Current African Studies Center Projects

Boston University faculty and students are engaged in numerous research projects in Africa. A few current research projects include:

Centuries before colonial powers brought European languages and writing systems to Africa, many Muslim Africans were writing their languages in Arabic script. Today, with most Arabic scholars unfamiliar with African languages and scholars fluent in African languages usually unfamiliar with Arabic, thousands of documents written in the modified Arabic script known as Ajami in West Africa lie unstudied in archives across the continent. Fallou Ngom, director of African languages and associate professor of anthropology at BU, heads a project to research Ajami, both finding and preserving Ajami texts and integrating Ajami training into language instruction so that BU graduates can study both historical and current use of Ajami. The project recently received funding from the Endangered Archives Program of the British Museum.

Articles: Bostonia and the Boston Globe

The recently launched USSAEP is promoting greater cooperation and understanding between the United States and South Africa by focusing on several linked projects in the educational sector. The African Studies Center’s Outreach Program is working with Facing History and Ourselves [] and the South African educational NGO Shikaya [] to develop teaching materials on the anti-apartheid struggle and the U.S. civil rights movement for use in both South African and U.S. schools. Professors from the schools of education at BU and the University of Fort Hare are teaching both education students and current teachers how to use technology in the classroom by linking secondary schools in the United States and South Africa to study the new curricular materials together. This project is currently funded by the ASC’s Title VI grant.

The PSAE promotes interdisciplinary research in the environmental history and human ecology of Africa. The project’s goal is to develop a better understanding of the complexities of human interactions with the environment through the integration of research perspectives from the humanities, the social sciences, and the biological and earth sciences. The PSAE seeks to integrate the study of the African environment into research and training programs, and to develop cooperative programs with colleagues and students in Africa and at BU. This includes exploring environmental dynamics and human-environment interactions that illuminate issues of health, economic development, conservation and management of resources, cultural ecology, historical change, and aesthetic expression. More information can be found at the program’s website.

The African continent has been plagued by brutal human rights abuses and violent and rapacious rule since the times of the slave trade and colonial conquest. In the past two decades, both the international community and African civil societies and governments have given increasing emphasis to promoting human rights. Transitional justice mechanisms such as trials and truth commissions have been widely employed, particularly in post-conflict situations, with claims that they help to fight impunity and promote human rights; yet little empirical evidence supports these assertions. Timothy Longman heads a project that looks at popular attitudes in Africa on transitional justice, particularly in the African Great Lakes Region of Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Agro-Ecology of Maize and Malaria in Ethiopia is a partnership between the ASC, Addis Ababa University, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Professor James McCann leads a team of interdisciplinary researchers assessing the role of the cultivation of  maize in the spread of malaria.