University of Wisconsin–Madison

Jan Vansina’s legacy honored at first annual Jan Vansina Lecture events

Friends, colleagues, and students of the late Jan Vansina gathered September 21-22 to honor the legacy of one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa.

A pioneering figure in the study of Africa, Vansina is considered one of the founders of African history in the 1950s and 1960s. Vansina’s 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.

When Vansina passed away in spring of 2017, efforts were quickly underway to honor and celebrate his contributions to the field. Following months of planning, the UW-Madison African Studies Program and Department of History jointly hosted a robust, two-day event featuring scholars influenced by Vansina’s work. The weekend included the opening of a Memorial Library Jan Vansina exhibit and the first annual Jan Vansina Lecture on Friday, followed by a Saturday symposium. Learn more about the weekend’s events and how you can contribute to the Jan Vansina Fund by visiting the Jan Vansina Memorial website. 

A shot from the opening of “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library, curated by African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Guests experience reflections from Vansina, himself, as part of an interview project conducted by Professor Florence Bernault between March and October 2016, featured in “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library, curated by African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
A shot from the opening of “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library, curated by African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
A shot from the opening of “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library, curated by African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo (left). (Photo by Meagan Doll)
A shot from the opening of “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library, curated by African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
African Studies Bibliographer Emilie Songolo explains her inspiration behind the “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit at Memorial Library. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
UW-Madison Professor of History Neil Kodesh welcomes guests to the first annual Jan Vansina lecture, a memorial lecture featuring Nancy Hunt, professor of History and African Studies at the University of Florida and Steven Feierman, professor emeritus of History at the University of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Steven Feierman, professor emeritus of History at the University of Pennsylvania, takes the stage at the first annual Jan Vansina Lecture on Friday, September 21, 2018. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Friends and colleagues of the late Jan Vansina share memories and reflect on his legacy. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Friends and colleagues of the late Jan Vansina share memories and reflect on his legacy through written notes for his family. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Friends and colleagues of the late Jan Vansina share memories and reflect on his legacy during a break at the Saturday symposium on September 22, 2018. (Photo by Meagan Doll)