Sept. 7, 2007
New Leader for Africa Institute
Special from The Record
From Senegal to Harlem, Mamadou Diouf is taking a global approach as he gears up for his first academic year as the new director of the Institute of African Studies.
Diouf, 55, joins Columbia as the University amplifies its teaching and research on Africa. President Lee C. Bollinger has hailed Diouf’s hiring as a critical step in Columbia’s African endeavors, which include programs and initiatives at the Earth Institute, the Mailman School of Public Health and the Committee on Global Thought, among others. Diouf comes to Columbia from the University of Michigan, where he was a faculty member in the history department.
“It is important for me to make sure that we convene regularly our people working on Africa to shape the Africa program, to shape our African activities,” said Diouf, who underscored the importance and urgency of working on identifying all of Columbia’s Africa-related courses as well as all faculty members and parties who are interested in Africa. “The integration is important.”
Diouf also will inaugurate the teaching of African studies in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. “The addition of African studies will allow us to begin the truly exciting task of reconstructing the historical linkages across these regions,” said Sheldon Pollock, the department chair. Nicholas Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences and professor of anthropology and history, praised Diouf for his commitment to the development of African studies across the social sciences, policy studies, the humanities and the arts.
Educated principally in France, Diouf is a renowned West African scholar who has taught in his native Senegal at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and guest-lectured at many European and American universities. He served as director of the research and documentation program of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). At Michigan, he also served in the Center for Afro American and African Studies. Diouf’s research and teaching focuses on urban, political and cultural history in colonial and postcolonial Africa. His appointment is in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. He will teach a graduate course on Pan-African studies this fall.
His appointment returns the institute to the School of International and Public Affairs, where it was suspended in the 2006-07 academic year as the school searched for a new full-time director to succeed Mahmood Mamdani, a professor of anthropology who returned full time to teaching. Since joining Columbia in July, Diouf’s top priority has been to ensure the reopening succeeds, and to that end, he plans to reach out to other Africa-related organizations and programs at Columbia, in New York City and at other universities. The institute must also work with nearby Harlem, he said.
“I think it is impossible to have a program like ours here and not be involved with Harlem,” said Diouf, emphasizing the natural bridge between the institute and a vital community of African Americans and African immigrants. He hopes to establish a significant connection between Columbia and Harlem to discuss such topics as African influences in black American culture, how Africa is represented there and how the two cultures intersect.
Columbia’s location in New York City makes it ideally situated to pull together the diverse groups involved with Africa, he added. Students and curriculum are also at the top of Diouf’s list of priorities, and he recognizes the challenge of regaining trust among students who were upset about the institute’s year-long disappearance.
“We have to help define the institute, but the students are going to take on the most important role because [it] has to serve them first,” said Diouf. One of his first priorities is a town meeting with students, who he hopes will speak freely and fuel a bigger discussion on what the institute can offer now that it has reopened. Lincoln Ajoku, a student and president of SIPA’s Pan-African Network (SPAN), calls the reopening a positive development that students will welcome, particularly because they and others at Columbia dedicated to Africa were vigilant in ensuring the institute’s operations would not remain suspended indefinitely.
“Columbia will once again have a focal point to promote and encourage the study of Africa and Africa-related issues,” said Ajoku. “A reinvigorated institute, which builds upon lessons learned, is the best way to demonstrate the beginning of a new era.”
Diouf plans to work toward creating a comprehensive and modern African studies curriculum. Though Columbia provides a wide range of Africa-related courses and seminars, what is still missing is a strong, formal, integrated curriculum on what Columbia offers about Africa, he said.
Though the institute re-opened in July, Diouf intends to work with students in the fall to host a formal launch to celebrate its official reopening. “This is one of the few places outside of Africa where Africa is discussed by Africans and non-Africans,” he said. Columbia “can offer a neutral place for discussion.”
– Written by Melanie Farmer. Photograph by Eileen Barroso.