The Institute for African Studies, Columbia University, New York

The following is paraphrased (ever so slightly) from the answers kindly provided by the IAS through Zinash Seyoum. 

The Institute for African Studies of Columbia University (IAS) was founded in 1959 to serve as Columbia University's central forum and resource for African-centered academic research, program development, curriculum administration, student advisement, and local, national and international dialogue, as well as action on the region.
There was not, as far we know, a specific scholar or administrator behind the founding of the institute. It was part of an institutional reaction to post-World War II, characterized by the rise of nationalism in the former colonial empire, the challenges of nation building, along with development, and the Cold War.An environment that called for a production of knowledge to serve government policies and foreign relations at bilateral and multilateral levels emerged. At the beginning of John F. Kennedy’s administration, the US government launched an ambitious program to support the establishment of "area studies;" IAS was created in that context. Some scholars, such as Immanuel Wallerstein, played a key role in framing the  discussion about "area studies,"  along with "Third World Dependency Theories," launching the IAS.
IAS prepares Africanist scholars and practitioners for careers in development, diplomacy, business, governance, journalism, law, human rights, academic research and teaching, through its undergraduate and graduate programs. At the undergraduate level, students pursue the African studies major, which includes an intensive language study, a semester abroad in Africa, and a supervised research paper. The Africa regional specialization at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) remains one of the more popular specializations among graduate students. IAS also hosts conferences, seminars, films and lecture series, bringing together faculty and students with widely varying interests and disciplinary backgrounds. IAS partners with departments, centers, institutes, and student groups across the university to reach new audiences and facilitate an exchange of knowledge about Africa. In addition, IAS administers the Leitner Family Research and Language Fellowship that allows Columbia students to study in Africa during their summer recess. IAS also is a research and academic partner with Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Together, the key players from both institutions administer research initiatives, as well as a dual certificate program in African studies, enabling students to study Africa in France for one semester. The shared research initiatives explore citizenship in Africa and pursued research on recent elections in the region.

Key team members
The day-to-day affairs of the Institute are conducted by Professor Mamadou Diouf (History and MESAAS), who is the director (on leave 2012-2013), Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne (French), who is serving as this year’s acting director, and Dr. Jinny Prais, the assistant director. The students who are active in the center’s activities include: Zinash Seyoum (SIPA), Sarah Sinidal (SIPA), Marina Saleeb (SIPA), and Sam Reichman (Columbia College).
Faculty who have been instrumental in our programs and academics include: Mahmood Mamdani (MESAAS and Anthropology), Gregory Mann (History), Hlonipha Mokoena (Anthropology), Mariame Sy (MESAAS), Abdul Nanji (MESAAS), Rhiannon Stephens (History), Yuusuf Caruso (African Studies Librarian), George Bond (Teacher’s College) and Brian Larkin (Anthropology).

Goals for the future
IAS has two key goals for the year. First, the institute seeks to consolidate their international networks in order to develop an exchange program with French African studies programs and African universities for both students and faculty. Secondly, IAS is developing research and outreach programs in our "neighborhood.” Columbia University is part of Harlem, which consists of not only a large African-American community, but also contains a very large West African community. We would like to focus our work on contributing, through research, public debate sessions, art exhibitions, music recital, food festivals, and other community involvement projects, to place Africans in conversation with Americans in their community, fellow Africans, along with the larger American public by exploring and working through their connections with the region.Some research has been conducted by present and former members of our faculty in each of these issues and continues to be a pursuit of the institute today.
The offices of the Institute for African Studies are located at Knox Hall on 122nd Street, New York, NY.

A sampling of programs dating back to 2004: past author, film, and lecture series, and forums can be found at

Away From Africa post about West African community in Harlem.
Upcoming IAS events include:

Worlds of Work in Africa Series
Give a Man a Fish: The New Politics of Distribution in Southern Africa
(and Beyond)
A lecture by James Ferguson, Stanford University
Introduced by Frederick Cooper, New York University
Tuesday, October 9, 4-6pm
Event Location: 509 Knox Hall
Narratives of neoliberalism’s triumph have tended to obscure from view a startling fact about the contemporary world: that, across the global South, recent years have seen not a retreat or rollback of the welfare state, but rather an explosion of new forms of welfare and social assistance.  Programs of “cash transfers” to “the poor” have become central to both the politics and the political economies of many developing countries.  South Africa is one dramatic case where recent expansion of a system of old age pensions and child support grants means that nearly 30 percent of the entire population will soon be receiving some sort of monthly state social assistance.  These programs raise fascinating questions about the role of welfare in societies where wage labor has never occupied the dominant role it played in the “classical” welfare states of the North.  They may also open possibilities for new kinds of politics.  This paper explores the recent campaigns for a “Basic Income Grant” (BIG) in South Africa and Namibia as a window onto these new political possibilities.  It argues that a new politics of distribution is emerging, in which citizenship-based claims to a share of national wealth are beginning to be recognizable as an alternative to both the paradigm of the market (where goods are received in exchange for labor) and that of “the gift” (where social transfers to those excluded from wage labor have been conceived as aid, charity, or assistance).  Beyond the binary of market and gift, the idea of “a rightful share”, it is suggested, opens possibilities for radical political claims that could go far beyond the limited, technocratic aim of ameliorating poverty that dominates existing cash transfer programs.

A conversation on labor, livelihood, and the politics of distribution with James Ferguson and Frederick Cooper
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 4-6pm
Event Location: 509 Knox Hall

University Seminar on Contemporary Africa
Apartheid's Art School: Art, Education and the Beauty of 20th Century South Africa
Professor Daniel Magaziner, Yale University
This paper considers the trajectory of the education of African art teachers both before and during apartheid in South Africa. It argues that although the government intended art education to promote the notion of African difference, art educators saw the study and teaching of art as essential to the development of creative, modern individuals. Rather than experience apartheid schools as simply oppressive, these teachers and their students saw them as a potentially privileged forum, where a new African subject was under development. Apartheid's Art School thus asks new questions about 20th century South African intellectual history and attempts to reorder - or break apart - old binaries about the nature of social and intellectual experience under apartheid.
Columbia University Faculty House
Friday, October 19th
6:00 PM-8:00 PM

"Lucas the Baboon Boy, and Other Stories: Towards a History of Popular Racism in South Africa, 1910-1948."
Professor Roger Levine, Sewanee University
Columbia University Faculty House
October 30th
6pm - 8pm  

Ifriqiyya Seminar
"Arab-led Slavery of Africans: The Story of a Discourse.."
Dahlia Gubara, Department of History, Columbia University
Wednesday, October 31st
208 Knox Hall
12pm - 2pm
"Theology of Disorder : Islam, Order and Disorder in the XIXth Century Sahara"
Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh
Wednesday, November 28th
208 Knox Hall
12pm - 2pm

Worlds of Work in Africa Series
Slavery By Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique
A talk by Eric Allina
Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 4-6 p.m
Event location: 208 Knox Hall

Democracy and Elections in Africa Series
Jerry Rawlings and the debate About Political Leadership in Ghana: A Backdrop to the 2012 Elections
A talk by Paul Nugent
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 4-6 p.m.
Event location: TBD


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