Assistant Professor of African Studies
Africa is known as the continent of orality. Notions of African antiquity as quintessentially pre-literate, non-literate or illiterate remain decidedly intact in the Western imaginary. Moreover, the widely held perception is Africa's lack of written traditions as known in other societies is evidence of Africa's lack of history, and in turn civilization. Still, documenting writing and graphic writing systems in the African past is not difficult: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Coptic texts in Egypt and Ethiopia, Vai script in Liberia, Bamum script in Cameroon, Nsibidi script in Cameroon and Nigeria, as well as Arabic and Ajami scripts throughout the continent. This introductory course explores African writing and graphic writing systems as materialized traces of knowledge central to the ways in which Africans construct and document ideas about themselves, others and the world around them. Our focus will be the translation of non-visual forms of knowledge into visual, material representation. In this course, we will examine the means by which African writing and graphic writing systems synthesize ideas, thoughts and actions through the use of signs, symbols, pictorial and/or scripts, sometimes involving objects. We will consider the rise and fall of indigenous writing and graphic writing systems, in addition to the rejection and adoption of foreign writing systems. In particular, we will pay close attention to just how African writing and graphic systems contain potentials for political, economic and social gain, central to projects of domination, power, authority and agency, as well as inspire sacred, divine thoughts, as objects of devotion and worship.
Lions and Maasai, elephants and Bushmen, camels and Tuareg - Africa is seen as the continent of colorful cultures, picturesque people and thatched huts. This course introduces students to some of the key themes and debates in the anthropology of tourism, exploring the commodification of culture and nature in Africa as objects with marketable value. We will examine the historical, political, social and cultural contexts in which African countries, communities, and individuals articulate and sell notions of the "exotic", "tradition", "authenticity" and "indigeneity". Engaging with ethnographies we will examine the various forms of tourism: safaris, volunteerism, adventure tourism, eco-tourism, roots tourism or pilgrimage, romance and sex tourism. Examining relations between 'hosts' and 'guests' - brokers, tour operators, guides, 'experts', tourists and local populations - we will focus on the possibilities, problems and challenges presented by tourism in North, South, East and West Africa. Paying close attention to the ways in which the 'tourist gaze' produces and reproduces notions of race, class, gender, sexuality and desire, students will be asked to reflect upon and theorize their own tourist experiences. We will also discuss internal tourism, namely the reasons why when Africans become tourists, they rarely visit their own country.
Too often 'Western' historical narratives consider Africans and African Diasporans as 'People Without History'. Such a notion refers to peoples who cultures do not possess or have few formally written histories. This class employs archaeological evidence in order to investigate histories of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, slavery, resistance and black nationalism, dismantling the colonial library by exploring local histories once marginalized, silenced and erased. This course focuses on the major themes, ideas and research entailed in the historical archaeology of the Africana experience, on both sides of the Atlantic, in Africa and in the Americas. Throughout this course we will adopt an interpretive framework that draws upon the use of objects, texts and oral narratives, thereby illustrating the historical and cultural continuities between Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora. We will begin by examining archaeological evidence from West Africa, exploring the impact of the Atlantic economy on African daily social life, for example shaping settlement patterns, architecture, sociopolitical organization and sociocultural practices. We will then focus on material from North America and the Caribbean, exploring the ways in which enslaved Africans in the diaspora interpreted their conditions in the Americas, addressing topics such as social, racial, ethnic, religious and gendered identities, power and inequality, resistance and maroonage.
This course is an introduction to African art and material culture. In this class, we will focus on the major themes, ideas and debates that have shaped and continue to shape the theoretical and methodological frameworks for studying African objects. In this class, our goal is to engage with the possibilities, problems and challenges presented by archaeological, anthropological, material culture and art historical approaches to African art and material culture. We will examine the pivotal role of African objects in Africa, as well as Europe and the United States, and the projects of colonialism, imperialism, apartheid and nationalism in light of collecting practices, museums, heritage, development and human rights. We will explore the ways in which African material culture has been categorized, interpreted and displayed. We will pay close attention to the politics and practical aspects of contemporary African heritage practice by engaging with some of the associated controversies and ethical responsibilities. In this class, we will ask: How did African objects come to arrive in nineteenth century European museums? What is the relationship between African material culture and the colonial imagination? And, how has this relationship between objects and the "invention of Africa" changed over time? Who "owns" African art today? How do we work with African collections given international codes and conventions, yet also respect local, communal and indigenous rights? This tutorial course involves participation in the upcoming exhibition, 'Selections from the Collection of Charles Derby' at the University Museum of Contemporary Art: Fine Arts Center, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.