We train students to conduct in-depth historical studies of Africa and the African Diaspora. In addition to providing an introduction to current historiographical debates, we encourage 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, we emphasize 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.
Areas of Special Strength
Health, medicine, and science in Africa and the African Diaspora: The Department of History includes faculty whose research interests cover a wide variety of topics in this field. Recent initiatives include an international conference on Health and Science in the African World hosted by the African Studies Program in spring 2016, and a thematic cluster on ‘One Health’ and the History of Infectious Disease Research supported by the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. The UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute also offers a host of opportunities for graduate students to participate in ongoing debate and discussion.
African Diaspora, colonialism, and globalization (i.e., 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. We also require African language proficiency and encourage 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. The Department of African Cultural Studies is home to one of the oldest African languages programs in the United States. Please visit the African Cultural Studies website for more information about the languages currently offered on campus
We encourage work with scholars and institutions in Africa and have formal faculty linkages with universities in Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. In addition, we have formal linkages with African history programs at 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.
For undergraduate courses, see the Department of History’s Courses page. For graduate program requirements and courses, see the Department of History’s Graduate Program Handbook and Graduate Courses pages.