Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

About the Institute of African Studies

The Institute of African Studies (IAS) is a central forum and resource for Africa-centered academic programs and research at Columbia University. IAS academic programs, events and research bring together faculty and students across the campus with widely varying interests and disciplinary backgrounds. IAS partners with departments, centers, institutes, and student groups across the university to facilitate learning, dialogue, and exchange on Africa.

IAS has an active profile of external grants. Since 2008, IAS has won been awarded grants from the Partnership University Fund, Kellogg Foundation, Alliance Program, and the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion. These grants have fostered intellectual ties among IAS faculty and students in education, public health, history, and international affairs. The Partnership University Fund grant (awarded to the IAS in 2012 and again in 2016) has brought the Institute into close collaboration with faculty from Universite Paris 1, the Centre d'Etudes des Mondes Africains (CEMAf), and Sciences Po on a dual certificate in African Studies program and collaborative conferences, research, and teaching initiatives.

Through its academic and events programming, IAS helps to prepare future Africanist scholars and practitioners for careers in development, diplomacy, business, governance, journalism, law, human rights, and academic research and teaching. IAS affiliated faculty are found in nearly all departments and schools on campus. Its academic programs include an undergraduate major through the Department of Middle East South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS), an Africa Specialization open to graduate students at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), a Graduate Certificate in African Studies, and a Dual Certificate in African Studies with Universite Paris 1 open to undergraduate students at CU and Universite Paris 1. In addition to Africa-related courses offered in CU’s many schools and departments on campus, students may pursue language training in Wolof, Arabic, Pulaar, Swahili, Zulu, and Yoruba.

IAS cultivates partnerships within CU and institutions in New York to provide interdisciplinary and dynamic programming. Its partnership with the South African Consulate, for example, brings diplomats and policy makers to campus through an annual lecture series in honor of the Columbia alumnus and African National Congress (ANC) founder Pixley Ka Seme. Additional collaborations with the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF), the Museum for African Art (MfAA), Mapp International Productions, the Museum of Moving Images (MOMI), and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture have generated dozens of cultural and artistic productions, performances, film-screenings, workshops, and lectures. Recent alliances with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) bring post-doctoral scholars from Africa to Columbia through the IAS Visiting Scholars program. Similarly, IAS partnered with the African Studies Association (ASA) to bring scholars from Africa to Columbia for short-term visits. IAS has developed numerous programs, events, and other initiatives in partnership with units at Columbia, most frequently with the Alliance Program, Maison Francaise, Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL), George Clement Bond Center for African Education, and Committee on Global Thought (CGT).

IAS is an essential centralizing forum for events and programs on Africa that initiate critical conversations at Columbia University and in the field of African Studies. The continent’s history of colonialism and its extensive diasporic community continuously draw Africa and Africans into a global framework. Because of this, a major goal of the IAS is to understand Africa in a global context and to insert an African presence in discussions of globalization and global issues. “Africa and the World” is a guiding overarching program theme with discussions on Africa and the Global Financial Crisis, Global Aid in Africa, Africa in the 20th Century World, and the Arts of Citizenship in African Cities as major discussions. A significant strength of the IAS therefore has been its navigation of the global turn and, through its various initiatives, engaging discussions of globalization and global issues with Africa at the center.

IAS seeks to introduce inter- and cross- disciplinary discussions and debates in ways that challenge preexisting assumptions and move the field in new and exciting directions. It further seeks to facilitate the development of new terrains of discussion by bringing non-academics (policy makers, artists, activists, journalists) and academics (university professors, independent scholars) into dialogue, such as a debate it hosted in 2009 between Prof. Mahmood Mamdani and human rights activist John Prendergast on the question of international intervention in Africa, and a three-day conference on Islam and World Peace in 2015 & 2016 that brought Muslim clerics, artists, film makers, activists, and academics into dialogue in New York and in Dakar, Senegal.

While the IAS is very much committed to a global focus, we remain convinced that the area-studies institutes are essential to preserving the particularity of difference within potentially homogenizing global agenda and that each region brings a unique set of impulses, experiences, and knowledges to bear on global issues. We believe that it is the role of the IAS to bring an African presence to discussions, topics, and key concerns at regional, national, local, inter-regional, and global levels, and build our program agenda on Africa with an eye on global questions and concerns. 

Panel Discussions

Mali Elections Panel

Through its many lecture-series, conferences, seminars, and workshops, the Institute provides a special forum for the coming together of distinguished Africanist faculty, scholars, and students, as well as for the broader community engaged in policy initiatives on Africa. This panel formed part of the IAS' Democracy and Citizenship in Africa Series. It brought together scholars and activitists for a lively discussion on the crisis in Mali.



Welcome Letter

Welcome to the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University.  This past academic year has been transformational for the Institute. We launched a few new academic programs and organized a series of events that included an election series on the Congo, Cameroon, Senegal, and Mali, as well as a film series that highlighted recent documentary films on leadership and democracy in Africa. These events provided a forum for lively discussion and debate on such topics as the role of social media on democratic change to the definition of African leadership in the 21st Century.