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William Allen Brown Lecture

The William Allen Brown Lecture is an annual lecture on Islam and Islamic Culture in West African History, hosted by the African Studies Program in collaboration with the Department of History, UW-Madison. The lecture has been endowed generously by the students, colleagues, friends, and family of Professor Brown to support scholarship in his specialty. Professor Brown earned a Ph.D. in History at the UW-Madison and he was a professor in West African history at the UW-Madison for more than 30 years.

Professor Brown, aged 73, passed away at home on Tuesday, August 28, 2007. He was born on January 29, 1934 in Beauford, North Carolina, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School prior to joining the Air Force. On leaving the Air Force, he enrolled in Kentucky State University, where he majored in History, Government, French Language and Literature; graduating with highest distinction as valedictorian in 1959. He was then awarded a Fulbright grant to attend the Universitè de Sorbonne in Paris, where he again led his class.

Upon completing his studies in France, he entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study African history and Islamic studies. At Wisconsin, he was awarded a number of fellowships, including: a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, National Defense Foreign Language Fellowship in Arabic, and a Foreign Area Fellowship for Africa. He conducted research in Mali from 1965-66 for his doctoral dissertation, The Caliphate of Humdullahi, ca. 1818-1864: A Study in African History and Tradition, which he submitted to Wisconsin in 1969 and remains an authoritative study of the area.

Professor Brown started his teaching career at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria and subsequently held positions at Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from which he retired as Emeritus Professor in 2006. He received research grants from the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, The American Council of Learned Societies, The American Philosophical Society, and he published Toward a Chronology for the Caliphate of Hamdullah, Cahiers D’ etudes Africanines; A New Bio-bibliographical Aid, The Izalat Al-Rayb’ of Muhammad Boul Araf, and Nasiwal Asudan: A Guide to Legal History in Mali, both in the research bulletin for the Center of Arabic Documentation, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria; and Great Rulers of the African Past. Professor Brown also organized the first conference on Black Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1967 that resulted in the publication of S. Henderson and M. Cook (eds.), The Militant Black Writer in the U.S. and Africa.

William Alllen Brown is preceded in death by both parents, Mildred and William Brown, a nephew, Stacy Mumford, and his youngest sister, Mildred Denise Brown. He is survived by two sisters, Patricia Lessner and Marsha Brown; two nephews, Mark and Myles; two nieces, April and Robin; four grand nephews, Shabar, Mark Jr., Amir and Jaden; two great nieces, Jaquel and Shanel; and his brother-in-law Fred Philpot Jr.

His full obituary can be found here.

Sixth W.A. Brown Lecture (2023)

Islamic Modernism and the Public Sphere in Northern Nigeria, 1940s-1960s

Alexander Thurston
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Cincinnati

Wednesday, November 1, 2023, 12 p.m.
Mark H. Ingraham Hall, Room 206
1155 Observatory Dr
Madison, WI 53706


Fifth W.A. Brown Lecture (2014)

Imperial Shadows

Gregory Mann
Associate Professor, Department of History
Columbia University

Thursday, April 10, 2014, 4:00pm
Tripp Commons, Memorial Union
800 Langdon St.
Madison, WI 53706


Fourth W.A. Brown Lecture (2012)

Looking Back for the Way Forward from Nigeria

Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa
Professor, University of Port Harcourt

Saturday, April 21, 2012, 7:00pm
Pyle Center
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706

This talk was presented as a keynote lecture at the 50/FORWARD conference.


Third W.A. Brown Lecture (2011)

Remembering W.A. Brown: Africanist Outliers and Different Roads Taken to Wisconsin

Adell Patton, Jr.
Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Saint Louis

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Main Lounge, Memorial Union
800 Langdon Street
Madison, WI

Read Adell Patton’s remembrance of Bill Brown here.


Second W.A. Brown Lecture (2010)

Dying Muslim in Ghana: Death as an Intellectual and Social Practice in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Sean Hanretta
Assistant Professor
Department of History, Stanford University

4:00pm, April 20, 2010
Fluno Center Auditorium
601 University Avenue
Madison, WI


First W.A. Brown Lecture (2009)

Indigenous Interpretations of History in West Africa before 1800

Paul Lovejoy
Distinguished Research Professor,
Department of History, York University

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
University Club
803 State Street
Madison, WI


In honor of the memory of William Allen Brown, a group of his friends, colleagues, and alumni launched a drive to establish the William A. Brown Memorial Lecture Fund.

The fund is formally designated as follows: The purpose of the fund is to support the William Allen Brown Memorial Lecture on Islam in West African History. It is set up in honor of the memory of William Allen Brown, who earned his PhD in African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and who was a professor of West African History in the department for over thirty years. Income from the fund will be used exclusively for the purpose of funding a periodic lecture, annually if possible, to be given on an aspect of Islam in West African History.

Gifts in Brown’s memory can be made by check, credit card, or appreciated stock. Checks should be made out to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, including the William A. Brown Lecture Fund on the memo line, and sent to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, U.S. Bank Lock-box, P.O. Box 78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807. Alternatively, you may donate by credit card at the Foundation’s website: https://www.supportuw.org/.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Katie Rather at 608-265-3526 or katie.rather@supportuw.org at the Foundation.

We are thankful to those who have already pledged.