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Dept. of Education Awards Committee on African Studies Grant

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By Alyssa L. Spitzer, Harvard Crimson

The University’s Committee on African Studies earned $2.5 million dollars and gained national recognition when the Department of Education designated the area of study as a National Resource Center in July.

This designation is the “holy grail” of area study grants, according to Caroline Elkins, history professor and chair of the Standing Committees on African and Ethnic Studies.

The designation and its accompanying Title 6 grant were allotted to 10 universities around the country for a four-year term, recognizing those universities’ engagement with African studies.

With the new funds, Harvard’s committee will expand its study abroad offerings, revamp courses, and expand its language offerings, according to Elkins.

For nearly a decade, the University has been expanding its course offerings in African studies; it now offers 300 courses pertaining to Africa and instruction in 31 African languages, making its program the most extensive in the country, according to Elkins.

When the University first began to expand its course offerings, it “got letters from embassies in Washington D.C. who were thrilled that Harvard was teaching languages that back in Africa had been deprivileged by English and French,” History Professor and Professor of African and African American Studies Emmanuel Akyeampong said.

African immigration to the Boston area has been on the upswing over the past two decades, he added, and the University has made efforts to incorporate these growing communities into its coursework through a social engagement program. Students travel to communities near campus and practice the African language they are studying with native speakers “before even going to Africa,” according to Akyeampong.

“The National Resource Center and the Title 6 will enable us to step up and scale up these things in ways that become more nationally visible,” he said.

While Elkins said the grant application, due in March, was the culmination of nine months of data-gathering by individuals throughout the University, Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Studies, described Elkins as “the mastermind who got this whole thing working.”

The University applied unsuccessfully for the designation in 2006, Elkins said.

The grants have their origin in American foreign policy interests, according to Akyeampong. After World War II, Africa “was becoming independent…and the United States needed to learn very quickly about this huge country and what was happening there,” he said. “And one way they did that was promoting African studies in American universities.”

“We are already have the best African language program in the world,” Elkins said, “and it is only going to get better.”

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Written by Symphony

September 4, 2010 at 7:29 am

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