Arts and Sciences announces Africana Ph.D. program

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John Carberry

The College of Arts and Sciences has announced the establishment of the first Ph.D. program in Africana studies in New York state.

“Cornell’s unique resources, with its renowned faculty, seven colleges and world-class libraries, will enable this to quickly become one of the top doctoral programs in the field,” said Provost Kent Fuchs.

Although 300 undergraduate programs in black and Africana studies have been founded in the U.S. over the last 40 years, there are only 10 doctoral programs. With 20 percent to 30 percent of current faculty in the field likely to retire over the next decade – and only about 10 Ph.D. degrees granted in the field each year – Cornell’s new doctoral program will be an important contribution to the field.

“With a critical mass of scholars whose work represents the cutting edge in Africana studies, Cornell is especially well positioned to implement a doctoral program that will meet the future demand for scholars with rigorous intellectual training,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

As an interdisciplinary field, Africana studies examines issues such as race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality in relation to the history, society, culture and the arts of people of Africa and people of African descent in the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the broader African diaspora. Cornell’s degree program will consist of two thematic tracks, one focused on “historical, political and social analysis” and the other on “cultural, literary and visual analysis.” Students in each track will choose a geographic area of concentration: Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or “emerging studies of the global African diaspora.”

Cornell’s Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC), the administrative base for the new program, was established in 1969, making Cornell a pioneer in the field. Approximately 150 students have received the master’s degree since it was established at Cornell in 1973, and almost a third of those students have continued on for further graduate study at some of the most selective research universities in the country. Many of them have completed the doctorate and are teaching at colleges and universities throughout the United States, with most having received tenure.

The new Ph.D. program will build on this success, continuing the ASRC’s tradition of mentoring and close student interaction with faculty. Students will have opportunities to assist faculty with research, teaching and organizing programs, and will be encouraged to participate in formal and informal study groups. They will also have the chance to design and teach freshman writing seminars.

“It is with much excitement that we look forward to welcoming our first class of doctoral students in fall 2014. We anticipate enrolling four to five students in the doctoral program for academic year 2014-15, with a projected five-year enrollment of 20 to 25 students,” said Salah Hassan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture and director of ASRC.

The ASRC has expanded significantly in the last few years, with five new faculty members and the recruitment of two more underway. This is in addition to the expansion of its African Languages Program, which offers instruction in three African languages, with more expected. The ASRC’s space has been renovated and expanded by more than 5,000 square feet, including more space for the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library, faculty offices, four seminar rooms and classrooms, lounge areas for faculty and graduate students, and a large multipurpose room.

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Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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