The interdisciplinary field known as Afro-American, African-American, Africana Studies, Pan African Studies, Black Studies, or Black World Studies dates back to 1968 with the first department domicile at the San Francisco State University. It started at James Madison University in 1979 as African American or Black Studies. This nucleus morphed into the Africana Studies Minor in 1986. Pioneers of the minor program are Dr. David Owusu-Ansah, Dr. Jackie Walker (both served as co-Coordinators from 2005 to 2008), and Dr. Joanne Gabbin. The initial courses that formed the foundation of the program included the following: Dr. Walker’s Afro-American History, an Introduction to African History course that was taught by Dr. Daniel McFarland in 1979, and Dr. Gabbin’s African American literature courses date to the mid-1980s.  Upon the retirement of Dr. McFarland in 1986, Dr. Owusu-Ansah became the instructor for the African History course, and he also introduced the cultural-content “West African Experience” class.  He initially co-taught this course with Ms. Rita McCaslin—a course that will later evolve into the African Art History offering. The Ghana Study Abroad Program, the first JMU abroad program on the continent, was added in 1997.

Initially, the few African and African-American courses were mainly within the College of Arts and Science, and the Art History offering belonged to the College of Communication Studies. The subsequent reorganization of the colleges into Mathematics and Science, Arts and Letters in the 1990s and the later establishment of the College of Visual and the Performing Arts in the early 2000 still saw Africana faculty members located within two colleges of Arts and Letters and at the Visual and the Performing Arts. 

By 2005, the Africana faculty had increased to include Dr. Melinda Adams, in 2005-06 Dr. Lamont King (who served as Coordinator from 09-13), and much later, Dr. Besi Muhonja, and Dr. Jennifer Coffman. Dr. Aderonke Adesanya, the current Coordinator, joined in 2010. Over time, more faculty members engaged in the Africana program increased with the academic departments and colleges that support the minor. Faculty members now represented are 29 in number. Their names and disciplines are as listed on the program’s webpage. 

The staff base continues to expand just as the course offerings have increased exponentially. The discipline is not limited to persons of African descent; it includes a broad spectrum of ethnicities and identities. We proudly epitomize diversity. Course offerings examine and expand knowledge about the Africana world and its relationship with the world. We educate minors who step into various productive roles in the local and global communities. 

Africana Studies holds annual interdisciplinary conference, workshops for Africana minors including Meet-the-Minor program. It also runs a student-centered conference. Students undertake internships, participate in the Model African Union initiative, and do Study Abroad in Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania (now East African Field School). Other strategic plans of the unit comprise Africana Research, Africana Faculty Research and Awards, Africana Dialogue Series, Africana Symposium and Lecture Series

Back to Top