A Founders’ Day Reflection

The University of Wisconsin-Madison held its first classes 168 years ago this week. As we celebrate Founders’ Day, the African Studies Program looks back on a history of excellence at UW-Madison.

Alibaba Sanchi, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, teaches Hausa at an African Studies Program Outreach event. (Photo by Dave Bresnahan)

Back to our roots

The African Studies Program was established in 1961 with Philip D. Curtin as director. At that time, the University of Wisconsin had just four Africa-oriented faculty members: Philip Curtin (History), Frederick Simoons (Geography), Jan Vansina (History), and Aristide Zolberg (Political Science). Today, the university boasts over 70 African Studies faculty.

By the numbers

Every year Wisconsin offers more than 100 courses on Africa; 3,000 students take them. More than 15,000 people, now in all walks of life, have taken the university’s basic Africa course, Africa: An Introductory Survey. Wisconsin teaches six African languages including Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba, Wolof, and Zulu.

An African Studies book basket from our lending library. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

A wealth of resources

Memorial Library has one of the greatest collections of Africa books and periodicals in the world; on central Africa in particular it is unrivaled anywhere. Africa Focus is the largest collection of Africa images and sound clips freely available on the web; all of the materials on the site were donated to the African Studies Program over the last 50 years, most by our faculty. The African Studies Program also offers lending collections of books, films, and material culture for use in schools, colleges, universities and community groups across Wisconsin.

A global impact

Since the establishment of the African Studies Program, Wisconsin has awarded more than 750 Ph.D. degrees to Africa specialists, more than any other American university. A quarter of all presidents of the African Studies Association have been Wisconsin faculty members or alumni.