The African Studies Program turns 50 this year. Courses in African studies began at IU in 1948. A five-year Ford Foundation grant in 1961 gave Liberia scholar Gus Liebenow the support to coordinate and consolidate IU’s African offerings. The program received its first federal funding in 1965 and has earned continuous federal support since that time. That support has made IU a national and international resource for teaching African languages and culture.
Anniversary celebrations began with the opening of a gallery exhibition at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center of photographs taken by two of Africa’s most important photojournalists, Djibril Sy, from Senegal, and Jacob Otieno from East Africa. They have photographed most of Africa’s major political crises since the 1980s. Brutal images from coups and crackdowns kept their fellow Africans aware of the truth of what was happening around them. “You are warriors,” Samuel Obeng, current director of African Studies, said. “You are educators. Not even a gun can turn you away from your task.” War and violence weren’t the only subjects of these photojournalists’ lessons. The exhibit included images of celebration when President Obama came to Africa, of healing ceremonies, and of things outsiders might not notice—like the series of photographs of salt harvesters.
Life lived violently on the one hand. Life lived locally on the other. The exhibition shows us what Africans consider important to show each other. The anniversary celebration continues with lectures, reminiscences by past and present directors of the program, concerts of Ghanaian drumming and Afro Hoosier popular music. You can read more here.
IU’s connection with Africa thrives with major new projects begun or on the cusp—developing a national flagship center at IU for the teaching of Swahili, rebuilding Liberian resources for training nurses, for example, or digitizing important national land records that presently exist only in handwritten ledgers.