Revitalizing the Humanities in Africa, Cultivating New Scholars is Aim of Carnegie Corporation-funded Fellowship Competition

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New York, September 1, 2010— Humanities scholars in five African countries are benefiting from an innovative competition that offers a pathway to PhD completion and postdoctoral research.  The African Humanities Program, a competitive fellowship, will increase the pool of well-qualified postgraduate students who will constitute Africa’s next generation of university lecturers and researchers and play an important part in shaping the discussion about the continent’s future and understanding and interpreting its history and cultures.

See the list of 2010 fellowship awardees.

Managed by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the African Humanities Program responds to Africa’s critical shortage of qualified academic staff, which has the potential to halt and even roll back a generation of progress in Africa’s institutions of higher education and seriously impact the quality of intellectual life on the continent. 

Addressing a critical staffing shortage

“With the fastest-growing rates of higher education enrollment in the world as well as ample research demonstrating tertiary education’s positive impact on economic growth, poverty reduction, national health and governance, Africa’s universities are fast becoming one of the continent’s most important contributors to development,” said Tade Aina, Program Director, Higher Education and Libraries in Africa at Carnegie Corporation.  “Yet too few men and women are entering academia to meet the growing demand for professors. Add to that the often inadequate preparation of those who do enter the field, and Africa’s institutions of higher education are faced with a severe staffing crisis—a situation compounded by the rising tide of retirements among Africa’s aging cohort of initial post-independence academics.”

Aina said that among the many obstacles to the career paths of young academics are heavy teaching responsibilities, which often prevent junior faculty from completing their research and dissertations. Incomplete and thus unpublished dissertations render their authors ineligible for promotion beyond the lecturer level through the normal promotion process. 

Developing the next generation of African academics will require continued investments in the career advancement of emerging scholars and support for the intellectual communities that nourish them, he said.

“Universities with strong humanities curricula are important in every society, but especially so in African societies embarked on ambitious programs of development,” said Andrzej W. Tymowski, Director of International Programs at the American Council of Learned Societies.  “Centered on the study of human achievement informed by a record of the past, the humanities—also called ‘the arts’ in some universities—are indispensable to understanding the historical provenance of development goals, the ethical standards by which they should be evaluated, and their prospects for meeting a society’s aspirations for intellectual as well as material progress.”

A report by the ACLS highlights further obstacles facing young academics which the African Humanities program is designed to address. “They become doubly handicapped,” the report states, “both in performing classroom tasks and in inspiring those who should be following in their footsteps.” The report continues, “Competition for academic personnel is so severe that universities are recruiting under-prepared young faculty to administrative positions or promoting them to higher level faculty statuses—for example, lecturer to senior lecturer—outside normal procedures, that is, before they establish themselves as scholars who are known for their research and publishing records and, more importantly, before they are sufficiently qualified to communicate such skills to the next generation. In the end these pragmatic measures dilute the quality of classroom education.”

About the program

The African Humanities Program consists of two fellowship competitions: one promotes the completion of Ph.D. dissertations in the humanities by providing a stipend to support the final year of writing, and a second fellowship competition supports ongoing research and publication by early-career scholars in the humanities by providing one-year leaves from teaching in the form of a postdoctoral fellowship. Recipients of both kinds of fellowship are also eligible for further support in the form of residential awards.

These awards support a sustained period of writing as visiting scholars at other research centers in Africa. The postdoctoral fellowship competition is open to humanities scholars in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda who propose to work in sub-Saharan Africa. Dissertation fellowships are open to humanities scholars in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Applications are evaluated in a rigorous process of peer-review. Senior scholars from universities in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda assess applications for disciplinary quality and substantive merit. Awards are decided on the basis of these evaluations by an international committee of scholars—from both American and African universities—meeting in New York.