African and African American Studies

Professor Tommie Shelby, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The Department of African and African American Studies brings together scholars and scholarship from many disciplines to explore the histories, societies, and cultures of African and African-descended people. The field of African and African American studies is not only interdisciplinary but also comparative and cross-cultural. Africans and people of African descent have developed cultural forms that have profoundly shaped the fine arts and popular culture in the Americas and all around the planet. Comparative and cross-cultural studies of Africa and its diaspora contribute enormously to our understanding of race and ethnicity, and ideas about race are among the central objects of study in the field of African and African American studies. In addressing the ethical, social, and political consequences of racial thinking, the African and African American studies faculty raise questions relevant to the experiences of all peoples.

The department offers two distinct courses of study: the African track and the African American track. African track concentrators come to the program with a variety of interests; e.g., the environment, public health, music, ethnic relations, religion, politics, economic development, and literature. Components of the African track include study in the African Languages Program, required courses, electives, and the option of study abroad. The department offers seminars and lecture courses on a variety of Africa-related topics. Concentrators in the African track are encouraged to take courses in a variety of departments, including history of art and architecture, music, economics, government, history, anthropology, social studies, Romance languages and literatures, and religion. Courses in the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Education, and Kennedy School of Government may also be available for concentration credit.

The African American track attracts students with an equally wide range of interests. There are many reasons students pursue African American studies. First, African American music, literature, and visual arts are significant cultural achievements worthy of study in their own right. Second, African Americans have played a crucial role in the history of the United States, participating in the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and the New Deal, and they led the struggle for equality in the second half of the twentieth century. Third, because American political life remains encumbered by racism and its historical legacy, a proper historical, sociological, and economic understanding of race relations continues to be essential for those who seek to make or evaluate public policy. Fourth, some of the social relations that have developed in countries such as the United States, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Brazil provide important examples of ethno-racial conflict, and through the study of them it is possible to gain insight into what remains a problem across the globe.

Exploring African and African American cultures requires us to explore aspects of the many other cultures and peoples that have created the mosaic of the modern world. Thus diaspora studies are integral to each track. In many parts of the Caribbean and Latin America, for example, religions and performance arts are influenced by traditional African belief systems and practices. The cultures of the African Atlantic diaspora have also developed in interaction with other peoples: the many Native American cultures; the Dutch, English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Scandinavian, Scottish, Spanish, and other European groups that came with colonists and immigrants; and with the traditions that have come with immigrants from East and South Asia.

Students who graduate with a concentration in African and African American Studies go on to pursue advanced degrees in fields such as history, literature, political science, and sociology. They also go on to work in a wide variety of careers in education, business, medicine, entertainment, law, public policy, and the arts and sciences.

REQUIREMENTS

African Studies Track

Basic Requirements: 12 half-courses

  1. Required Courses:

    1. AAAS 11: Introduction to African Studies. Students should take this course by the end of their sophomore year. (Students who transfer into the concentration after their sophomore year will be permitted to substitute for AAAS 11 a course in African studies they have already taken, but only if they can demonstrate to the director of undergraduate studies that they have established a basic familiarity with the material covered in AAAS 11.)

    2. One survey course in African history.

    3. Two half-courses in African studies, one in the social sciences and one in the humanities. (These courses need not be given in the department.)

    4. Three additional half-courses in African studies taken as electives. These may include relevant courses from the Program in General Education and the Core Curriculum. In selecting these three half-courses, students should declare a focus. Some students will declare a disciplinary focus or more general focus in the humanities or social sciences; others will choose an area focus or thematic methodological or comparative focus (e.g., comparative literary or historical analysis, comparative economic and political development). These are not the only possibilities, but students are required to make a coherent case for the course of electives they choose.

    5. Two half-courses of an African language. The language requirement is met by attaining a level of competence equivalent to two half-courses of African language study. Students who can show evidence at the beginning of their concentration that they have a level of competence equivalent to two half-courses of African language study will be required to substitute other courses offered in the department. Language courses taken outside of Harvard may be substituted upon approval by the director of the African language program and the director of undergraduate studies.

    6. One half-course in African American studies (US focused).

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore Tutorial: AAAS 97: Topics in Africa and Its Diaspora, a half-course that focuses on Africa and/or its (non-North-American) diaspora. (Restricted to concentrators and others by permission of instructor.)

    2. Junior Tutorial: AAAS 98a, a half-course individual tutorial that focuses on an African studies topic.

  3. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: No course used for the concentration may be taken Pass/Fail, with the exception of AAAS 99.

    2. Teaching: Concentrators may be eligible to obtain certification to teach in middle or secondary schools in Massachusetts and states with which Massachusetts has reciprocity. See information about the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP).

    3. Students can take AAAS 11 and 97 in succeeding terms starting in their freshman or sophomore year, and then proceed to do individual tutorials in the junior year. Nevertheless, the tutorial program is designed to allow great flexibility; students who declare late may take AAAS 97 concurrently with AAAS 11, for example. Concentrators may be permitted to substitute for AAAS 11, if they declare late.

    4. Study Abroad: Students are encouraged to explore the options available for study in Africa, either during the regular academic year or the summer. It is recommended that students study abroad in the spring term of their junior year. In either case they must get approval of their plan of study from the department's director of undergraduate studies.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 12-14 half-courses

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.

  2. Tutorials:

  3.      a-b. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. Senior year: One year of AAAS 99: Senior Thesis Workshop required (see below).
  4. Thesis: Required for eligibility for High and Highest Honors. A student who has not written a thesis but has attained a GPA of at least 3.9 in twelve concentration courses may be recommended for Honors (but not High or Highest Honors).

  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.

Requirements for Joint Concentration: 8 half-courses (including thesis)

  1. Required courses:

    1. AAAS 11: Introduction to African Studies.

    2. One survey course in African history.

    3. Two half-courses of an African language. Students who intend to conduct thesis research in Africa are encouraged to continue African language instruction beyond the first year.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore Tutorial: AAAS 97: Topics in Africa and Its Diaspora, a half-course that focuses on Africa and/or its (non-North-American) diaspora. (Restricted to concentrators and others by permission of instructor.)

    2. Junior Tutorial: AAAS 98a or junior tutorial equivalent in primary concentration if African and African American Studies is the allied concentration.

    3. Senior year: One year of AAAS 99 required, if African and African American Studies is the primary concentration. If African and African American Studies is the allied concentration, the student should register for the thesis tutorial in the primary concentration.

  3. Thesis: Required. Thesis must be related to both fields. Both departments will participate in evaluating the thesis.

  4. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.

African American Studies Track

Basic Requirements: 12 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. AAAS 10: Introduction to African American Studies. Students should take this course by the end of their sophomore year. (Students who transfer into the concentration after their sophomore year will be permitted to substitute for AAAS 10 a course in African and African American studies they have already taken, but only if they can demonstrate to the director of undergraduate studies that they have established a basic familiarity with the materials covered in AAAS 10.)

    2. AAAS 118: African American History from the Slave Trade to 1900.

    3. AAAS 131: African American Literature to the 1920s.

    4. Two half-courses in African American studies, one in the humanities and one in the social sciences. (These courses need not be given in the department.)

    5. Four additional half-courses in African American studies taken as electives. These may include relevant courses from the Program in General Education and the Core Curriculum. In picking these four half-courses students should declare a focus. Some students will declare a disciplinary focus or a more general focus in humanities or social sciences; others will choose an area of focus in African American or Afro-Caribbean cultures; still others will elect a thematic, methodological, or comparative focus (e.g., comparative ethnic studies, comparative literary analysis, urban studies). These are not the only possibilities, but students should be prepared to make a coherent case for the course of electives they select.

    6. One half-course in African studies.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore Tutorial: AAAS 97: Topics in Africa and Its Diaspora, a half-course that focuses on Africa and/or its (non-North-American) diaspora.

    2. Junior Tutorial: AAAS 98, a half-course individual tutorial that focuses on an African American studies topic.

  3. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: No course used for the concentration may be taken Pass/Fail, with the exception of AAAS 99.

    2. Teaching: Concentrators may be eligible to obtain certification to teach in middle or secondary schools in Massachusetts and states with which Massachusetts has reciprocity. See information about the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP).

    3. Students can take AAAS 10 and 97 in succeeding terms starting in their freshman or sophomore year, and then proceed to do individual tutorials in the junior year. Nevertheless, the tutorial program is designed to allow great flexibility; students who declare late may take AAAS 97 concurrently with AAAS 10, for example. Concentrators may be permitted to substitute for AAAS 10, if they declare late.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 12-14 half-courses

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.

  2. Tutorials:

  3.      a-b. Same as Basic Requirements.

    1. Senior year: One year of AAAS 99: Senior Thesis Workshop required (see below).

  4. Thesis: Required for eligibility for High and Highest Honors. A student who has not written a thesis but has attained a GPA of at least 3.9 in twelve concentration courses may be recommended for Honors (but not High or Highest Honors).

  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.

Requirements for Joint Concentration (Honors only) 8 half-courses (including thesis)

  1. Required courses:

    1. AAAS 10: Introduction to African American Studies.

    2. AAAS 118: African American History from the Slave Trade to 1900.

    3. Two half-courses in African American studies, one in the humanities and one in the social sciences.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore Tutorial: AAAS 97: Topics in Africa and Its Diaspora, a half-course that focuses on Africa and/or its (non-North-American) diaspora.

    2. Junior Tutorial: AAAS 98 or junior tutorial equivalent in primary concentration if African and African American Studies is the allied concentration.

    3. Senior year: One year of AAAS 99 required, if African and African American Studies is the primary concentration. If African and African American Studies is the allied concentration, the student should register for the thesis tutorial in the primary concentration.

  3. Thesis: Required. Thesis must be related to both fields. Both departments will participate in evaluating the thesis.

  4. Other information:

    1. Pass/Fail: No course used for the concentration may be taken Pass/Fail, with the exception of AAAS 99.

    2. Students can take AAAS 10/11, and 97 in succeeding terms starting in their freshman or sophomore year, and then proceed to do individual tutorials in the junior year. Nevertheless, the tutorial program is designed to allow great flexibility: students who declare late may take AAAS 97 concurrently with AAAS 10/11, for example. Concentrators may be permitted to substitute for AAAS 10/11, if they declare late.

ADVISING

Beginning in the sophomore year, concentrators will work directly with their individual advisers and with the director of undergraduate studies to create a plan of study that meets their academic interests. The department requires that students develop a focus as part of their declaration of the concentration. This plan of study will take cognizance of disciplinary requirements and the option of study abroad, yet it will be flexible enough to accommodate students in pursuit of their own specific intellectual interests. At the end of the sophomore year, students are asked to submit a 1-2 page Concentration Focus Statement describing the main area(s) of study they wish to explore. The director of undergraduate studies will meet with students, if they request, in order to assist them in the formulation of the statement of concentration focus.

For up-to-date information on advising in African and African American Studies, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

RESOURCES

The Franklin D. and Wendy F. Raines Library, in the Department of African and African American Studies, is located on the second floor of the Barker Center and contains a non-circulating collection of important books, academic and popular periodicals, and offprints, as well as an extensive audio and video collection. Past undergraduate theses are also available. An important resource for African Studies concentrators is the Committee on African Studies, which offers summer travel grants to assist Harvard juniors with senior honors thesis research. Please see their website for more information. They can also guide you to resources in teaching, research, and advisory work on Africa in a number of departments, centers, and institutes at Harvard. Harvard’s Office of International Programs has approved study abroad in eleven African countries. To plan their term in Africa students should meet with the Director of the Office of International Programs.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Students should consult the departmental website, which includes information about concentration rules, the senior thesis, model programs, faculty interests, and departmental resources. Additional information is available from the director of undergraduate studies (617-496-8546, tshelby@fas.harvard.edu) or the undergraduate and graduate program officer (617-384-7767, cloutier@fas.harvard.edu). The department is located on the second floor of the Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street.

CORE AND GENERAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS

Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study A

Literature and Arts B

Historical Study B

Moral Reasoning

Literature and Arts A

Quantitative Reasoning

Literature and Arts C

Science A

 

Science B

 

Social Analysis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see The Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

African and African American Studies

11

9

11

15

21

African and African American Studies + another field

1

2

6

2

3

Another field and African + African American Studies

16

15

10

9

8