will help Woodson Institute map new curricula focusing on race
African and African-American studies
humanities scholars are undertaking a major grant-funded project
to develop new approaches to teaching and research in African
and African-American Studies.
Carter G. Woodson
Institute, which administers the African and African-American
Studies program, has received a three-year, $250,000 grant from
the Ford Foundation, which has a long history of supporting innovative
research and teaching initiatives in African-American Studies
at U.Va. and other universities. Working with a wide range of
faculty members and visiting scholars, the institute will focus
on three related initiatives:
the development of a model undergraduate program;
the establishment of a postdoctoral research center devoted
to studies of race, ethnicity and society in Africa and the
the creation of online resources that will enhance teaching
and research in the field.
Collections Digital Center, Alderman Library
Africa and Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade teaching module will
include digitized historical maps, as shown, with magnified
details for closer examination.
Woodson Institute has been laying the intellectual foundations
for reconceptualizing the African and African-American Studies
program over the last two years through an ongoing interdepartmental
faculty and graduate seminar, "Changing Cultures of Race
in the Modern World," said historian and institute director
Reginald D. Butler. The institute also recently hosted an annual
summer seminar, "Rethinking African-American Studies: New
Approaches to Teaching and Research," with scholars from
small liberal arts colleges and historically black colleges and
universities in the mid-Atlantic region.
said the call for a rethinking of the broad field of African and
African-American Studies follows social, political and intellectual
Studies programs emerged some 25 years ago in response to the
social and political dynamics of the African anti-colonial and
American civil rights movements, he said. "Scholar-activists
developed innovative courses that centered on the history and
culture of Africans and African Americans, from slavery to freedom.
Their work challenged dominant narratives of racial, regional
and national identity but left the history of race, as a shifting
social category, largely unexamined."
a new generation of scholars, steeped in the latest theoretical
work on race and ethnicity, is reconsidering the traditional organizational
themes and pedagogical assumptions of African and African-American
Studies, Butler said.
typical African-American Studies survey course, he noted, follows
a linear historical narrative that moves from Africa and the origins
of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to America and the black freedom
struggles that culminate in the 20th-century Civil Rights movement.
"A reconceptualized course, taught from an interdisciplinary
and global perspective, might compare the diverse cultures and
histories of peoples of African descent across time and space,
with no fixed point of origin or destination. Instructors would
be free to focus on subjects that might not fit within the traditional
narrative, such as Afro-Brazilian culture or West Indian independence
movements," Butler said.
Ford Foundation grant provides funding for a broadly collaborative
re-examination of the African and African-American Studies curriculum
at U.Va. The Woodson Institute has invited five outside consultants
and more than 30 University faculty from 12 departments to participate
in the redesign of the program, beginning with the introductory
African and African-American Studies courses (AAS 101 and 102).
It is virtually impossible, Butler said, for a single faculty
member to cover adequately the wide range of subject matter deemed
relevant to the reconceptualized field. The solution lies in greater
faculty collaboration in the teaching of the introductory courses,
he said. Starting next semester, these courses will be team-taught,
with lectures given by U.Va. faculty, Woodson postdoctoral fellows
and visiting scholars. A faculty coordinator will lecture on key
topics, supervise teaching assistants, and ensure overall thematic
50 undergraduates currently major in African-American studies
at U.Va. but many times that number take some of the wide range
of courses offered as part of their liberal arts education.
grant also includes funds for the creation of online resources
aimed at enhancing classroom teaching. To encourage a global perspective,
these resources will be organized as "modules² corresponding
to three broad areas within the African diaspora, or places of
resettlement away from ancestral homelands. The areas of study
will be Africa and the trans-Atlantic slave trade; South America,
Central America and the Caribbean; and North America.
To be developed in close collaboration with participating faculty
members and technical advisers, each module will include syllabi,
reference tools, databases and digitized texts that teachers may
use in developing courses, writing lectures or leading discussions.
Scot French, the institute's assistant director, will coordinate
this interdepartmental teaching and technology initiative, which
will eventually be available on the World Wide Web for other institutions
to use as a model. The institute also plans a multimedia reference
library with books, films and music related to the new program.
U.Va.'s Virginia Center for Digital History and the Digital Media
Lab of the Robertson Media Center will consult on the development
of online resources.
Ford Foundation grant also provides for the establishment of a
Center for Advanced Studies of Race, Ethnicity and Society in
Africa and the Atlantic World, housed at the Woodson Institute.
The term Atlantic World is used to emphasize historical connections
between Africa, Europe and the New World that continue to shape
social and cultural transactions of the late 20th century. The
center will award three one-year postdoctoral fellowships to scholars
whose work on race and ethnicity in Africa and the diaspora will
contribute to the reconceptualization of the African and African-American
Studies program, Butler said.
Woodson Institute will work closely with other interdisciplinary
seminars at U.Va., such as the Forum for Contemporary Thought
and the Atlantic World Colloquium, which looks at the interactions
of people originally from or living in Europe, Africa, the Americas
and the Caribbean, to invite guest speakers who may contribute
to the new project, he added.