African Studies: A Year In Review

Jan Vansina Memorial Lecture

Neil Kodesh speaks at the first-ever Jan Vansina Memorial Lecture (Photo by Meagan Doll / UW-Madison).

In September, the African Studies Program and the Department of History hosted the first annual Jan Vansina Memorial Lecture to celebrate the incredible life and scholarship of one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa. Jan was a trailblazer in the field of African history and was essential to the development of African Studies at UW-Madison, where he taught and researched for 34 years.

Opening lectures by Steven Feierman and Nancy Rose Hunt were followed by a symposium, featuring twelve presentations and a keynote from Pamphile Mabiala Mantuba-Ngoma of the University of Kinshasa. The event brought together more than 45 alumni, many of whom studied under Vansina. The second annual Jan Vansina Lecture will be delivered by Emery Kalema of Stellenbosch University on September 11th, 2019.

Fond Farewells and Warm Welcomes

Meagan Doll (submitted photo).

After nearly six years of service to the African Studies Program, Assistant Director Meagan Doll will begin a new chapter at the University of Washington in Seattle in fall 2019.  Meagan has been accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Communication, where she will study the relationships between journalism and the mobilization or de-escalation of mass atrocities, with a regional focus on central and east Africa. Although the entire African Studies staff is sad to see her go, we know she will go on to do great things.

Henry Drewal (Art History) announced his retirement this semester. Drewal and his theory and method of Sensiotics – the study of the senses in the creation and shaping of persons, cultures, histories, and arts – spent most of his storied career focusing on the Yoruba-speaking people, or the followers of Mami Wata. Drewal’s unique and multisensory approach to learning and knowing has touched countless students over his storied career. His 2017 Symposium Honoring Ancestors in Africa and Beyond: Arts and Actions brought together many of the students and scholars whose work and lives he touched.

The African Studies Program was pleased to welcome the new Executive Director of the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS), Anju Reejhsinghani, as well as two new faculty members. Jacquelyn-Bethel Mougoué, a feminist historian of Africa whose recent work has examined gender and nationalism in Cameroon, will join the department of African Cultural Studies. Daniel Williford will join the ranks of the Department of History. Williford’s recent work “Concrete Futures: Technologies and Ecologies of Urban Crisis in Colonial and Post-Colonial Morocco,” traces the politics of concrete buildings across the political transition from French colonial protectorate to the post-colonial state.

Celebrating Faculty Achievements

Our African Studies Program faculty affiliates continue to lead their respective fields with their award-winning scholarship and teaching.

Russ Feingold speaks with Ambassadors Johnnie Carson and Michelle Gavin at an Africa at Noon event (Photo by Meagan Doll / UW-Madison).

Katrina Daly Thompson (Professor and Chair, African Cultural Studies) was selected as the 2019-2020 Big Ten Academic Alliance-Academic Leadership Program fellow. Samuel England and Matthew Brown both received University Housing Honored Instructor awards. Nevine El-Nossery was awarded a Vilas Associate Award, which she will use to work on her next book Archiving Defiance: Woman, Art, and Revolution. Neil Kodesh received a Vilas Mid-Career Investigator Award to continue work on a historical ethnography of Mengo Hospital in present-day Uganda. Tejumola Olaniyan was named Wole Soyinka Professor of the Humanities through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Finally, the African Studies Program held a symposium in October to celebrate the incredible career of Michael Schatzburg, professor emeritus of Political Science and African Cultural Studies. Michael’s approach to exploring the everyday politics of life and culture in Africa inspired countless students over his 40 years of teaching at UW-Madison. The symposium, which featured keynote speaker Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, brought together over 25 alumni to celebrate Schatzberg’s teaching and scholarship.

African Studies Program Faculty Collaborator award winners Teju Olaniyan (African Cultural Studies) and Linda Oakley (Nursing) will bring colleagues from Nigeria to campus this summer and fall. Olaniyan is hosting visual artist Ghariokwu Lemi while Oakley will bring mental health practitioners Larry Olawunmi Salako and Ojo Tunde Massey Ferguson to campus to launch a global mental health working group. With support from African Studies, Henry Drewal (Art History) will travel to Brazil to explore rare archival footage of an Ogun Ondo ceremony in Benin from 1952. This work supports Drewal’s ongoing efforts to produce a feature-length film on the Yoruba deity of Iron. This year’s other Faculty Travel Award winner, Emily Callaci (History) will spend the fall in the U.K. and Nigeria on her newest research project, which explores the history of contraception, population control, and family planning in Africa.

Globally Engaged Teaching

During this academic year, African Studies faculty affiliates offered over 100 courses that explored the diverse languages, histories, and ecologies of the continent, reaching several thousand students. African Studies undergraduates also had the opportunity to take a course from former U.S. Senator and Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes Region and Congo-Kinasha Russ Feingold last fall. Feingold came to campus as a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in International Studies and taught a capstone seminar entitled “Negotiating Peace in the African Great Lakes Region.”

Bringing Africa to Wisconsin Classrooms

The African Studies Outreach Program was more active in the Wisconsin community than ever this year, reaching over 9,000 citizens throughout the state with its programming.

Students at Day in Africa learn to play Umlabalaba, a board game played in Botswana and South Africa (Photo by Meagan Doll / UW-Madison).

More than 300 students and teachers attended Day in Africa, an annual event which invites high school students from across Wisconsin to explore the languages and cultures of Africa through a variety of interactive sessions. Our Outreach Scholars traveled to local schools to present on a wide variety of African cultural and historical topics. We also launched a subscription service for “Discovery Boxes,” collections of material culture from different countries and cultures across Africa, working closely with three different schools to reach more than 100 students.

Africa at Noon

Africa at Noon, the African Studies Program’s treasured weekly lecture series, featured the perspectives of 25 scholars, practitioners, and leaders. Speakers explored topics such as the representations of African language in horror films, political transitions in Ethiopia, women’s rights in the Maghreb, and new technologies to combat illegal timber trade in West Africa. Ambassadors Michelle Gavin and Johnnie Carson held a roundtable on U.S. policy toward Africa. Gay Edwards Reinartz, Director of the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Institute, discussed challenges faced by conservationists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Subha Xavier finished off the seminar series with a captivating exploration of global migrant boat narratives.

Furthering Connections with the Continent

The African Studies Program will host the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders for the fourth time this summer, welcoming 25 outstanding leaders from across the African continent for a six-week academic and leadership institute in summer 2019. This year, marked the inaugural Continuing Connections award competition, which supports ongoing collaborative projects between Mandela-Washington Fellow alumni and members of the campus and community in Madison. Rebekah Awuah (Ghana, 2017) and Joe Brewoo, Shawn Edosa (Nigeria, 2018) and Samba Baldeh, Kalkidan Lakew (Ethiopia, 2018) and Lori DiPrete Brown, and Marie-Josee Houenou (Ivory Coast, 2018) and Valerie Stull were the recipients of this year’s awards. Many of these winners will present on their work during Africa at Noon next semester. If you would like to get involved with the Fellowship this summer, feel free to explore opportunities on our website or contact Meagan Doll at