Call for Applications: CAS-Harvard-Yenching Institute Training Program in African History and Cultures (AY 2022-23)

November 1, 2021

The CAS - Harvard-Yenching Institute Training Program in African History and Cultures
(Academic Year 2022-2023)


Harvard Faculty Advisors:

  • Emmanuel Akyeampong, Departments of History and AAAS, Harvard University Oppenheimer Faculty Director of the Center for African Studies, Harvard University
  • John Mugane, AAAS and Director of the African Languages Program, Harvard University

South-South trade has gained a new prominence in Africa’s relations with Asia with China becoming Africa’s largest trading partner and lender in 2009. The scale of China’s presence in Africa in the last two decades obscures the equally important initiatives of other Asian countries in Africa, and their lengthy histories of engagement with Africa. Indians from Gujarat have been central to commerce in East Africa for centuries, and Tanzania is proudly multi-racial in its acknowledgment of Tanzanians of African, Arab, and Asian descent. Durban in South Africa has the largest Indian population in any city outside India, a development that originated in the first Indian indentured servants sent to Natal in the 1860s to work on sugar plantations. Japan appointed its first honorary consul to Cape Town in 1910. By the mid-1990s, Japan had emerged as the top bilateral lender for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.


The relations of Japan, China, and India with Africa have coalesced in compacts that regulate trade and development partnerships. Japan inaugurated the Tokyo International Conference on Africa (TICAD) in 1993, and has organized seven such conferences, the eighth to be held in 2022 in Tunisia. China introduced its Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 in Beijing. Held every three years, the Forum has alternated between Beijing and venues in Africa. India has developed its India Africa Forum Summit, hosting the first summit in 2008. In November 2016 India in partnership with Japan announced the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) with the stated objective of rediscovering ancient sea routes and creating new sea corridors that link India and countries in South and South-East Asia with Africa. One could see this as a response to China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.


Two emerging trends will inform the Africa-Asia relationship in the years ahead: the (post)COVID-19 recovery as well as the global response to climate change. Africa’s public health efforts have faired well during the pandemic compared to much of the world, attributed in part to many African countries’ experience in dealing with prior infectious disease outbreaks. However, questions remain about vaccine distribution and equity in Africa as well as whether so-called vaccine diplomacy by China and other nations will be enough to mitigate the pandemic. Africa and Asia have opportunities for partnerships on global public health efforts including pandemic surveillance, preparedness, and response.


The global threat from climate change took on a new urgency with the publication of an August 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, convened by the United Nations. The report confirmed that a global rise in temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius is all but certain, and global cooperation is needed now to avert further catastrophe. With countries such as China, India, and Japan among the top investors in Africa (number one, seven, and eight respectively), Asia will have a significant role in mitigating the impact of climate change in Africa. African nations will need to strike a balance between growth and development, which in many countries is heavily reliant on extractive mining of natural resources, and the opportunity to invest in and develop the green and blue economy. How  Africa and Asia come together to address this threat has implications not just for the region but for the entire international community.


These significant developments have heightened the need and urgency for a deeper understanding of Africa’s historic relations with Asia; for an intellectual engagement and understanding of Africa on its own terms; and for an appreciation of how Africa’s long history shapes the continent’s current engagement with Asia. The Harvard-Yenching Institute’s Training Program in African History and Cultures is designed for young Asian faculty with PhDs or advanced graduate students considering a career in academia on Asia and Africa. The program will run for nine months in the 2022-23 academic year (September 2022 through May 2023), and the Harvard-Yenching Institute and Harvard’s Center for African Studies will host four to five successful applicants. Participants will enroll in two history lecture courses on early Africa and modern West Africa offered by Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong; and a course on African languages and cultures offered by Professor John Mugane. Harvard’s African Languages Program offers some 24 African languages, and participants will enroll in one African language of their choice for the two semesters at Harvard. Participants will also attend the weekly seminars in the African Studies Workshop held on Mondays under the leadership of Professor Jean Comaroff. The workshop provides a forum for leading and emerging Africanists to present new materials and publications in progress with discussants drawn from the Africanist community at Harvard and throughout the Boston area. The workshop is open to the public.


One of the hallmarks of the training program will be a two-week field trip to Tanzania and Kenya during the January break led by Professors Akyeampong and Mugane. The focus of our trip will be the historic coastal towns of Zanzibar and Mombasa, which display in exciting ways the cosmopolitanism that has emerged from centuries of Indian Ocean trade. We will encounter and experience the different phases of Asia’s historic engagement with East Africa, enjoying cuisine in Mombasa that is a blend of African, Arab, and Indian influences, and then riding the Chinese-funded and constructed Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway for the 300 miles from Mombasa to Nairobi. The field trip will be an opportunity for those who took East African languages or Swahili in the fall semester to practice their skills. The academic year will climax in an article-length paper (about 25 pages) researched and written during the fellowship year. The paper will be on a topic of the fellow’s choice, and a Harvard mentor will be arranged for the fellow with research expertise in this area. The papers will be presented in a half-day colloquium that will be open to the Harvard community.


The application deadline for the program will be November 30, 2021. The applicants who pass initial screening and review will be interviewed via Zoom by the Harvard faculty advisors for this program this winter in January 2022.

How to apply (linked).