Institute of African Studies - Columbia University

Welcome Letter

Welcome to the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University.
 
The past four academic years have 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, Mali, Kenya, and Ghana, a film series that highlighted recent documentary films on leadership and democracy in Africa, a panel series on work in Africa, and we hosted several conferences on poverty and inequality, infrastructure, Muslim prayer, and Islam and world peace. 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, the changing nature of work in a global economy, the social life of infrastructure, and the role of African Islamic traditions in contemporary discussions of world peace. Our Worlds of Work in Africa Series, 2012-13, included talks by James Ferguson, Frederick Cooper, Daniel Hoffman, Eric Allina, Sara Minard, Anya Shiffrin, Hannah Appel, James Smith, Jesse Shipley, and Brian Larkin. In the Spring 2013, we hosted an exciting conference under the direction of Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne on the topic of The Phenomenology of Islamic Prayer. In 2014-15, we hosted two day-long conferences on Poverty in Africa and Infrastructural Life in Africa. This fall, we brought scholars and clerics to campus to discuss Islam and World Peace in partnership with the IRCPL. This three-day conference included academic panels as well as a musical performance, film screening and art exhibit. 
 
In the summer of 2011, we supported a training workshop that brought Malian students to Columbia University to study ethnographic and historical research methods. This initiative, led by Professors Gregory Mann and Isaïe Dougnon, entailed three weeks of training in ethnographic and historical methods, intensive library research training led by Dr. Yuusuf Caruso, and ethnographic fieldwork among African communities in Harlem and the Bronx. The program was unique insofar as it paired students from Mali with Columbia University students. This pairing enabled students to actively learn from each other as they participated in the research workshops and conducted their own research within small teams of students. We continue to support bringing scholars from Africa to campus through a recent partnership with the SSRC's African Peacebuilding Network and the Presidential Fellowship visiting scholar program with the African Studies Association (ASA). 
 
We are fortunate to have an exceptional staff. In 2011, the Institute gained a new assistant director, Dr. Jinny Prais. Prais earned her doctorate in history and women’s studies from the University of Michigan and is a former postdoctoral fellow at Columbia’s Committee on Global Thought. She joins us from the West Virginia University where she worked as an Assistant Professor of African History. Her research and teaching interests include African urban cultures and identities, West African newspapers and literary culture, African diaspora, gender, student politics and migration, and world/imperial history. Last spring, Prais taught A History of African Cities in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies and is currently serving as advisor to the Graduate Certificate in African Studies. We are pleased to have her expertise in the field of African studies and her leadership at the Institute. In 2015, we gained a new administrative assistant, Casey McNamara. McNamara joins us from the Center for Translations Studies at Barnard College where she was the program coordinator. She holds a Bachelor's degree in French and Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. This year’s program assistant is Anna Schaffer and our program interns include Krista Jorstad, Clifford Duong, and Tiffany Chang. The Institute is supported in its work by African Studies Librarian Dr. Yuusuf Caruso and our African Langauge Program Coordinator Miriame Sy.
 
In 2011, we were delighted to have distinguished postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars in residence, including Drs. Etienne Smith (Sciences Po), Hannah Appel (UC Berkeley) and Benjamin Talton (Temple University), all of whom contributed to the Institute programming and scholarship. In 2012, we welcomed Drs. Carolyn Brown (Rutgers University), Cyril Obi (SSRC), and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg (University of Michigan). In the past two years, we have hosted Ana Lucia Sa, Camilla Houeland (Norwegian Research Council), and Doudou Sidebe (Novancia Business School). This year we are excited to host Dr. Jeremiah O. Arowosegbe (SSRC), Dr. Joseph Oduro-Frimpong (University of Ghana), and Yusuf Serunkuma (MISER, Makerere University).

In order to build on our tradition of interdisciplinary programming and university partnerships, the Institute has strengthened its relationship with the Alliance program which includes inter-university exchanges for students and faculty with the distinguished French Universities of Sciences Po and Univeristy Paris-1.  This partnership was reinforced in 2011 through a grant from the Partner University Fund (PUF). The PUF supports our collaborative research with Paris 1 on the arts of citizenship in Africa, the phenomenology of Muslim prayer, urban ethnographies, and other research topics of joint interest, as well as joint courses between Columbia and these universities. One such course was offered fall 2012 entitled Democracy, Citizenship and Leadership in Africa taught by Dr. Etienne Smith. The course was an experiment in international collaborative teaching and featured a series of guest lectures by leading scholars of Africa from Columbia, Paris-1 and Sciences Po, and has been taught these past two years by Dr. Jinny Prais under the title Social Movements and Citizenship in Africa at SIPA. 
 
The link between the arts, media, politics, history and development are a central issue at the Institute. In this vein, we have continued our support for the African Film Festival, Inc. that brings African actors and directors to discuss their films with the Columbia community.  We are always proud to support Columbia Student-led initiatives, such as the African Economic Forum and the African Diplomatic Forum: both are exciting events bringing together African leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. In addition, a new website to foster dialogue between scholars and students interested in the Middle East, Asia and Africa was created that the Institute co-sponsored. Please note the website features two new blogs: Africa in the World, a blog featuring entries by our faculty and friends of IAS on current issues in African Affairs, and soon to be added "in our neighborhood," a blog devoted to news, interest stories and reviews about African communities in Harlem. I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the distinguished IAS-affiliated Columbia University faculty and peruse the exciting new courses some of them are offering this year. This year we are working on adding the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique (Rabat, Morocco) to our partnership.
 
Please join us for our annual Africanist reception on September 30, 2015 at 6pm on the second floor at Knox Hall. This year we will be featuring new book releases by our faculty. 
 
Thank you for taking the time to visit our website. We look forward to seeing you at many of the exciting events that the Institute of African Studies will be hosting this year, either here at the Institute, in the neighborhood or beyond.
 
Mamadou Diouf, Director 
Jinny Prais, Assisant Director