My name is Marissa Moorman. In fall 2021, I joined the Department of African Cultural Studies as a Professor, after spending seventeen years on the faculty at Indiana University. Having long admired the African Studies Program here at UW-Madison, I am honored and delighted to have been elected the new Director beginning fall 2023.
Let me first thank outgoing director Luís Madureira for his service as Director in the past two years and congratulate him on his new position as chair of the Department of African Cultural Studies. Not only did he successfully shepherd the Program through the most recent Title VI competition, winning funding as a National Resource Center and for Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships for students, but he has worked to fortify African language instruction, solidify program staffing, diversify engagement across the University, and rebuild community in the wake of the pandemic and our ongoing work of confronting racism. His dry, self-effacing wit is a reminder that strong leaders know their limits and lighten the load when they bring all of themselves to the table.
I look forward to working in collaboration with the newly elected African Studies Program Steering Committee. I want to thank outgoing member Vlad Dima (now at Syracuse University); welcome new members Matthew H. Brown, Matthew Turner, and Névine El Nossery; and commend and express my gratitude to continuing members Jeremy Foltz, Nancy Kendall, Mary Hark, and Janis Tupesis for their commitment and wise counsel.
I will work with our extraordinary staff, Associate Director Aleia McCord and Assistant Director Olayinka Olagbegi-Adegbite, to promote the African Studies Program, our students, faculty, courses, and African languages in a higher educational environment that is dynamic. Our job is not simply to administer, but to coordinate and facilitate.
We are lucky to have, and look forward to working with, incoming Dean of the International School and Vice Provost Fran Varvus. As a UW student, she was involved in the African Studies Program and knows well how vital African language study, FLAS fellowships, and other opportunities we administer are to our students. The active engagement of faculty and student affiliates and alums, like Varvus, makes our program thrive. The African Studies Program is vibrant because faculty and students from over 40 departments and units across campus propose and invite speakers, host their events here, and regularly attend Africa at Noon.
UW Madison’s African Studies program is long and storied. As the product of diverse people, experiences, and disciplinary practices, we are strong. This helps us to be nimble in the face of changes in the institutional ecosystem, our state, the nation, and the world. In the next three years, we will have technical and existential challenges to tackle. We will work to strengthen and extend our African language program by building partnerships abroad for language learning and fora for educating students and the public about the significance and relevance of African languages, cultures, and worlds. The Department of African Cultural Studies, formerly the Department of African Languages and Literature, is a cornerstone in African language instruction. As a member of that department and now the Director of African Studies, I aim to create coherence in instruction and mechanisms that serve the needs of our African graduate students who often work as language instructors and are the face of the language program.
In the 2023-2024 academic year, Africa at Noon turns fifty! This weekly institution is the product of an inspired group of graduate students. We continue to gather nearly every Wednesday at noon during the academic year to share research and ideas among faculty, students, and the Madison community. This is the place where we discuss big ideas, untangle difficult questions, and drill down on small details, data sets, and evidence. I hope it is a place where we can continue to talk about institutional racism, white supremacy, and the history of African Studies.
UW’s African Studies Program was founded in 1961. That was the same year that armed struggles for independence broke out in the then Portuguese colonies of Angola, Cape Verde & Guinea Bissau, and Mozambique. Those countries won their independence in 1975 (Guinea Bissau in 1973, actually). The struggles the liberation movements fought were international in character. Leaders, thinkers, and artists like Amilcar Cabral, Sarah Maldoror, Eduardo Mondlane, and Mário Pinto de Andrade created international synergies. Many African Americans, in the wake of crushing assassinations of civil rights leaders, limited reforms, and the infiltration and undermining of activist groups by the FBI, found inspiration in and collaborated with new African states and African liberation movements. At the same time, they fought locally.
As we celebrate and approach the fiftieth anniversary of independence in the Portuguese speaking African countries of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe in 2025, we do well to recall the phrase that served not just those liberation movements but the larger fight against white supremacy in southern Africa and in the U.S. too: “a luta continua!” (the struggle continues). Those revolutionary movements, their successes and failures, and how our institution and our students and faculty participated, can teach us about our current moment and how to intervene to build stronger, more participatory communities across and through difference.
Moorman has a national and international reputation as a leader in Angolan Studies, Southern African History, and African media studies. She has published two important books with a top university press (Ohio), numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals that shape African cultural studies, as well as book chapters and other shorter pieces. Her work on music, radio, and urban culture in contemporary Africa and Angola is one that no scholar in modern African history can ignore. Like her first book, Intonations: A Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, from 1945 to Recent Times! (2008), her second monograph, Powerful Frequencies: Radio, State Power, and the Cold War in Angola, 1933-2002 (2019), published in the highly regarded series “New African Histories,” makes a valuable contribution to the social and political history of Angola and Southern Africa. The book demonstrates how communication technologies and the media informed politics and social innovations.