Africana Studies Department marks one year with symposium

To understand the current state of Africana studies and explore its future, it helps to reflect upon its past, which is rooted in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s.

More than 40 years ago, college students around the country staged non-violent rallies, occupied buildings, and met with administrators to bring Africana studies courses to their campuses.

The efforts of Penn students led to the establishment of the Afro-American Studies Program in 1972, which later became part of the University’s Africana Studies Program.

In 2012, Penn formally established the Department of Africana Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences.

To mark its one-year anniversary, the Department of Africana Studies and the Center for Africana Studies are co-sponsoring the multidisciplinary conference, “Africana Studies: Future of the Field” on Thursday, Oct. 17, and Friday, Oct. 18.

The conference will open on Oct. 17 with the Penn premiere screening of “African Independence, an award-winning documentary by Tukufu Zuberi, the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, and professor of sociology and Africana studies at Penn.

Penn President Amy Gutmann will join Zuberi for brief remarks at 5 p.m. before the screening begins in the Penn Museum’s Harrison Auditorium. A question-and-answer session with Zuberi will follow the film.

“African Independence” explores the history of Africa through the lens of four watershed events: World War II, the end of colonialism, the Cold War, and the era of African republics. The film is presented in conjunction with Zuberi’s ongoing Penn Museum exhibition, “Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster,” which is on display through March 2, 2014.

A full day of panel discussions is scheduled for Oct. 18 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Claudia Cohen Hall. Scholars from across the country will address “Knowledge Production and the Fetish of Theory,” “Teleologies of Space, Place, and Time,” “Gatekeeping and the Problem of Recognition,” and “Black Body Politic.”

Farah Jasmine Griffin, professor of English, comparative literature, and African-American studies at Columbia University, will deliver the keynote speech.

Barbara Savage, the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor and chair of Africana Studies, says Penn has a rich tradition of scholarship, research, and teaching in Africana studies, and has been a pioneer in the field.

“Our new department is a fitting achievement,” she says. “As leaders in the field, we are conferring with other eminent scholars to chart exciting new directions in the study of the peoples of Africa, and of black people in the Americas and around the globe for the 21st century.”

Department of Africana Studies