies Program at Indiana University. Please follow our activities on our Web site (www.indiana.edu/~afrist). We would love to hear from you!
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