Category: Center News
Our NEH ʿAjamī Research Project is now live, and celebrating its website launch! The project ʿAjamī Literature and the Expansion of Literacy and Islam: The Case of West Africa that was awarded a NEH Collaborative Research Grant, aims to provide a new window into the history, cultures, and intellectual traditions of West Africa. It will digitize a unique selection of manuscripts in ʿAjamī (African language texts written with a modified Arabic script) in four major West African languages – Hausa, Mandinka, Fula, and Wolof, transcribe the texts and translate them into English and French, prepare commentaries, and create related multimedia resources to be made widely available within and beyond the United States.
The ʿAjamī literatures that have developed in sub-Saharan Africa and hold a wealth of knowledge on the history, politics, cosmologies, and cultures of the region, are generally unknown to scholars and the public due to lack of access. This collaborative research project involving a multi-disciplinary team of scholars from institutions in the U.S. and West Africa seeks, through increasing access to primary sources in ʿAjamī, to spark research and scholarly work on this important topic. Representing the first comparative approach to African languages written in ʿAjamī, this pioneering initiative seeks to integrate ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and multi-media formats to illuminate the histories and the educational, social, political and religious significance of ʿAjamī in West Africa. The project builds on prior path-setting work of the Center’s scholars and linguists with gathering, digitizing, and analyzing ʿAjamī manuscripts in the region.
Read perspectives on the social life of ʿAjamī by the project members in the Africa@LSE blog of London School of Economics
In July, the BU African Studies Center and the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana, signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a vision for a cooperative and multi-layered linkage serving faculty, students, and staff at both institutions. This agreement serves one of the ASC’s key mandates as a Title VI National Resource Center to create linkages with African institutions to facilitate research and language study for our students and faculty.
Our immediate collaborations meet some of the key proposed activities outlined in our Title VI proposal, as well as new initiatives. These include support for the digital preservation of endangered archives in northern Ghana, comprising texts, audio, and other informs of indigenous knowledge, such as music and dance. We also will begin a joint pilot project pursuing digitization of Dagbani Ajami texts. The ASC hopes that affiliated faculty members will take advantage of this and other linkages we develop across the continent in order to enhance and expand the quality of teaching and research on Africa at BU and beyond.
ASC Director Fallou Ngom and Assistant Director Eric J. Schmidt are grateful for the warm welcome from UDS Vice-Chancellor Gabriel Teye, Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic at the UDS Directorate of International Relations and Advancement, Felix Longi and Jebuni Tigwe Salifu at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Consultancy Services, Alhajji Dr. Hussein Zakaria, and our other colleagues at UDS. We look forward to additional opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration at both UDS and the BU ASC!
The BU African Studies Center recently published Comprehensive Outcomes-Based Assessment: A Guide for African Language Instructors. Written by Dr. Jennifer J. Yanco, retired Director of the West African Research Association and longtime member of the BU ASC community, the 95-page workbook provides assessment tools for African language instruction from Beginning through Superior levels, providing concrete performance goals across a range of parameters. The BU ASC is pleased to share the workbook freely for other language programs to use, and can be accessed at the link above.
Our aim in preparing this guide is to create a degree of standardization across African language courses, bringing them into alignment with the broader language teaching community and national standards while remaining attentive to the particularities of African languages and cultures as well as to the needs of our students. Beginning last spring, Dr. Yanco, BU African Language Program Director Dr. Zoliswa Mali, and BU ASC alum Jennifer Erem have organized workshops with our African language faculty to collaborate on integrating principles from the book into their courses. These activities—from writing and publishing to workshopping—have been generously supported through funding from the Title VI National Resource Center program.
The Boston University African Studies Center has started work on an important scholarly project that provides a new window into the history, cultures, and intellectual traditions of West Africa. The project ʿAjamī Literature and the Expansion of Literacy and Islam: The Case of West Africa that was awarded a NEH Collaborative Research Grant, will digitize a unique selection of manuscripts in ʿAjamī (African language texts written with a modified Arabic script) in four major West African languages - Hausa, Mandinka, Fula, and Wolof, transliterate and translate them into English and French, prepare commentaries, and create related multimedia resources to be made widely available within and beyond the United States.
The ʿAjamī literatures that have developed in sub-Saharan Africa and hold a wealth of knowledge on the history, politics, and cultures of the region, are generally unknown to scholars and the public due to lack of access. This Collaborative Research project between the scholars from institutions in the U.S. and West Africa seeks, through increasing access to primary sources in ʿAjamī, to spark research and scholarly work on this important heritage of Africa. The downplaying and devaluing of the significance of African Ajami has long characterized Arabic as well as European scholars and administrators of the colonial era. Systematic attention to African Ajami only started as an effort of African scholars of the post-colonial times.
The project brings together a multi-disciplinary team of experts working on different languages and contexts to achieve two interlinked goals: 1) to show the importance of African ʿAjamī traditions by building collections and analyzing representative manuscripts, and 2) to conduct interpretive humanities research that will open up a sustained examination of the ʿAjamī phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa. Representing the first comparative approach to African languages written in ʿAjamī, this pioneering project seeks to integrate ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, and multi-media formats to illuminate the histories and the educational, cultural, political and religious significance of ʿAjamī in West Africa.
The interdisciplinary and international project team consists of Fallou Ngom (Principal Investigator), Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Project Manager), digital humanities specialists of the Geddes Language Lab at Boston University – Mark Lewis (Director of the Geddes Lab), Shawn Provencal (Director of Programming), Alison Parker (Web Designer), Frank Antonelli (Video Resources Specialist), and Rebecca Shereikis (Publication Consultant) at ISITA Northwestern University. Language team consultants include Jennifer Yanco, Mustafa Hashim Kurfi, and Garba Zakari for the Hausa digital team; Fallou Ngom, Bala Saho, and Ablaye Diakite for Mandinka team; David Robinson, David Glovsky, and Mouhamadou Lamine Diallo for Fula team; and Fallou Ngom, Ablaye Diakite, and Mouhamadou Lamine Diallo for Wolof team. Our work will be done in collaboration with ISITA at Northwestern University, IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire), Michigan State University, WARA (West African Research Association), WARC (West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal) and colleagues from Bayero University and Kaduna Polytechnic in Nigeria. The BU African Studies Center (Eric Schmidt and Natasha Patel) will contribute logistical support.
On June 18th, the project’s core team convened for a planning meeting at the BU African Studies Center, joined via skype by participants from other institutions in the United States and Africa. Attendees included Fallou Ngom, Daivi Rodima-Taylor, Jennifer Yanco, Mark Lewis, Shawn Provencal, Alison Parker, Frank Antonelli, Rebecca Shereikis (Northwestern University), Mustafa Kurfi (Hausa digital team), David Glovsky (Michigan State University), and Eric Schmidt and Natasha Patel of BU ASC.
The NEH Collaborative Research Project builds on the pioneering work on ʿAjamī literatures and cultures at the Pardee School of Global Studies of Boston University. A prior project on Wolofal was funded by the British Library's Endangered Archive Programme. In 2011-12, working with his Senegal based team, prof. Ngom collected and digitized 5,400 pages from 29 manuscripts and 15 collections, deposited at the West African Research Center, the British Library, and Boston University. The current project will also build upon several other earlier projects hosted by Boston University, Northwestern University, and Michigan State University and MATRIX, focusing on ʿAjamī and Islam in West Africa.
The BU African Studies Working Paper 271, “The Boston University Diaspora Studies Initiative” (42 pp.) by Daivi Rodima-Taylor presents an overview of the contributions of the BU ASC Diaspora Studies Initiative to the academic as well as policy-oriented study of African diaspora matters, and suggests a vision for the future.
To order copies of the Working Paper, please contact BU ASC Publications: email@example.com
Learn about the history of Islam in Morocco and Senegal and the way it informs contemporary religious and cultural practices.
Join the Center for African Studies and the Center for Global Islamic Studies to learn more about everyday life in Muslim societies by taking part in this study abroad experience. This program is offered during Summer A and is worth 6 credit hours, Islam in Africa and African Popular Culture. For more information download a flyer here.
SAHEL RESEARCH GROUP, CENTER FOR AFRICAN STUDIES THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The Sahel Research Group (SRG) of the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida invites applications for a three-year postdoctoral associate in the social sciences with expertise in the countries of the Sahel. The SRG brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars and graduate students with research interests in the Sahel, and strongly committed to working collaboratively with colleagues in the region.
We seek a dynamic scholar in a social science or closely related field, with a strong research focus on the contemporary socio-political or economic dynamics of one or more of the countries of the Francophone Sahel: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. We seek a colleague with a demonstrated commitment to academic research on the region, as well as a willingness and strong potential to engage with the policy community.
The appointment will include a 50% effort assignment to the postdoctoral associate’s own research and publication agenda, as well as a 50% assignment to coordinating and facilitating the collaborative activities of the SRG, including support for visiting scholars, conferences/workshops, grant writing, publications and social media presence. Depending on interest, there may be possibilities for teaching, as well as significant opportunities to propose creative initiatives and collaborative projects.
• A PhD in an appropriate field
• Significant research experience on and in the Sahel, including substantive fieldwork • A record of—and/or significant promise for—publication on the region.
• Strong language skills, including fluency in both French and English
• Strong organizational and technical skills
• An ability to work both independently and as part of a highly collegial team.
Application: Please send the following materials to Prof. Leonardo Villalón, at firstname.lastname@example.org:
1. a current CV
2. a letter of application explaining research agenda, qualifications, and interest in the position
3. the names and contact information of three referees who would be willing to write letters or provide oral references if contacted.
4. A writing sample of an article or chapter related to the Sahel
For full consideration all materials should be received by Monday, March, 4 2019.
This will be a twelve-month appointment, renewable annually for up to three years pending satisfactory performance. The position will include opportunities for travel and flexibility for fieldwork. Anticipated start date: 15 August 2019.
On September 6, 2018, the Boston University African Studies Center and Pardee School of Global Studies welcomed the Ambassador of the African Union to the United States, H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, for a discussion of building productive partnerships among the African diaspora, the academic community, and the African Union. The Ambassador was accompanied by her colleague Mr. Tarek Ben Youseff. The all-day engagement included meetings with the Pardee School and African Studies Center leadership, presentations and class visits, and one-on-one and group conversations with Boston University scholars and students, as well as members of the African Diaspora. The day culminated with the Pardee Policy Leaders Forum - an event series bringing senior international policymakers to Boston University for important policy conversations with BU faculty and experts.
The African Union is an intergovernmental organization that seeks to achieve greater unity and solidarity among African countries and Africans, as well as encourage international cooperation and popular participation in governance. It advances collaboration between the diaspora, academic community, and policy makers for mobilizing the African diaspora in support of major U.S.-Africa policy initiatives. The Ambassador’s visit to the BU African Studies Center built on her history of collaboration with the Diaspora Studies Initiative of the ASC that included the 2017 Boston African Diaspora Coalition Roundtable as well as related engagements. These initiatives focused on facilitating joint engagement among diaspora communities in the New England area, and building networking and communication platforms for diaspora involvement in Africa’s economies and societies.
During her visit to Boston University, Ambassador Chihombori-Quao met with Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies and Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment Adil Najam, Associate Dean and Professor of International Relations and Political Science William Grimes, as well as had conversations with several Pardee School faculty members, including former director of BU African Studies Center and Professor of Political Science Timothy Longman. “It was an honor to meet Ambassador Chihombori-Quao during her visit to the Pardee School,” said Prof. Grimes. “I was especially impressed by her ideas about the role of the African diaspora in the continent’s economic and political development."
Director of the Boston University African Studies Center and Professor of Anthropology Fallou Ngom highlighted the value of the Ambassador’s visit to advancing a better understanding of the African diaspora among Boston University students and scholars: “As we seek to engage the African diaspora in America, the AU Ambassador's visit was both timely and important. I was very impressed by both her in-depth understanding of the political history of Africa that explains the roots of many challenges in the continent, and her path-breaking initiatives, especially the Centers of Excellence that could produce sufficiently mentally decolonized Africans capable of laying enduring foundations of a new thriving Africa with its right place in the world geopolitics. It was an honor meeting the Ambassador and her colleague. I am most grateful.“ The AU Ambassador was hosted at the African Studies Center by Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of the Diaspora Studies Initiative, and Dr. Eric Schmidt, Assistant Director of ASC.
In the afternoon, Ambassador Chihombori-Quao delivered a powerful presentation in the class session that included African Studies Center students, faculty, our diaspora partners, as well as Africanist scholars from other area universities – an event jointly organized by the ASC Diaspora Studies Initiative and Professor of Anthropology Parker Shipton. Prof. Shipton emphasized the lively, passionate presence of the Ambassador that extended a friendly and collegial persona to the diverse audience in the room, to much admiration and applause. Commenting on the Ambassador’s extensive experience on the pragmatics of diplomacy, Shipton said: “Combining micro- and macro-scale perspectives in the way the Ambassador did, was something new to just about every one of the mostly seasoned Africanists in the room, as well as to the students. Everyone present was well advised to look back to the history of how the lines on the map of African nations got there: the presumptuous arrogation of powers by the European participants at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 when the ‘scrambling’ empires did their partitioning as if cutting a cake, with no recorded voices of any African even present. The Ambassador's account of the layering of insults and injuries to African humankind in the period since then, with its effects on self-esteem and mutual regard among African people themselves, was a sobering picture in itself. By contrast, the progress and the hopes she presented for African unification (as well as for African and North American cooperation) were more uplifting -- for instance in the official headway she reported as being made toward freeing up the self-directed movement of people within the continent. Trade agreements discussed made for interesting comparisons with those being attempted, challenged, and revised in the Americas, as well as others in Europe and elsewhere. Her lamenting remarks on the damaging effects of wealth extraction probably resonated for everyone with a cell phone in the pocket containing coltan -- to say nothing of the continent's gold or diamonds. And I think all the diaspora members in the room probably felt the tug she exerted for returning and building professional capacities. Concerning the question of scale, the Ambassador’s optimism about the potential rise in negotiating power of what may become a more united Africa (as different from, say, the power of Togo or Burundi, when in negotiations, say, with the US, with a provisionally united Europe, or with China) seemed realistic enough -- if that unification continues.”
Michèle Sigg, Associate Director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, remarked: “African Union Ambassador Dr. Chihombori-Quao came to Boston University on an ambitious mission. Her first goal is to develop and solidify a friendship between the African Union and the United States that she called 'Africa’s greatest friend.' The United States was the one western power that did not show up in 1885 at the Berlin conference to acquire a piece of African territory. Her second goal is to reach out to the African diaspora in the States to counteract the ‘brain drain’ that is taking so many highly qualified African doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and scholars away from Africa where they are sorely needed. She believes that the help of the African diaspora is essential to Africa’s emergence as a unified economy in the near future.”
Other audience members voiced similar sentiments. Mr. Zadi Zokou, a film-maker whose recent documentary BlacknBlack focuses on relationships between African Americans and African immigrants, stated: "As an African from a former French colony, I was aware of the strong control France still holds over my country and its politics and economy. During her final talk, Mrs. Ambassador confirmed what I had noticed, and convinced me of the urgency for us to break the chains that still hold us into colonization."
Participants also emphasized the value of the activities of the AU Ambassador to diaspora engagement: “For the nascent African Diaspora mobilization efforts, it’s critical to have a central credible entity setting the framework and vision,” said Mr. Emmanuel Owusu of the African Bridge Network. “It’s inspiring to hear the Ambassador Chihombori-Quao at the BU Policy Forum Dinner placing much importance on the value of the African Diaspora in the US as a vital human resource for Africa’s development, and laying out strategies for their mobilization. We look forward to partnering with the Ambassador’s office on our ADEA Initiative to support the African Diaspora who are already engaged in development projects in Africa.”
Inspired and vitalized by the conversations with the AU Ambassador, the Boston University African Studies community is looking forward to new and renewed partnerships towards inclusive engagement with Africa and its Diaspora.
It is with great sadness that we report the death of our good friend and colleague Rodolfo Fattovich, who passed away in Rome on March 23, 2018. Rodolfo was Professor of Ethiopian Archaeology at the University of Naples, “L’Orientale” (formerly the Istituto Universitario l’Orientale) from 1974 until his retirement in 2014. Rodolfo’s distinguished career included archaeological fieldwork in Egypt, the Sudan, and Ethiopia. Fattovich was a pioneer of the “new era” of Ethiopian archaeology that began in the 1970s, and he produced a number of students who are now doing innovative research in the Horn and other parts of Africa. Rodolfo was a frequent visitor to the Boston University African Studies Center and Department of Archaeology, where he had long-standing research collaborations with Kathryn Bard (Aksum and Egypt) and Michael DiBlasi (Aksum). Rodolfo was a unique and unforgettable character. He will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues.