“Pressure free…informal, interdisciplinary get-togethers”–this is what the African Studies community on campus needed to address a lack of communication between campus Africanists, according to faculty and graduate students in the early 1970s. So to encourage collaboration, communication and perhaps to even inspire new scholarship, the African Studies Program invited one person to give a talk each week “on an aspect of his or her current research.” Coffee was promised to all attendees with instructions to “bring your own sandwiches.” The inaugural “Sandwich Seminar” was held in 1457 Van Hise at noon on Wednesday, November 7th, 1973, and featured sociologist David Wiley, then the program’s director, on “Urbanization and the Squatter Housing Problem in Zambia.”
In 2011 associate director James Delehanty caught up with Jeffrey Myers-Hayer of the Library of Congress, an African Studies alumnus, who had related sometime earlier that according to his memory (he was careful to remind us that others might have slightly different versions), he was at the center of a small group responsible for creating our Sandwich Seminar tradition.
Here is a quote from a 2011 correspondence with Jeffrey Myers-Hayer:
I first came to the UW in the fall of 1971, taking some Africa-related courses as a special student, and then became an official graduate student in history in the
fall of 1972. At the time, there was not much structured regular contact among people studying Africa in different disciplines. At least it seemed so to many of us. I was told that previously there had been occasional brown bag lunches among Africanists, although these had not been held since about the time of the Sterling Hall bombing. This struck a chord with me…
So, in the fall of 1973, I got approval from the African Studies Program to set up a series of weekly talks, to be held every Wednesday in room 1451 of Van Hise. The Program supplied the sponsorship (and the coffee). I recruited the speakers and handled most of the publicity. I am sure I spent a good deal of time working out the details with Marge Harris and others, but at this late date I don’t remember the specifics. I do remember talking with faculty members in many disciplines…and I don’t remember ever being turned down. I did manage to get a speaker for every week for the first two years. When I left the campus in summer of 1975, I turned the seminar work over to Meg Skinner. She, and many successors, appear to have kept them going successfully ever since.
Now with forty years of history, and a new name—Africa at Noon—the Wednesday noon, lecture series has highlighted faculty from all disciplines, artists, writers, activists, and Jordan Prize winners.
The African Studies Program is proud of this long-standing tradition, and we look forward to stewarding this series and hope that we can continue to bring interesting, thoughtful, and new work to our campus community.