History

The Harvard University Center for African Studies (CAS) serves as an intellectual hub, connecting students, faculty, and members of the wider Africanist community. Since its inception in 1969, the Center for African Studies has evolved from a small faculty group known as the Committee on African Studies into a robust, interdisciplinary body that has earned Harvard recognition as a National Resource Center from the U.S. Department of Education. Along with this national distinction, the most notable milestone on Harvard’s path to African Studies leadership was the generous and anonymous donation made in the fall of 2014, a donation that both secured African Studies as a Center at Harvard University and provided the initial seed money to launch the administrative operations of on the African continent.

As the University-wide nucleus for Africanists at Harvard and generator of numerous initiatives on campus and on the Continent, the Center for African Studies works with students and faculty from across the University to sponsor an array of high-impact and high-profile programs. These include study abroad and internship opportunities, inter-faculty research and publication initiatives, collaborative teaching and learning, institutional partnerships on the continent, transformative technology-based outreach efforts, and a wide range of on-campus seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Harvard University is one of the world’s foremost centers of learning about Africa. More than 100 Harvard faculty members conduct research and teach on topics related to Africa; more than 150 courses are taught on Africa-related themes and topics; and more than 75 scholars from Africa play an integral role through their research and teaching across the University. Harvard also boasts the world’s foremost African Language Program, with more than 40 African languages offered. Additionally, more than 150 Harvard students travel to Africa each summer to conduct research and engage in internships spanning the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

The Center for African Studies also works closely with Harvard’s two other key Africanist institutions: the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Department of African and African American Studies (AAAS) and the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research (HC). CAS, AAAS, and HC frequently collaborate to provide wide-ranging and innovative Africanist offerings. AAAS appoints faculty, confers undergraduate and graduate degrees, and offers inter-disciplinary Africa-related courses and African language classes. The Hutchins Center offers prestigious fellowships to Africanist scholars and practitioners, disseminates knowledge through publications and endowed lecture series, and hosts multiple Africa-related events.

The History of Africa at Harvard:

  • 1969 - The Harvard University Committee on African Studies is established. 

  • 1972 - A group of students take over Massachusetts Hall, calling for divestment in apartheid-era South Africa.

  • 1978 - Harvard African Students Association (HASA) is founded.

  • 1979 - President Derek Bok establishes the Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program. 

  • 1997 - The Harvard Business School Africa Business Club is founded. 

  • 1998 - Nelson Mandela, President of the Republic of South Africa, receives an honorary degree from Harvard University. 

  • 2001 - The Graduate Program in African American studies begins classes with its first six students.

  • 2002 - Professors Jacqueline Bhabha and Stephen Greenblatt launch Harvard’s Scholars at Risk Program.

  • 2003 - The Harvard African Language Program (ALP) is established, and the Department of African & African American Studies begins to offer undergraduate degrees in African Studies.

  • 2004 - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan receives an Honorary Degree from Harvard University.

  • 2006 - The Department of African and African-American Studies begins to offer doctoral degrees in African Studies.

  • 2007 - Harvard establishes its first two Summer Abroad Programs in Africa. 

  • 2010 - U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center grant for African Studies supports area studies and language instruction. The designation is renewed in 2014 and 2018.

  • 2012- The African Studies Workshop is established as a platform for Africanist scholars to present pre-published research work and explore Africa’s changing place in the world. 

  • 2017- The Harvard University Center for African Studies launched a continental office in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Africa Office works closely with its companion office in Cambridge to facilitate and strengthen relationships with alumni as well as business, cultural, and academic leaders across the African continent. 

  • 2018 – The Center for African Studies hosted “Africa’s Leaders Speak,” which brought former heads of state from Cape Verde, Nigeria, and Tanzania to Harvard for the largest gathering of former heads of state at the university. 

  • 2019 - On February 28th – 29th, 2020,  the Center for African Studies, the Department of African and African American Studies and the Hutchins Center for African & African American Researchcelebrated the 50th anniversary of African and African American Studies.  Read more here.

  • 2020 - The Center for African Studies celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program.