From the Director

ASC Director Allen F. Roberts introduces ASC's new eNEWSLETTER and gives a roundup of 2006.

Like the rest of the world, the JSCASC is moving more and more of its activities online to reach wider audiences more quickly and efficiently and to take advantage of ever-evolving electronic media. We hope that you will enjoy this new means of reaching out to you, and that in turn, you will reach back to the Center with your ideas, suggestions, and information about your own Africa-oriented activities that we can share with our readers.

The summer and fall of 2006 have been momentous, both with regard to the kinds of sponsored programs and events that have long been the Center's hallmark—a new UCLA Summer Sessions course on West African dance and society in Senegal, say, or an outstanding symposium early in the fall on the political economy of gas and oil exploitation in southeastern Nigeria that the JSCASC co-sponsored with Robert Spich of the CIBER Program at UCLA's Anderson School of Management and with Dr. Reuben Jaja and the African Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and because we learned in July that our proposal for Federal Title VI funding did not prove successful. As with any moment of deep disappointment, the necessary reflection and formulation of a “Plan B” are offering opportunities to conceive and construct. The JSCASC is rising to these challenges from a foundation of nearly fifty years of storied students, faculty, programs, and events, while recognizing that the twenty-first century bears new needs and possibilities for African Studies in Southern California and the American Southwest.

Professor Françoise Lionnet, associate dean within the International Institute and long a strong advocate of African Studies from her home base in UCLA's Department of French and Francophone Studies, has convened an interdisciplinary committee that will rethink the Center's mission and priorities. As chair of the JSCASC Faculty Board, Professor Ned Alpers continues to offer his sage, practical, and avuncular advice as these processes proceed; and Andrew Apter (as African Studies IDP Director) and a good many other Africanist colleagues on campus and across the United States are rolling up their sleeves and pitching in with and for the Center.

It should be stressed that the JSCASC is recognized as an Organized Research Unit (ORU) by the University of California Board of Regents. The Center receives basic funding from the state because of this status, and will continue to serve campus and wider constituencies with the verve it has demonstrated for many years now. The JSCASC is one of a number of area studies centers housed under the umbrella of UCLA's International Institute, and the Institute's acting Vice Provost and Dean, Professor Ronald Rogowski, has been most supportive during the past few months, as has the UCLA administration more generally. There is every reason to believe that the Center will emerge from these transitions and transformations as even more able to foster research and teaching about—and in—Africa and its diasporas. Needless to say, you are cordially invited to join our brainstorming.

An early salubrious result of this work is our growing recognition of exciting opportunities to work ever more closely with Africanist colleagues in California and adjacent states. Great resources abound, and initiatives will be undertaken to network and share strengths more effectively. With this in mind, the JSCASC sponsored a breakfast for Western States Africanists at this fall's African Studies Association meetings in San Francisco, to explore creation of a regional group similar to those found elsewhere in the United States. We have been in closest contact with our colleagues at Berkeley and Stanford, however, whose collaborative proposal for Title VI funding was also denied during this past competition: how might we pool our strengths in African Studies to develop paradigms and programs of interest and benefit to Africanist students and faculty on our own campuses, elsewhere in the University of California system, and at other universities, colleges, and community colleges throughout our region? The teaching of African languages is a first front for such considerations, and UCLA's Professor Katrina Daly Thompson has been leading JSCASC efforts on the UCLA campus. For example, she is assisting the emergence of the university's new Center for World Languages, while working with colleagues in the University of California Language Consortium and with others in national organizations as we seek to redefine JSCASC's language-teaching goals.

As the rest of this first e-newsletter will make clear, as always the JSCASC has a great many compelling activities afoot through the early months and the rest of this academic year. To name just a few, last summer we offered classes in Amharic, Yoruba, and Swahili, in part reaching out to “heritage” speakers from African communities in greater Los Angeles through collaboration with the Center for World Languages; and development of African language materials and other resources for the Internet continues under the able and innovative leadership of Emeritus Professor Tom Hinnebusch. This year's MA class in African Studies is one of our strongest ever, and with Andrew Apter's inspirational guidance, stimulating new graduate courses have been crafted such as one on Africa and the professions taught by Dr. Fred Byaruhanga and another on ethnographic video in Africa by Dr. David Blundell. Professor Apter and his Berkeley colleague Percy Hintzen have been chosen by the Social Science Research Council to lead summer workshops on the Black Atlantic that will bring together a dozen gifted students early in their graduate careers to formulate research proposals and undertake preliminary summer research. Katrina Daly Thompson has formulated a new UCLA Summer Sessions course on East African language and culture to kick off this next summer. The UCLA Fowler Museum is currently exhibiting “The Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World” that features stunning jewelry, an entire tent, and other marvels of material culture; another called “Makishi” that displays a wonderful niche collection of Zambian masks; “The Keiskamma Altarpiece: Transcending AIDS in South Africa” created by rural women of the Eastern Cape as a courageous statement of AIDS activism; and “An Architecture of the Veil” as a major installation piece by Algerian artist Samta Benyahiya. The world-famous UCLA-produced journal African Arts is developing online resources and will soon celebrate its fortieth anniversary. Also on the publishing front, the valiant editors and contributors to Ufahamu continue to produce the nation's oldest all-student Africanist journal. Vibrant undergraduate groups are also bringing attention to the continent's great issues, from the genocide in Darfur to the plight of refugees and the needs of AIDS awareness. And the fanatics who organized our exciting African soccer-related activities this past spring are not unaware that the 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa!

Lots of good things happening and on the horizon. We look forward to your continued support of African Studies at UCLA, invite your participation in our events, and welcome your comments and suggestions.

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007