Africa in Our Lives: Philip Janzen

While 2014 Jordan Prize winner Philip Janzen was drawn to UW-Madison’s African history program, his international interests go beyond academics. From childhood memories in Cairo to trying new foods while researching in Senegal, global mindedness has become a kind of second nature.

Since 1969, The African Studies Program has awarded the A.C. Jordan Prize to a UW-Madison graduate student for the year’s best paper on Africa. To learn more about the award or past winners, please click here

Philip Janzen - Africa at Noon
“I would give students the same advice I was given: work hard, manage your time, don’t become a robot, and do things you enjoy.” – Philip Janzen (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

Field of study: PhD Candidate in African History
Hometown: Ottawa, Canada

What inspired you to study Africa?

If I had to point to one moment, it would be reading Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism in an undergraduate history course at the University of Ottawa. The professor was Meredith Terretta, a graduate of the UW-Madison African history program. More generally, I remember hearing stories from my father’s time in the Congo in the early 1960s, and I also spent two years in Cairo when I was a kid. My mother’s international student meals were also probably a factor. She is an ESL teacher and she is forever inviting her students over for meals, so I grew up meeting people from all over the world. Now that I’m an international student, I realize how important those invitations are.

Tell us about your Jordan Prize winning paper:

Well, during my first week or two in Madison, Professor Florence Bernault pushed two names across the table at me: Félix Eboué and René Maran. She told me a little bit about them and told me that I should do some more research and see what I could come up with. I’ve just been building off that first seminar paper ever since.

What was a highlight of this research?

Last summer I was in Dakar, Senegal, and I had the opportunity to read through a huge collection of René Maran’s papers and books that are held at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar. Like anyone, though, I think the highlights of the research trip took place outside the archive while spending time with new friends and eating delicious food.

Outside of academics, what other interests do you have?

During the winter I head over to Tenney Park to play outdoor recreational hockey every day — this winter was great for that. I also play music. When the weather is warmer, I zip around the Wisconsin countryside on my motorcycle.

What do you enjoy most about attending UW-Madison?

I’ve met some good friends, my professors are brilliant and are committed to their students, and my adviser is always helpful and always encouraging.

Philip Janzen - 2014 Jordan Prize winner
Philip Janzen and adviser/history professor Jim Sweet present the A.C. Jordan Prize plaque, now engraved with Janzen’s name. (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

What advice would you give incoming students?

I would give them the same advice I was given: work hard, manage your time, don’t become a robot, and do things you enjoy or else graduate school will make you crazy.

What are you currently working on?

I just passed my preliminary exams, and so I am preparing to head off for a year of research at archives in England, France, Senegal, Martinique, and Trinidad. Maybe elsewhere…

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Well, that will be summertime, so hopefully I’ll be sitting in a canoe somewhere, ideally paddling down the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.

Profile produced by Meagan Doll.

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