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The Carter G. Woodson Institute's 30th Anniversary Symposium

We at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies are excited to celebrate our Thirtieth Anniversary. Founded in 1981 as the Institute for African American Research, it was renamed a year later in honor of Virginia native, Carter G. Woodson. Armstead L. Robinson, the Institute's founding director, began his tenure with a two-fold mandate: to promote and enhance the research and teaching of African American Studies in the schools and departments of the University of Virginia and to establish a center for research in African American Studies at this major southern university, the first of Virginia's institutions of higher learning to establish an African American Studies program. Also Professor of History, Armstead Robinson held this position until his untimely death in 1994. Since then, each subsequent head—Acting Director William Jackson, Director Reginald Butler, Interim Director Scot French, Interim Director Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton, and now Director Deborah E. McDowell (2008-)—has worked to advance the Institute's founding mandate. A small, but vital institution, "the Woodson," as it is affectionately known, has always depended on the energy of a committed handful of core faculty, including Professors Roquinaldo Ferreira, Claudrena Harold, and Marlon Ross, as well as supportive faculty affiliates who have staffed its committees, mentored its fellows, advised its undergraduate majors, and taught the wide array of courses that comprise our interdisciplinary program.

Since its inception the Institute has sponsored the research of 150 pre- and post-doctoral scholars. Their work, which has appeared in numerous books and articles published by the foremost university presses and academic journals, has garnered prizes and awards. Tera Hunter, Professor of History at Princeton, won several awards for To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Harvard), including the Book of the Year Award from the International Labor History Association. Melvin Patrick Ely (College of William and Mary), won the prestigious Bancroft Prize for Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experience in Black Freedom (Random House). Most recently Parker Shipton was awarded the 2008 Melville Herskovits prize from the African Studies Association for his book, The Nature of Entrustment (Indiana), a prize which he shared with John Thornton, another Woodson alumnus, for a book the latter co-authored with Linda Heyward, entitled, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585–1660 (Cambridge). These are but a few of our former fellows whose research has earned them distinction in their fields.

In addition to our fellowship program, we have administered an interdisciplinary undergraduate major and minor in African American and African Studies, as well as a minor in African Studies. As of spring 2010, over 520 students had earned their undergraduate degrees in African American Studies. Over the years, the graduates of our program have gone on to pursue fruitful careers in a wide array of fields and professions. They have been accepted into various competitive graduate programs—at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, most recently—as well as into various professional schools. But, of course, no account—even this thumbnail sketch—of our undergraduate program, would be complete without some consideration of the energetic and influential role our students have played on Grounds these past thirty years. Their activism was crucial to the formation and development of the major forty years ago, as well as to the more recent creation of a minor in African Studies. Students figure in equally prominent ways in the contested origins of the Carter G. Woodson Institute itself.

We begin this anniversary symposium, then, with much to celebrate, much to review, and much to anticipate, not simply during this three-day program, but also as we contemplate the very future of African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia and beyond. We are pleased that many of our former and current students, fellows and faculty affiliates are coming together, joining an impressive array of participants to look back at our past and to look forward to our future.

The current symposium is the fourth in a series begun in April 2008 with "Richard Wright at 100," followed by "The Problem of Punishment: Race, Inequality, and Justice" (April 2009) and "The NAACP: A Symposium Celebrating a Century of Civil Rights" (October 2009). Unlike its predecessors, the theme of this symposium is intentionally broad and capacious, as we have hoped, since its conception, to capture both the interdisciplinarity that defines African American and African Studies, as well as its global origins and scope. In titling this symposium "African American and African Studies at work in the World," we sought to elicit diverse topics, approaches, methodologies, and interpretations of both "work" and "world." While commemorating three decades of the Woodson Institute's dedication to scholarship, research, teaching, and public outreach, the symposium provides us an occasion to explore the impact of African American and African Studies on the state of U. S. higher education, as well as the reach of these fields of study within the global community.

As ours is an Institute named for the famed historian Carter G. Woodson, it is altogether fitting that we have structured the symposium around the "pillars" of Woodson's scholarship and research, exploring their continued implications and inflections for contemporary intellectual questions and scholarly research. Broadly speaking, these pillars include Religion (The History of the Negro Church), Education (The Mis-Education of the Negro and The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861), Migration (A Century of Negro Migration), Labor and Economics (The Negro Wage Earner, with Lorenzo Greene) Africa (The African Background Outlined), and Family (Free Negro Heads of Families). Of course, these neither exhaust the scope of Woodson's scholarly occupations nor the concerns of this symposium, which addresses topics and developments Woodson could have but dimly imagined.

Scholars currently studying "the history of the Negro church" are spinning volumes on the dominant influence of mass media on various religious practices, Protestant evangelicalism, most especially. And although those who focus on "the black family" have hardly abandoned their persistent preoccupation with who sits at its "head," contemporary configurations of family have never been more fluid than now. Indeed, the new reproductive technologies of our "Genomic Age" have already begun to radically destabilize traditional conceptions of the two-parent, heterosexual nuclear family, each member connected biologically to each. While Carter G. Woodson mainly surveyed a "century of Negro migration," on an axis from the southern to the northern United States, contemporary scholars of race and migration must confront the rapid demographic shifts and movements, including but not limited to, the growth of African migration and the formation of new "African diasporas." Participants in this symposium will take up these, as well as a myriad of other questions and concerns critical to what it means to be "at work" on African American and African Studies in a rapidly-evolving "world."

The Program Committee:
Deborah McDowell, Chair
Ishraga Eltahir
Roquinaldo Ferreira
Claudrena Harold
Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton
Marlon Ross

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