50th Anniversary of Africa at Harvard

February 28, 2020


50th Anniversary of Africa at Harvard

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. The two-day symposium kicked off at Harvard Memorial Chuch with a full agenda that commemorated this occasion as well as highlighted the current work of faculty, scholars, and students.


Photo in Memorial Church of Opening DayOpening of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations at Harvard Memorial Church / by Melissa Blackall


Established in 1969 as the Committee on African Studies, our Center has grown into a globally recognized, interdisciplinary body committed to deepening the connection between Harvard and Africa. This occasion was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the student protests in 1969 that led to the demand for African and African American Studies at Harvard University and how the Center evolved to what it is today.

"The 1960s was the context of the Civil Rights struggles with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 and the decade in which several African countries became independent. These two processes reinforced each other, as African countries such as Ghana, Guinea, and Tanzania became extensions of the American Civil Right Struggle." – Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong

Professor Akyeampong Speaking at a LecternProfessor Emmanuel Akyeampong / by Melissa Blackall


During this occasion, we pay tribute to the defining roles of all those who made the Center what it is today: the commitment of many key faculty members, the support from University leadership, and the demands from the student body through the years. Without their persistence, the African and African American programs Harvard is known for today would not have been established. For example, the African Language Program, led by Professor John Mugane, has since grown to become the largest African Language Program in the world, having taught some 5,000 students since 2003 in over 40 African languages.

On day two of the symposium, Professor Wale Adebanwi, Director of the African Studies Centre and Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, University of Oxford, delivered the keynote address on “Contesting Africa’s ‘Dissimilarity’: Reflections on Global African Studies.” He described how “the tradition of ignorance [about Africa] remains evident even in the 21st century.” In fact,  these ignorant views are “no different from the images in the minds of those who are in control of critical spheres of decision-making in the west, particularly in contemporary United States.” Professor Adebanwi provided remarks on rethinking African Studies.

“…we have a duty not only to study how global processes affect Africa, but also how Africa affect global processes.” - Professor Wale Adebanwi


Professor Wale Adebanwi speaking at a Lectern
Professor Wale Adebanwi / by Melissa Blackall


The Center is connected across Harvard University, through collaborations with faculty, departments, and centers representing every school at Harvard, as well as engaged with insitutions and organziations across the African continent. In May 2017, our Africa Office was established and showed the importance for Harvard to step out into the world to enable us to be part of crucial conversations happening on the African continent. This office in Johannesburg serves as a listening post that keep us firmly grounded in local contexts to keep the scholarship at Harvard about Africa accessible and relevant.

As we celebrate this milestone, we also look forward to continuing our mission to broaden knowledge about Africa by bringing African perspectives here to campus and beyond. When we look back in another 50 years, we hope we have used this extraordinary opportunity to continue to show the world we are committed to collaborating globally, and to empower our students and faculty to pursue their research and teaching interests without barriers through inclusive understanding of the world.

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