Globalizing Knowledge

One of the major challenges facing scholars in Africa is the relative invisibility of their work to their peers. A recent study in the British medical journal the Lancet notes that the work of Africa-based researchers represents significantly less than one percent of all global citations — an important marker of the reach and influence of ideas.

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Networked Founded in 2017 as part of Rhodes University’s Arts of Africa research initiative and comprising a significant number of former AHP fellows, Art POWA (“Producing Our Words in Africa”) is a writing and publishing network that aims to support Africa-based scholars whose work focuses on the visual arts. Continental researchers are often separated by vast geographical distances, with few opportunities to convene in person. The Mellon-funded program allows them to participate in publishing workshops, share publications, and discover new opportunities to create connections with other engaged thinkers. (Courtesy Art POWA| Photo: Ruth Simbao)

According to Dr. Steven Nelson, director of the African Studies Center at UCLA, this fact has hamstrung academic publishing on the continent: “If scholars publish in African-based journals, the work doesn’t get distributed and cited by American and European scholars. The lack of attention from a global community of scholars in turn makes it hard for publications to get funding and support — you have no international profile. And if researchers publish their work abroad, that does little to support the development of a robust conversation among African scholars. It’s a push-and-pull situation, that needs in part to be rectified by American and European-based scholars paying attention to and citing the work of our peers in Africa.”

One of the ways the African Humanities Program (AHP) is tackling this problem is by making excellent research from the continent available to a global academic readership, thanks to its African Humanities Series. Launched in 2014, the series was initially established by Sandra Barnes of the University of Pennsylvania and Kwesi Yankah, minister of higher education in Ghana. It has since developed under the guidance of Fred Hendricks of Rhodes University in South Africa and Adigun Agbaje of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, who hope to develop the series into a global showcase of the important humanities research being pursued by a new generation of Africa-based scholars.

Submissions are solicited from fellows of the AHP, and cover African histories, literatures, languages, and cultures. The series aims to publish work of the highest quality, foregrounding the best research being done by these emerging scholars.

Titles in the series include Gender Terrains in African Cinema by Dominica Dipio, Makerere University, Uganda; What the Forest Told Me: Yoruba Hunter, Culture and Narrative Performance by Ayo Adeduntan, University of Idaban, Nigeria; Nation, Power and Dissidence in Third Generation Nigerian Poetry in English by Sule E. Egya, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Nigeria; The Anglophone Literary–Linguistic Continuum: English and Indigenous Languages in African Literary Discourse by Michael Andindilile, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Parading Respectability: The Cultural and Moral Aesthetics of the Christmas Bands Movement in the Western Cape, South Africa by Sylvia Bruinders, University of Cape Town, South Africa. In 2019 the series will continue with new titles on African intellectual history, the Nigerian novel, notions of democracy in Africa, and Ghanaian boxing.

Making such studies available to a worldwide audience is crucial, notes philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006) and, most recently, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018). “In the humanities, more than in the natural sciences, African scholars have access to important material that is difficult to get access to except through them. Of course an African physicist must keep an eye on what’s going on in the European nuclear reactor, or MIT, or the South African observatory, but the details of physics don’t depend on where you are. But in the humanities, the details do depend on where you are. It’s a waste not to take advantage of that. We can’t do it right if we don’t have these voices as part of our understanding of the humanities. It’s not just politically correct to do so — it’s intellectually correct.”

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African History, Written In Africa

The African Humanities Program (AHP) has supported researchers and institutions of higher education in Africa for more than a decade now, building a vast community of engaged scholars and creating opportunities for intellectual exchange across the continent.

By Aruna D'souza

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