Harvard's African and African American Studies

I mentioned in the prior blog entry that I see a relationship between World Canonical Texts and the Area Studies approach. And I have established (in this entry) that Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge are the best universities after analyzing various lists. This leads to the natural question of: How does these top universities teach in their Area studies program in general? Understanding this will help me think through how World Canonical Texts fit with the broader future discipline of "World-Area Studies."


So I started with Harvard, starting from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences course catalog (retrieved on Dec 8, 2013), starting with "African and African American Studies". First, take a look at how its courses offerings is structured:

Level African African-American Mixed/General Total
UG (non-Languages) 2 2 0 4
UG (Languages) 43 0 0 43

UG Tutorials

1 2 2 5
For UG and Grad 10 32 9 51
Primarily for Grad 5 2 0 7
Grad Courses 0 0 7 7
Total 61 38 18 117

Besides these, there are offerings for other depts considered to be of interest to students in African Track (34) and in African-American Track (39) - some of these are same courses. (Also, in the main table above, there are 2 sets of 2 courses that are identical - they are listed as separate if the same class is offered for different terms.)


I read through the whole catalog, and have the following observations:


1. African languages is the biggest group of classes. The following 30 languages are offered and listed (apparently other languages off the list can be arranged too): Afrikaans, Amharic, Bamanakan, Cape Verdean Creole, Chichewa, Dinka, Gikuyu, Haitian Creole, Hassaniyah, Hausa, Ibibio, Igbo, Kikongo, Kinyarwanda, Krio, Lingala, Luganda, Oromo, Pulaar, Setswana, Shona, Somali, Sudanese Arabic, Swahili, Tigrinya, Twi, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, Zulu. The 4 languages bolded above each has 4 courses listed, plus a description of the importance of the language. Gikuyu: "a Bantu language spoken by Keyna's most populous ethnic group. The Gikuyu are among Africa's most recognized peoples because of the Mau Mau freedom fighters who were mainly Gikuyu." Swahili: "lingua franca of East Africa." Twi: "one of the regional languages of the Akan speaking peoples of Ghana, constituting the largest ethnic group in Ghana. Twi is fast becoming the lingua franca of the country." Yoruba: "Yoruba is spoken in the West African countries of Nigeria, Benin Republic, and parts of Togo and Sierra Leone, therefore constituting one of the largest single languages in sub-Saharan Africa. Yoruba is also spoken in Cuba and Brazil." Swahili is understandable. Somehow it is Yoruba over Igbo and Hausa for Nigeria, but ok. Gikuyu is justified because of historical interest in Mau Mau. Twi in Ghana is probably just idiosyncracy. Also note that Afrikaans and Amharic are not given particular attention.


2. For African studies, there is language requirement for UG ("2 half-courses in an African language") and for PhD (1 major European language, and 1 African language). For African-American studies, there is no language requirement for UG, and some language requirement for PhD aligned with "the language requirement of the graduate program in their primary field."


3. In general, Area Studies is to study an area from the perspectives of different disciplines of humanities and social sciences. Among "Area Studies" that are Departments at Harvard, this is the only one under the "Social Science category," and from scanning through the catalog it feels like this categorization is driven by the focus on "identities" in African American studies. Possibly, it is also because for African studies, there are not enough text-based sources to study to justify this being classified as "humanities."


4. In terms of areas under study - even for African Studies there does not seem to be a geographical focus - many countries are named in the course catalog, but no countries (maybe with the exception of Nigeria, which has one dedicated course "Religion and Society in Nigeria") come out to be in any sense dominant - I think we will see that it is different for other Area Studies.


5. Instead of traditional, "canonical" texts - there are not a lot here, though there are examples such as Equiano, Fredrick Douglass, Du Bois, etc. Instead, there are quite some studies on music (jazz, hiphop), theatre, film, performance art (comedy), art, activists.


6. For documentation - here are some Departments with Courses of Interest for "African Studies": General Education, Core Curriculum, Freshman Seminars, African and African American Studies, Anthropology, Economics, English and American Literature and Language, Environmental Science and Public Policy, Folklore and Mythology, Government, History, History and Literature, History of Art and Architecture, History of Science, Literature and Comparative Literature, Music, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Romance Languages and Literatures, Study of Religion, Social Studies, Sociology, Visual and Environmental Studies, Womean, Gender and Sexuality. It is of note that courses about North Africa / Islamic Africa seems to be mostly covered elswhere, so African Studies seems mostly about sub-Saharan Africa.



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