The Center Mourns the Passing of Two Accomplished Africanists in Our Community: Professor James Pritchett and Professor Tejumola Olaniyan

December 10, 2019


It is with a heavy heart that the Harvard Center for African Studies announces the passing of two accomplished Africanists in our community, Professor James Pritchett (Michigan State University) and Professor Tejumola Olaniyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Profile Picture of Professor Pritchett

James A. Pritchett, Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University and African Studies Association’s former President, passed on November 29th, 2019. Between 2013 – 2015, Professor Pritchett served as Vice-President of the African Studies Association Board, President, and Past-President.  His contribution to African Studies programs across the nation included directing the African Studies Center at Boston University and Michigan State University.

Professor Pritchett received his masters and doctorate in Anthropology from Harvard University after completing his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology at Ohio State University. Pritchett’s work is concerned with the interaction between tradition and modernity in contemporary Africa, particularly the ways in which social change is interpreted and validated according to local belief systems.  He was the author of two books: Lunda-Ndembu: Style, Change and Social Transformation in South Central Africa (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), and Friends for Life, Friends for Death: Cohorts and Consciousness among the Lunda-Ndembu (University of Virginia Press, 2007).  Professor Pritchett frequently shared his interest in the African Diaspora, and had studied communities of African-descended people in the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere in Central and South America through media presentations, reviews, lectures, and academic research.

"Always impeccably dressed, thoughtful in his comments, and a visionary leader in African studies, James Pritchett knew how to build institutions and how to build bridges between institutions. His years as associate director and then as director of the African Studies Center at Boston University (2003-08) saw fruitful collaboration between Harvard and BU, and our graduate students came to consider themselves as a cohort. He was a distinguished scholar and an able administrator."
- Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, Oppenheimer Faculty Director, Harvard University Center for African Studies.


Profile Picture of Professor Olaniyan

On November 30, 2019, Professor Tejumola Olaniyan, Louise Durham Mead Professor of English and Wole Soyinka Professor of the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, passed in his home in Madison, WI. From 2013-14, he served as the president of the African Literature Association, and between 2014-15, he was on the African Studies Association’s Board of Directors and was most recently serving as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the African Literature Association.

“Teju was a gentle man with a brilliant mind. Modest, simple in his ways, and always cheerful, he wore his erudition lightly, making him a very approachable scholar. I first met Teju in the early 1990s at the University of Virginia, when he was a fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute and I a doctoral student. I recall going out of my way to tap him on the back to say hello at the recent ASA meeting in Boston last month, and the big smile on his face when he turned around and saw that it was me. He will be missed.”
- Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, Oppenheimer Faculty Director, Harvard University Center for African Studies.

Professor Olaniyan earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Ife in Nigeria. He then went on to complete a masters and doctorate from Cornell University. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor Olaniyan was the department chair of African Cultural Studies and Senior Fellow and Interim Director at the Institute for Research in Humanities. He earned one of the highest honors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the WARF professorship in 2019 which recognizes the distinguished research contribution of faculty. His main research interests included Africa and its diaspora; African, African-American, and Caribbean literatures, postcolonial cultural studies; genre studies—history, theory, and sociology of drama; popular culture studies—art, music, and architecture. Most recently, he co-edited a book, Taking African Cartoons Seriously: Politics, Satire, and Culture (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2018), which explored the rich diversity of cartooning in Africa.  


Our hearts go out to the close friends and families of both distinguished professors. It has been a great loss for the Africanist community and African Diaspora to part with two professors who contributed considerably to the study of Africa and beyond.

- Harvard Center for African Studies