Is Africa Not Foreign?

This is the sort of news that will depress Kwabena L. Blankson '01. Blankson is petitioning for History 1907, "West Africa from 1800 to the Present," to count for Historical Studies B credit. He writes, "I realize that many courses have been petitioned without success but I feel that my reasons...are quite compelling," and then recounts how no course on Africa is currently available in either Foreign Cultures or Historical Studies. "If the purpose of the Core is to 'broadly educate every Harvard graduate,'" Blankson writes, "not having an African history course of any sort denies students the opportunity to truly broaden their horizons and learn about a continent that they likely know nothing about."

Lewis wrote in her e-mail message that "the Foreign Cultures committee is hoping to expand its offerings to include courses on Africa and the Pacific Islands," but students are left with the question of when and the Core Program may be left with the question of how. We as undergraduates have four years here; there is not time for more committee reports, more recommendations.


The options seem clear enough. Allow departmental classes to count toward Core areas--specifically, allow selected courses in the history, language and anthropology departments count toward Foreign Cultures. Remove the foreign-language courses from the Core Program's coddling; they will survive as long as they can count. Turn those resources toward course on Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands and the indigenous and non-English cultures in North America. Make these changes now, for next year.

Counting more courses, on a broad range of subjects, will not just help students like Blankson who want to study regions currently ignored. It will also help the morale of students and professors throughout the Core as overcrowded classes will slim down as students pursue other options.

"I was indeed quite surprised by the turnout for my class, Foreign Cultures 76," Rentschler told me in a voice-mail message. The initial excitement faded into administrative nightmare: "I had no recourse but to lottery my class," Rentschler said. He explained that the nature of the course material requires access to the film archives. The class was also handicapped by another Harvard shortcoming: no film studies program, so few qualified teaching fellows. "I really had to be very, very careful and vigilant about finding people who would be qualified to teach a film course," Rentschler said.

To my final question--about what the Core Program should do to make Foreign Cultures classes go smoothly for students and Faculty--Professor Rentschler said, "I don't have an answer altogether."

Rentschler said he has changed his plans and will offer the course again next spring and has "prioritized all those students who wanted to get in and were not able to this time." In the face of the Core's troubles, one can only hope this will be enough.


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