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Expansion of Africana Studies

The Afro-American Studies Program and the Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture have merged into the newly created Center for Africana Studies.

The Center for Africana Studies is a space for "the critical examination of not only the cultural, social, political, economic and historical experiences of African-Americans, but of the African Diaspora," said Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, who has headed the Afro-American Studies Program and is now the director of the new center.

Last Tuesday, President Judith Rodin, Dr. Zuberi, SAS Dean Samuel Preston and others welcomed four new faculty members (Michael Eric Dyson, Leslie Callahan, Timothy Rommen and Cheikh Babou) and invited guests to the official opening of the Center located in Suite 331A, 3401 Walnut St.

"The Center is a mecca for research projects, fellowships for emerging and established scholars, publications, conferences and working groups. The Center continues to promulgate the mission of the Afro-American Studies Program by offering a major and minor in African-American Studies, and producing cutting-edge programming that includes public conferences, lectures, book talks, and forums," said Dr. Zuberi.

Penn's Program, one of the nation's oldest research programs dedicated to the study of Africa and the African Diaspora, was founded in 1972. It was established in response to a national movement by college students across the U.S. to add courses exploring black history, literature and culture to their school's curricula.

Dean Preston noted that "Penn's legacy in Afro-American studies reaches back much further than 30 years, to the late 19th century when W.E.B. Du Bois wrote The Philadelphia Negro while affiliated with Penn. In 1898 he wrote that "It is to the credit of the University of Pennsylvania that she has been the first to recognize her duty and in so far as restricted means and opportunities allowed, has attempted to study the Negro problem in a single definite locality." Dr. Preston went on to note that Du Bois was in fact denied formal faculty status and that it would be 70 years before the first Afro-American studies courses were taught at Penn. He concluded his remarks by suggesting that "we have acted upon Du Bois' notion of a "single definite locality" for Afro-American and Africana studies at Penn. With the talented faculty brought together under the aegis of the center, the sky is the limit."

The Program has experienced major expansion in the past few years with Penn's renewed commitment to the recruitment of African-American Studies faculty. Dr. Rodin noted that the recent faculty hires "strengthen an already formidable lineup of scholars from a wide range of disciplines." She also added that "we need just the kind of path-breaking, interdisciplinary scholarship in Afro-American studies that is taking place at Penn now." The establishment of the Center will "capture these synergies to enrich our understanding of all the dimensions of the African American experience. I wish to stress my belief that all literary genres, all artifacts, and all forms of cultural expression are fertile ground for "serious scholarship."

The Center will mark the 30th anniversary of African-American studies with Back to the Future of Civilization, a year-long series of events, including moderated panel discussions on literature, society, arts and culture, critical theory and history in the African-American and African Diasporic experiences. Issues in Black Independent Cinema: The Documentary begins at 7 p.m. tonight at DRL. Reservations: call (215) 735-3785.

 

  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 6, October 1, 2002

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