gates rebuilds afro-am


Two years ago the Afro-American Studies Department Was in shambles. This year, DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates Jr. started putting the pieces together, one by one.

The result, scholars say, is far from a finished product, but it is a strong beginning.

In his first year at Harvard, Gates says, his immediate goal was "to see Afro-American Studies move from the margin to the center of intellectual life at Harvard,"

And to move his department away from the margin, Gates worked over the past year to create a cohesive program that focused on literature and culture.

Gates' longtime associate, K. Anthony Appiah, oversaw the backbone of the program--the restructuring of the undergraduate tutorial system.


Appiah, who serves as a professor of Afro-American Studies and the department's head tutor, attempted to develop a more cohesive program this year, altering the tutorial system and creating a survey course open to all undergraduates.

Appiah and Gates' efforts have won at least one scholar back to the fold.

Professor of Sociology Orlando Patterson, who at times has been critical of the Afro-Am Department, says he thinks that Gates fulfilled much of the promise he brought to the University last fall.

Patterson applauds the creation of "a program rather than just a hodgepodge of courses brought in. That's what I've always thought was necessary."

Because of the restructuring, Patterson says he now plans to cross-list his courses with Afro-Am and will be involved in the department as an affiliated faculty member.

Professor of English and American Languages Philip J. Fisher says Afro-Am is now "on the map as a great department, and as a department doing something as yet unfinished, but very ambitious."

Fisher says the stabilized department is now ready for growth out of the humanities and into other scholarly fields.

"I think it's one of the great successes of the last two years here," Fisher says. "The next step is how do you get the great sociologists, political theorists, and other components of a department like that."

But Patterson says that to branch out too far would be a misstep. The emphasis on the humanities was a deliberate choice, Patterson says--and a good one, given the limited resources available.

Patterson notes that department leaders "were not too enthusiastic about certain kinds of [joint] appointments in political science and sociology."