African and African American Studies

The field of African and African American Studies (AAAS) explores the histories, societies, and cultures of African and African-descended people. It is highly interdisciplinary, 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 contribute enormously to our understanding of race and ethnicity, and ideas about race are among the central objects of study in the field of AAAS. In addressing the ethical, social, and political consequences of racial thinking, our faculties raise questions relevant to the experiences of all peoples. Department Website

The department offers two distinct courses of study: the African track and the African American track. African track concentrators come to the program with a variety of interests; e.g., the environment, public health, music, ethnic relations, religion, politics, economic development, and literature. The African track includes study in the African Languages Program, required courses, electives, and the option of study abroad. Concentrators in this track are encouraged to take courses in a variety of departments.

The African American track attracts students with an equally wide range of interests.  There are many reasons students 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 led the struggle for equality in the second half of the twentieth century. Third, because American political life remains encumbered 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 explore aspects of many other cultures and peoples 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 many other peoples.