The Committee on African Studies (CAS) was founded in 1969 to coordinate teaching and research advancing the knowledge and understanding of Africa within Harvard. Its establishment came from a recommendation of the Rosovsky Report, which addressed how Harvard should teach African and African American Studies. From its beginning, the Committee requested that faculty from various schools at Harvard be part of its membership in order to provide a truly interdisciplinary approach to African Studies.
An early chair of the Committee was the famed Nigerian historian and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, K. Onwuka Dike, who was also the first Professor of African History at Harvard. In 1975, Dike established the Harvard Africa Seminar which has brought prominent scholars and policymakers to Harvard for nearly four decades.
Over the next decades, CAS continued to identify areas for development and innovation in African Studies, focusing on undergraduate education on Africa, and the need for African language courses. In 1984, a summer grants program was established to fund students conducting senior thesis research in Africa. By 2000, under the chairmanship of the prominent philosopher Anthony K. Appiah, the grants were expanded to include graduate students conducting summer doctoral research on the continent. These graduate grants were partially funded with an generous endowment by Jennifer Oppenheimer.
In 1986, with the approval of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, the Committee also established an undergraduate Honors Certificate for African Studies. Participating students were advised by CAS on how to put together a multidisciplinary course of study which would complement and enrich studies in their concentrations. Following this trajectory, in 2003, CAS, in conjunction with the Department of Afro-American Studies, worked together with the academic deans to design an undergraduate African Studies degree in the renamed and refocused Department of African and African-American Studies. Planning for the degree drew exclusively on the knowledge of Africa-related coursework which the Committee had gained while administering the Honors Certificate.
In 2005, CAS received funding from the Provost’s Office for its new inter-faculty research project, entitled the “Africa Initiative.” The objective of the Africa Initiative was to involve faculty and students in a new interdisciplinary approach to the study of health, governance, economic growth, the environment, and cultural creativity in Africa. The fruits of the Initiative were seen in the founding of the student-run Pan African Dance and Music Ensemble, a series of events on Darfur, and conferences and workshops on topics ranging from psychiatry in Africa, to African art, to Africa-China political economy, to name a few.
Most recently, in July 2010, CAS was named a National Resource Center by the U.S. Department of Education. As a recipient of this prestigious “Title VI” award, the Committee received $2.5 million for the subsequent four years to amplify the Committee’s programming, outreach and grants for African study.
Since its inception, CAS has evolved from a small faculty committee to a robust, interdisciplinary body that has won Harvard recognition as a National Resource Center by the U.S. Department of Education. At Harvard today, nearly 500 faculty members conduct research and teach on topics related to Africa; there are over 100 courses taught on African-related themes and topics; and more than 80 Fellows from Africa play an integral role in institutes and programs, where they conduct research and teach. The University now boasts the world’s foremost African Language Program, with 39 languages offered, and more than 200 Harvard students travel to Africa each summer where they conduct research and engage in internships that span the sciences, social sciences and humanities. The transformation of the study of Africa in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and across the University’s Professional Schools, is noteworthy by any standard.