The Program trains students to conduct in-depth historical studies of Africa and the African Diaspora. In addition to providing an introduction to current historiographical debates, the Program encourages students to challenge the conceptual boundaries of their chosen fields through both research seminars and extended periods of fieldwork in Africa. An emphasis on methodological innovation and the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the past prepares students to produce original scholarship of the highest quality.
The faculty’s wide-ranging interests and areas of specialization allow students to pursue research across a broad chronological and geographical spectrum. While students receive specialized training in precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history, the Program emphasizes the benefits of blurring this conventional periodization of the African past. A critical engagement with precolonial history provides an appropriate departure point for writing histories of the 20th century that draw upon ideas and perspectives grounded in Africa. Similarly, a thorough examination of the dynamics of colonial rule is crucial for understanding the production of the sources historians draw upon to write histories of considerably earlier periods. The program also encourages students to engage with 20th- and 21st-century Africa, and with African participation in, and influence on, the global world.
Another connection emphasized by the Program involves the study of African Diaspora, colonialism and globalization (ie new forms of connections between Africa and the world). The concentration in African Diaspora history examines the linkages between the history of peoples of Africa and peoples of African descent in the larger world, recognizing the centrality of Africa to an understanding of the nature and evolution of black life and cultures in the construction of global history. Diaspora begins in Africa, with the creation and recreation of peoples responding to historical imperatives of the continent—trade, war, famine, new economic opportunities, etc. But Africa has never been isolated from the larger world. Africa and Africans were crucial in the development and proliferation of Islam, from the 7th century to the present day. Prior to 1820, roughly three out of every four immigrants to the Americas was African. And in recent years, tens of thousands of Africans have immigrated to Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. The implications of these histories are only now beginning to be fully understood.
All students engage in an extensive period of research in Africa prior to writing their dissertations. In preparation for their research, students receive training in fieldwork techniques as well as the use of documentary, oral, historical linguistic, and archaeological sources. The Program also requires African language proficiency and encourages students to be attuned to African cultures. Since 1962, the African Studies Program at UW has been designated as a National Resource Center (NRC) by the U.S. Department of Education, which provides Title VI support for program activities and for Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. Currently, languages offered on campus include Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, Twi, Xhosa, and Yoruba.
The Program encourages work with scholars and institutions in Africa and has formal faculty linkages with universities in Brazzaville, Gabon, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. In addition, we have formal linkages with African history programs at the University of Basel (Switzerland), Northwestern University (Chicago), Leeds University (England), the Sorbonne (Paris 1) and Denis-Diderot (Paris 7). Faculty and graduate students are encouraged to take advantage of these linkages through teaching and research exchanges.
African Studies Program: The African Studies Program at UW coordinates teaching and research on Africa at UW. Formally established in 1962 as one of the earliest such programs, it has trained hundreds of specialists in a variety of academic disciplines. Currently, the African Studies Program brings together more than 50 faculty members and hundreds of graduate students, from a variety of disciplines and fields, to discuss, debate, and share research on issues pertinent to Africa and the Diaspora.
African Diaspora and Atlantic World Research Circle:
The Diaspora research circle is an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students that meets once a month to discuss academic issues related to the African Diaspora. Usually, this means pre-circulating works-in-progress of faculty, graduate students, and invited scholars, and then discussing these papers in seminar-style format. In addition to the monthly meetings, the research circle sponsors drama, film and other events on campus and in the Madison community. In 2006, the circle hosted an international symposium on “The African Diaspora and the Disciplines.”
Worldwide University Network:
WUN is an international alliance of leading higher-education institutions. The Network brings faculty together in communities of interest, facilitates the development of international projects, and provides support for student and faculty exchanges. In June 2006, faculty from the UW-Madison participated in a WUN-sponsored conference on Colonial and Postcolonial Migrations held at the University of Leeds. The conference drew together scholars from around the world and launched a new research network in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies.
The History Department's Graduate Handbook (pdf) describes in detail the specific requirements for the MA and PhD degrees in African History.