What is Africana Studies?

Black Studies, or Africana Studies more broadly, is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to studying and understanding the experiences of African people and African-descended people across the Diaspora.  It grew most directly out of campus demands made by black students, and their allies and supporters, during the mass protest movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  From the outset, the goal of Africana Studies was to transform higher education, chiefly by addressing the lack of faculty and staff diversity; altering traditional curricula limited by Eurocentric paradigms; centering the study of people of African descent in the university canon; linking academic teachings and scholarship with social and civic engagement; and raising critical questions about the purpose of scholarly knowledge production, the nature of truth claims, and the overall mission of higher education.

Africana Studies was “the first in a series of academic fields that would challenge social hierarchies and diversify the academy.  Soon after Africana Studies units appeared, ethnic studies and women’s studies followed.” (Rojas, From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline, 2007, pp. 93-94)  That is, Africana Studies was a scholarly innovation that seeded the soil for the growth of other contemporary areas of knowledge production centered on identity, difference, and representation; and it provided a critique of, and corrective to, forms of social dominance.  As a result, attention to race, class, gender, and sexuality have become normative in liberal arts and humanities curricula across private and public institutions of higher education. 

Significantly, Africana Studies also became a laboratory for multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary approaches combining humanities and social science literatures and methods, which most U.S. colleges and universities now actively promote as being key to higher education in the twenty-first century.  At the University of Kansas and elsewhere, Africana Studies has encompassed multivalent approaches to such topics as Diaspora; art, culture, and religion; women, gender and sexuality; health; politics; and social and economic policy.  The changing focal points of Africana Studies have also reflected important demographic transformations among the black population in the United States, most especially the post-1970s rise of mass incarceration, as well as the growth of immigrants from Continental Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.