Remembering Jan Vansina

Jan Vansina, professor emeritus of Anthropology and History, at his home in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

On September 21-22, 2018, the University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program will host a memorial lecture in honor of Jan Vansina, a pioneer in the field of African Studies who passed away last year. Lectures will feature fourteen scholars whose lives and work are deeply tied to the African continent.

An opening lecture on Friday, September 21 will feature Nancy Hunt and Steven Feierman, followed by a Saturday symposium. The symposium will feature a set of panels on various aspects of Jan’s legacy with Pamphile Mabiala Mantuba-Ngoma, of University of Kinshasa, as keynote speaker.


Iris Berger from the University of Albany, SUNY
Michele Wagner from the State Department
Charles Mulinda from the University of Rwanda
Gillian Mathys from Ghent University & Sarah E. Watkins
Hines Mabika from the University of Bern
Paul Landau from the University of Maryland
Joseph C. Miller from the University of Virginia
Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman from the University of Minnesota
Shannen Hill from the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

The event will be held in Memorial Union Tripp Commons. Lectures begin at 4:00PM on Friday, September 21 and will begin again from 9:00AM-12:00PM on Saturday, September 22. All events are free and open to the public.

Click here to see the full lineup >>

The program will present a time for scholars from across the globe to come together to discuss the future of Jan’s legacy. To learn how to make a donation to the Jan Vansina Fund, click here. The fund was established in 1994 upon Jan’s retirement and has already supported a significant number of UW graduate students in African History, many from Africa.


A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Vansina is considered one of the founders of the field of African history in the 1950s and 1960s. His insistence that it was possible to study African history in the era prior to European contact, and his development of rigorous historical methods for doing so, played a major role in countering the then prevalent idea that cultures without texts had no history. He remained a trailblazer in the field for more than five decades…

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