New Africana Studies brings a worldview to the classroom

November 10, 2008

With its broad menu of course offerings such as the History of Gospel Music, Race & Ethnic Relations in the U.S., and the Politics of African Diaspora, McDaniel College’s Africana Studies program is designed to prepare students to be leaders in an increasingly diverse, and global, society.

“It gives them multiple perspectives of looking at people, at society and at events occurring in the world,” said Linda Semu, assistant professor of Sociology, who co-coordinates the program with Bryn Upton, assistant professor of History.

The Africana Studies program is part of a national educational trend toward more intense specialization within a broad scope.

Through this program, students are able to look at broad topics of culture, literature and history through the specific lens of Africana studies, Upton said.

“Fifty years ago, when you studied history, you might’ve studied American History and European History. It has gotten a lot more specific. Now you have, for example, Modern History, American Cultural History, Women’s History,” Upton said. “It gives us the opportunity to offer to people something a little bit more specific, but also more broad.”

Africana Studies is an interdisciplinary minor that draws from the humanities and social sciences. Courses explore topics such as language and culture, social struggle and inequality, and social advancement and artistic creativity.

Formerly called African-American Studies, the program evolved during the past year into the Africana Studies program to address the need to think more globally, Semu said.

“You can’t talk about the African American experience without talking about Africana diaspora,” Semu added, because the Africana diaspora -- the spread and integration of Africana culture, heritage, music, art, literature and history -- influences the African American experience here in the U.S. and around the world.

Courses are taught by professors representing various departments, including Political Science, English, History and Sociology.

Through the Africana Studies minor, students delve into the diverse backgrounds of African-origin people all over the world.

Semu said the minor is designed for students of all backgrounds and majors who want to learn more about the cultures and heritages of people from a broad range of countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and North, Central and South America.

Students can choose to take the basic minor or a concentration in either the African Diaspora or African-Americans in the United States.

Courses include: Cultural Geography: Non-Arab Islamic Societies; Contemporary African Politics; the History of Jazz; Martin and Malcolm; and Urban Sociology.

Other classes include: the Arts and Architecture of the African Continent and Beyond; Global Social Change; Historical Novels of the Black Diaspora; Black America and the Civil Rights Era; the French-Speaking World; the Civil War and Reconstruction; and Southern Literature.

“As the demographics of the U.S. change, it is more important for students to have a multicultural experience,” Semu said. “If students can be exposed to other ways of viewing the world, and other ways of viewing multicultural groups, that’s good.”