Af-Am To Merge With African Studies

The Faculty Council approved an initiative yesterday to combine the Department of Afro-American Studies and the Committee for African Studies into one department.

Pending a vote of the full Faculty next month, the African and Afro-American Studies Department will be open to concentrators in the fall of 2004.

The move reflects an expanding interest in African studies among students and professors and brings a long-awaited merger one step closer to realization, department administrators said yesterday.

“It is a major development at Harvard; many of us think it’s long overdue,” said an ebullient Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., chair of the department of Afro-American studies. “Just as the formation of the Afro-American studies department led to a rebirth of the field, we hope that the formation of this as an undergraduate program will bring a lot of attention to African studies. It needs all the attention it can get.”

He said he has been pushing for this initiative since he arrived in Cambridge in 1991.


Gates, who was seriously considering an offer from Princeton University last fall, said yesterday that the administration’s commitment to the merger was a “key factor” in his decision to remain at Harvard.

“It is possible that, had I left, the momentum that we had built up might have been delayed a bit,” Gates said. “I wanted to do this. It was all part of a plan to revitalize Afro-American studies that [Former African Studies Chair K. Anthony] Appiah and I had in 1991.”

A Long Time Coming

Gates, along with African Studies Chair Emmanuel Akyeampong, presented the proposal to the Faculty Council yesterday after a year of discussions with professors and administrators.

Both said that the name change was a formalization of a process that began in the Afro-American studies department more than a decade ago under the auspices of Appiah.

“We have been thinking about this program for the last several years. When [Akyeampong] became chair of African studies [last spring], he and I began very carefully to plan the creation of a track within Afro-American studies specifically for African studies,” Gates said.

But Akyeampong said that recent changes in the University were crucial to the success of the proposal.

The two met with Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby last fall to discuss the future of the department and committee and were pleased with his support of the idea.

Kirby was not available for comment.

“This probably could not have happened until this year,” Akyeampong said, speaking yesterday from Gates’ office after the Faculty Council’s overwhelming approval of the proposal. “This is the result of a commitment by the president, the provost and the dean of the Faculty to seeing a strong program in African studies.”