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Reginald Butler, director of the Woodson Institute

Rethinking African And African-American Studies: Ford Foundation Grant Will Help U.Va.'s Woodson Institute Develop New Model For Studying Race And Ethnicity

Nov. 30, 1999 -- University of Virginia humanities scholars are undertaking a major grant-funded project to develop new approaches to teaching and research in African and African-American Studies.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute, which administers the African and African-American Studies program at U.Va., has received a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to work with University faculty members and visiting scholars 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 Atlantic World

  • the creation of on-line resources that will enhance teaching and research in the field.

The Woodson Institute has been laying the intellectual foundations for a reconceptualized 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 Reginald D. Butler, an historian and director of the institute. The institute also has 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.

Butler said the call for a rethinking of the broad field of African and African-American Studies is a response to social, political, and intellectual developments that are reshaping perceptions of race and reconfiguring the organization of knowledge in the late 20th century.

African-American Studies programs emerged some twenty-five 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."

Today a new generation of scholars, steeped in the latest theoretical work on race and ethnicity, is reconsidering the traditional organizational themes of African and African-American Studies and proposing new approaches to teaching and research, Butler said.

The 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 thirty University faculty from various departments and programs to participate in the redesign of the program, beginning with the introductory African and African-American Studies courses (AAS 101 and 102). About 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.

The grant also includes funds for the creation of on-line World Wide Web resources aimed at enhancing classroom teaching in a reconceptualized African and African-American Studies program. To encourage a global perspective, these resources will be placed in "modules" corresponding to three broad areas within the African diaspora, or places of resettlement away from ancestral homelands. These 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 advisors, 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 make use of as a model. The institute also plans a multimedia reference library with books, films and music related to the new program.

The 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 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.

The Woodson Institute will work closely with other interdisciplinary programs at U.Va., such as the Atlantic World Colloquium and the Forum for Contemporary Thought, to invite guest speakers who may contribute to the new project, he added. U.Va.'s various highly regarded electronic-scholarship centers, including the Digital Media Lab of the Robertson Media Center and the Virginia Center for Digital History, will consult on the development of on-line resources.

The Ford Foundation has a long history of supporting innovative research and teaching initiatives in African-American Studies at U.Va. and other universities.

The Woodson Institute has invited a wide range of University faculty members -- including many nationally known scholars, all of whom teach courses related to African and African-American Studies -- to serve on the Ford Foundation Grant/Curriculum Steering Committee. They include:

Ellen Contini-Morava
Gertrude Fraser
Richard Handler
Jeffrey Hantman
Adria LaViolette
George Mentore

Eric Lott
Deborah McDowell
Tejumola Olaniyan
Stephen Railton

French Language and Literature
Kandioura Drame

Government and Foreign Affairs
Robert Fatton, Jr.
Matthew Holden
Paula D. McClain

Edward L. Ayers
Julian Bond
Herbert Braun
Richard Drayton
Tamara Giles-Vernick
John Mason
Joseph Miller
Brian Owensby
Dylan Penningroth

Scott DeVeaux
Kyra D. Gaunt
Michelle Kisliuk

New World Studies
A. James Arnold

Melvin N. Wilson

Religious Studies
Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton
Benjamin C. Ray

Milton Vickerman

Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese
David T. Haberly

Studies in Women and Gender
Ann Lane
Eileen Boris

Outside consultants also will work with the Woodson Institute on developing the new model for studying race and ethnicity. They include:

Rosanne Adderley, Assistant Professor of History, Tulane University

Michael A. Gomez, Professor of History, University of Georgia

Olasope O. Oyelaran, Coordinator of International Programs, Winston-Salem State University

John Thornton, Professor of History, Millersville University

Peter Wood, Professor of History, Duke University

For additional information Reginald Butler and Scot French may be reached at (804) 924-3109. The Woodson Institute's web site is

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (804) 924-6856; Katherine Jackson, (804) 924-3629

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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