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Northwestern Program of African Studies Celebrates 60 Years

The Program of African Studies launches its celebration this month.

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October 10, 2008 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- When Northwestern University begins a yearlong 60th anniversary celebration of its Program of African Studies (PAS) later this month, it celebrates the legacy of a Northwestern anthropologist who broke with the conventional wisdom of the 1930s and 1940s that Africans in the Americas had left "primitive" societies and eagerly absorbed the European and American culture of their slave owners.

Melville Herskovits -- who began teaching at Northwestern in 1927 and eventually founded the nation's first major interdisciplinary program in African Studies there -- was among the earliest scholars to study and recognize the importance of the African heritage of black people of the New World.

Northwestern launches its celebration of the Program of African Studies, the nation's first major interdisciplinary program in African Studies, this month with a performance by the world-renowned Soweto Gospel Choir (Oct. 21) and a kick-off address by an internationally famous scholar of Islam and human rights (Oct. 24).

Lectures, a dance performance, panel discussions, an art exhibition, films, storytelling, the premiere of a play and two conferences are among the events that will punctuate the academic year of celebration. For a complete schedule of 60th anniversary events, information about PAS today and information about the program's rich history, visit http://www.northwestern.edu/pasanniversary/

Below is a list of a few of the Fall 2008 event highlights that will be held on the Evanston campus, or elsewhere, as noted below. The events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

• A performance by the Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, in Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St.
The inspirational sound of the 26-member South African ensemble draws on the best talent from the many churches in and around Soweto. The group performs around the globe and has been heralded as one of the most exciting artists to emerge in the international world music market in recent years. Tickets are $14 for the general public; $12 for senior citizens and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $10 for students. For tickets, call (847) 467-4000 or visit http://www.pickstaiger.com.

• "Welcome Back Past Directors of PAS Panel with John Paden, David William Cohen and Jane Guyer," at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, Program of African Studies, 620 Library Place. Previous PAS directors will share their memories of their time at Northwestern, focusing on how they connected the work of PAS with the issues in Africa that were most pressing at the time of their directorship.

• The 60th Anniversary Kick-Off Gala with Keynote Speaker: Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, School of Law, Emory University, at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, in the Ballroom of the Hotel Orrington, 1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston. An internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights, Professor An-Na'im teaches courses in human rights, religion and human rights, Islamic law and criminal law. His research interests also include constitutionalism in Islamic and African countries, and Islam and politics. He strives to educate through a liberal modernist understanding of Islam and cultural legitimacy of human rights standards. Free refreshments will be served after the talk.

• Alumni Lecture by Ibrahim Sundiata, "Who Killed African History? Between Afrocentrism and Folklorism," at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3, Program of African Studies Conference Room, 620 Library Place. Ibrahim Sundiata is the Samuel J. and Augusta Spector Professor of History and African and African-American Studies at Brandeis University and a former student of Ivor Wilks, professor of history at Northwestern. He received his doctoral degree from Northwestern in 1972, and is a professor at Brandeis University, and former chair of the department of history at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Sundiata is the author of numerous highly regarded works, and has been the recipient of Ford, Woodrow Wilson and Fulbright grants. His research has focused on colonialism and its legacies in Africa, Atlantic slavery, and, more recently, on race relations in the United States and Latin America, particularly in Brazil. His current project is titled, "Race Tracts: Sex, Gender, Class at the Turn of the Millennium," an examination of race and its intersection with other social signifiers.

• "Focus on Africa: Celebrating 60 Years at Northwestern" art exhibition, Nov. 7 to Dec. 17, Dittmar Memorial Gallery, first floor, Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston campus. The mixed media exhibition will feature stunning and priceless art objects, and archival materials, including photographs from the Herskovits Africana Library, library archives, the Program of African Studies (PAS) collection and alumni collections. Curated by department of anthropology and PAS alumna Justine Cordwell, the exhibit will be accompanied by a "soundscape" of the sounds of Africa and the words of many of its most famous academics. Admission to the exhibition and an opening reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, in the gallery are both free and open to the public.

• Alumni Lecture: Simon Ottenberg, "Training an Early Generation of Anthropological Africanists at Northwestern," at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10, Program of African Studies Conference Room, 620 Library Place. Professor Simon Ottenberg taught at the University of Washington, Seattle from 1955-1990. He was one of the first students of PAS founder Melville J. Herskovits. Throughout his distinguished career he has carried out extensive research in the Igbo territories on traditional life and its changes, published many books and curated exhibitions on contemporary Nigerian artists. He is an honorary chief in both the Afikpo and Wara Wara Bafodea chiefdoms in Nigeria. His lecture is presented with support from Northwestern's department of anthropology.

The research coming out of Northwestern's internationally renowned Program of African Studies differs substantially from the research conducted in the mid-20th century when Herskovits founded PAS.

"From its inquiries into the past to its imaginings into the future, African and African Diaspora Studies are engaged with the most challenging social, political and cultural questions of our ever-changing global condition," said D. Soyini Madison, professor of performance studies and interim director of PAS. "Today more than ever, African and African Diaspora Studies embrace vigorous interdisciplinary approaches to human rights, governance, business, global health, artistic practices, expressive traditions and social movements."

"Africa in Motion: Global Health, Markets and Human Rights," a two-day interdisciplinary conference (Feb. 6 and 7) will bring together an international array of scholars from the social sciences, humanities, law, business, medicine and engineering in a collaborative examination of the conference's three main topics as it relates to African studies and the black Diaspora.

A very different, two-day interdisciplinary conference (March 13 and 14) titled "Dress, Popular Culture, and Social Action," organized by Afrisem, the PAS graduate student seminar, will explore how dress in particular and popular culture in general constitute and inspire social action. This conference is made possible by the support of The Graduate School.

Created with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, PAS is served by the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, which was officially established in 1954. It remains the largest separate collection of Africana anywhere in the world.

PAS boasts more than 40 faculty members from more than 20 affiliated departments and programs. Every year, PAS also hosts several visiting scholars and research affiliates who add their own expertise to PAS programming and academic offerings.

For up-to-date information on these and other PAS events, visit http://www.northwestern.edu/pasanniversary/