The Program trains students to conduct in-depth historical studies of Africa and the African Diaspora. In addition to providing an introduction to current historiographical debates, the Program encourages students to challenge the conceptual boundaries of their chosen fields through both research seminars and extended periods of fieldwork in Africa. An emphasis on methodological innovation and the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the past prepares students to produce original scholarship of the highest quality.
The faculty’s wide-ranging interests and areas of specialization allow students to pursue research across a broad chronological and geographical spectrum. While students receive specialized training in precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history, the Program emphasizes the benefits of blurring this conventional periodization of the African past. A critical engagement with precolonial history provides an appropriate departure point for writing histories of the 20th century that draw upon ideas and perspectives grounded in Africa. Similarly, a thorough examination of the dynamics of colonial rule is crucial for understanding the production of the sources historians draw upon to write histories of considerably earlier periods. The program also encourages students to engage with 20th- and 21st-century Africa, and with African participation in, and influence on, the global world.
The history of health, medicine, and science in Africa and the African Diaspora is an area of special strength in the program. The Department of History includes faculty whose research interests covers a wide variety of topics in this field: Neil Kodesh; James Sweet; Gregg Mitman; Emily Callaci; Pablo Gomez; and Richard Keller. Recent initiatives include an international conference on Health and Science in the African World hosted by the African Studies Program in spring 2016, and a thematic cluster on 'One Health' and the History of Infectious Disease Research supported by the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies. The UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute also offers a host of opportunities for graduate students to participate in ongoing debate and discussion.
Another connection emphasized by the Program involves the study of African Diaspora, colonialism and globalization (ie new forms of connections between Africa and the world). The concentration in African Diaspora history examines the linkages between the history of peoples of Africa and peoples of African descent in the larger world, recognizing the centrality of Africa to an understanding of the nature and evolution of black life and cultures in the construction of global history. Diaspora begins in Africa, with the creation and recreation of peoples responding to historical imperatives of the continent—trade, war, famine, new economic opportunities, etc. But Africa has never been isolated from the larger world. Africa and Africans were crucial in the development and proliferation of Islam, from the 7th century to the present day. Prior to 1820, roughly three out of every four immigrants to the Americas was African. And in recent years, tens of thousands of Africans have immigrated to Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. The implications of these histories are only now beginning to be fully understood.