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Contemporary arc of an extensive tradition

Course Description:

This course is an introduction to the discipline of Africana Studies—a discipline which constitutes the contemporary arc of an extensive tradition of Africans Studying. This means intellectual work approached under this umbrage denotes the active, living, genealogy of African deep thought.[4] Here we study, trace, and enliven the certain “ideals of life” that African people have contributed to the world in order to illuminate not only where humanity has been, but where it might go.[5] Clearly, such a discussion must include African and African descended people, but it must also be approached on their own cultural terms. The latter is what separates Africana Studies as a discrete knowledge complex, by emphatically employing and recognizing its distinct intellectual genealogy, its organizing logic, and its unique methodologies for extracting meaning from existence. Such techniques recognize the cultural unity of Africa, while understanding its improvisational nature, with an eye toward (re)establishing African ideas as a point of departure for understanding all phenomena. From this orientation, this course will examine the lives of a number of recognizable thinkers of African descent involved in the reclamation of African humanity in the face of the hegemony of European modernity—or the contemporary the tradition of Africans Studying. We will explore the explosion of this conversation in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States (though it was neither begun at this point nor not limited to the US) leading to the birth of Black Studies departments in 1968.

 Course Objectives:

  1. Provide an in-depth and comprehensive introduction to the discipline of Africana Studies: its history, traditions, perspectives, aims, and future directions.
  2. Explore the development of an intelligentsia of African and African descended thinkers and the evolution of their ideas.
  3. Expose students to the dynamism inherent in studies of the Africana experience, while developing a working bibliography of these studies of the Africana experience.
  4. Develop a community of thinkers and junior scholars that would attempt to contribute to a process of rethinking and reorienting what it means to do intellectual work within the discipline.

Ground Rules of African Intellectual Work:

Our intellectual space will be governed largely by a set of guidelines that seek to recreate safe spaces to engage Africana thought and relevant discourse and scholarly productions that are enlivened by its centrality. These rules were developed by educators associated with the Freedom Schools in 2003, and are in use in a number of courses/programs throughout the world.[6] They are:

  1. Be Present: Presence means that by virtue of our being here, we are capable and endowed with the ability to do intellectual work. It is the initial step needed in order to capture our intellectual energies toward being and doing. Vertical presence means bringing awareness of the long-arc of Africana humanity in order to inform a topic or discussion. Horizontal presence means bringing to the space an awareness of the contemporary situations and how they manifest in particular topics or issues.[7]
  2. Read and Write: The active component of intellectual work. Presence is not enough; in order to justify our being here, we must engage (listen to) with what has been said, in order to contribute (inscribe) our original contributions to the ongoing conversation. Africana Studies intellectuals must consistently read and re-read and write and re-write to understand and build upon our presence.[8]
  3. Speak to After: Lastly, the objective of intellectual work is to be able to produce contributions that not only speak to our intellectual memories and our current situations, but to “after,” or the future. Work should be approached to ensure such a quality, that it is lasting. [9]

Required Texts:

BIONDI, MARTHA. The Black Revolution on Campus. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.

HOLLOWAY, JONATHAN SCOTT. Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris, Jr., E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph J. Bunche, 1919-1941. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2002.

Recommended Texts:

KELLEY, ROBIN D.G. AND EARL LEWIS, eds. To Make Our World Anew: Volume Two: A History of African Americans since 1880. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

NORMENT, JR., NATHANIEL, ed. The African American Studies Reader. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2007.

Instructional Methods and Tools:

  1. We will employ the use of the lecture and discussion model.
  2. We will also use Blackboard to disseminate some reading materials and to archive certain assignments.
  3. This course makes use of the resources of Howard University Libraries.

Course Requirements and Evaluation:

Mbongi Forms (20) (20 pts.)

The term “mbongi” is from the Kongo group of West Central Africa and means literally, “house without rooms.”[10] In traditional Bantu societies, the mbongi (or boko, lusanga, yemba, and/or kioto) is the center for the study of cultural and social issues.[11] Our meetings every week will constitute such a space, where engagement with Africana is open and free. Our “house without rooms” will for our time together be our encounter with the course materials. Students will be required to complete weekly Mbongi forms in order to gauge their engagement with the reading material and classroom experience. These forms will also serve as a way to provide feedback to the instructor in terms of course content, questions, etc. They essentially serve the purpose of gauging your classroom participation, and should be completed during or immediately after our class period. These must be turned in at the end of class each session. Please see the appendix for the sample form.

Review Essays (2) (30 pts. total)

For this assignment you will produce two original reviews of the required texts (i.e. Biondi’s and Holloway’s books) for this class. The objective of your essay will be to develop an analysis around the impact, relevance, and continued importance of one or more ideas (concepts) advanced in each text. This review should consist of an 1) introduction of your essay, inclusive of a coherent thesis statement, followed by 2) a summary and reconstruction of the author’s use of the concept you are reviewing and analyzing, 3) a series of paragraphs that discuss its impact and relevance within the context of outside scholarship and world events, and 4) a conclusion which outlines implications for further research. You will be judged on your ability to construct a thesis and your ability to support that argument. For example, you may want to argue that one of the texts, in that it shows that racial oppression was a factor in academia in the 1940s, helps us better understand the impact of race today. Whatever idea you choose to focus upon[12], you must first show that it is garnered from the text, by reconstructing the author’s presentation of it, and then using outside sources, provide support for your contentions. I expect no less than five additional sources (books, scholarly articles, and magazine/newspaper articles will be given the highest weight) for these essays. The essays should be 8-10 pages in length. If you are unsure about a topic idea or want to discuss your essays with me, you are welcome to do so. I also encourage utilizing the resources of the Writing Center (Locke Hall, first floor). Please see the Writing Rubric below for more details on how you will be evaluated and for formatting guidelines.

Due Dates:

Confronting the Veil Essay – October 22, 2014

The Black Revolution on Campus Essay- December 4, 2014

E-185 Library Project (20 pts.)

Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African and American Studies at Duke University, recently wrote a short blog piece about his experiences of being immersed in the collected resources of “The Black Section.” E-185 is the Library of Congress catalog section for sources related to the African American experience. Neal’s blog post showed that before there were search engines, e-resources, and other technological advances, one had to spend considerable time in the stacks. For him and many others of earlier generations, one’s consciousness and awareness of an extended intellectual tradition began in these sorts of spaces.[13] Here at Howard, we are blessed to house a major repository of the important conversations that have been had around the broad Africana experience in both the world-renowned Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and among the stacks in Founders Library, as well as other libraries, not to mention the walking libraries (elders). This project will introduce you to the wide array of ideas, experiences, and wisdom found within the stacks of E-185 (as well as other sections) of the library. It is aimed at orienting you to the world of library research. It may be completed in groups.

Option #1

The first option requires you to complete the following activities:

  1. Visit the E-185 section of Howard University’s Founders Library.
  2. Select at random three books that you have never read.
  3. For each book, write down the call number, the author, title, date of publication, place of publication, and publisher.
  4. Read at least the preface and introduction of each text.
  5. Summarize the main thesis of the author. Note any similarities between our course content (lectures, reading, etc.) and ideas that may be present in the text.
  6. For each text, select a footnote or reference and write down one other source that the author deems important to his or her analysis.
  7. Using library resources, locate that source and briefly summarize its main thesis.
  8. Collect your findings and then create a narrative about your experiences: What did you learn? Were there any books that you came across that you have never heard of? Do you think that you would have come across these sources without utilizing library resources? How was this project different from using search engines to conduct research?

Option #2

  1. Select a topic covered in a particular week.
  2. Using library sources, locate the section of the library which houses resources similar to that topic. [One way to do this is to locate that week’s reading in the library; similar sources will be housed on the same shelf].
  3. Select three of these resources.
  4. For each book, write down the call number, the author, title, date of publication, place of publication, and publisher.
  5. Read at least the preface and introduction of each text.
  6. Summarize the main thesis of the author.
  7. Discuss the similarities and differences between this author’s ideas and/or thesis and the ideas and/or thesis of the author selected in our course’s reading materials.
  8. Collect your findings and create a narrative about your experiences: What did you learn? Were there any books that you came across that you have never heard of? Do you think that you would have come across these sources without utilizing library resources? How was this project different from using search engines to conduct research?

Option #3

  1. Visit the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center’s Website:
  2. Browse the collections and/or catalog (the manuscript division, the library division, the Oral History collection, and the HU archives).
  3. Select a collection or archive that is of interest to you and/or one that might be relevant to our course content. (Examples: E. Franklin Frazier Papers, Howard University Faculty Archives [Library Division], archives of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History)
  4. Make an appointment with the Center to view these materials.
  5. Upon viewing the materials, develop narrative about your experiences: What did you learn? What was it like to engage in primary research? What unique insights did you uncover about your topic that would have likely not been evident in secondary research?

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