The ASA Annual Meeting is the largest gathering of Africanist scholars in the world. With an attendance of about 2,000 scholars and professionals, the conference offers the following:
• More than 300 panels and roundtables
• Plenary events featuring keynote speakers
• Awards ceremony and dance party
• Institutional and organizational receptions and meetings
• An international exhibit hall
• Screenings of award-winning movies from Africa, and/or by African producers
2015 Theme Statement
The apparatus of African statecraft was assembled in haste. The entirety of Uganda’s legal code had to be pushed through the National Assembly in the space of the six weeks leading up to independence on October 1962. Prime Minister Milton Obote was tinkering with the wording of the national anthem up to the deadline set by the printers of the program for the independence celebrations. The Gold Coast politician Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned by the colonial administration in 1950. When Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party won the general election of February 1951, Nkrumah was released from his prison cell and formed a government the following day. Guinea voted for independence on 28 September 1958, and became an independent nation four days later. Departing French administrators stripped government offices of telephones, file cabinets and other accoutrements of bureaucracy, and sternly warned the United States and other powers against granting aid to the new country.
Once ex-colonies were baptized in the waters of independence, all of the contingencies were washed away. African states immediately set about building the nation. Here universities played a critically important role. Federated structures of university governance were dispensed with, and national universities were constituted in their place. The curriculum was overhauled, and new courses on African literature, African history, African philosophy, and African religion were launched. It was at this time that the infrastructure for academic research in African Studies was constituted. The accumulated paperwork of colonial governments was organized, catalogued and repurposed, and the National Archives of Senegal, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and other places were opened in the 1960s. Likewise the archaeological and ethnological exhibitions assembled in colonial times were reorganized and relabeled: thus the Coryndon Museum became the National Museum of Kenya; the King George V Memorial Museum became the National Museum of Tanzania; the Nyasaland Museum became the Museum of Malawi; and the antiquities collection in Jos became the National Museum of Nigeria. New book series were launched, and new literary canons were defined. The Library of Congress accordingly opened up new classifications: DT for African history; BL 2400 for African religion; JQ 1870 for African politics; PL 8000 for African literature.
Today the nation no longer has the same grip on scholars’ research agendas. But even if nation-building is no longer our métier, it seems that scholars cannot do without the state. It is the state and its institutions that generate our data. The temporal and geographic coordinates of the state are hard-coded into our research methods. Scholars of health science, economics, and political science rely on the statistics and reports that government bureaucracies generate in order to assemble the numbers on which the quantitative method relies. Historians rely on the state’s archives for their source material, and the state’s temporal categories organize historians’ professional specialties (university posts in African history are conventionally defined as pertaining to “pre-colonial,” “colonial,” or “post-colonial” Africa). In development studies, public health, and environmental studies scholars pursue research agendas that are driven by the requirements of policy-making, and there is a substantial overlap between consultancy work and academic scholarship. The study of African literature, art, religion and philosophy are not so immediately bonded to the protocols of statecraft. It has been difficult therefore for the humanities to find a voice with which to speak in public life. In many African universities the humanities are in grave danger, scorned by politicians and bereft of funding.
It is time to look at what is foreclosed in the tight embrace between the sovereign state and the university. We need a scholarship of idiosyncrasy, anachronism, and the out-of-place. We need histories that explore the paths not taken, utopias, and visions of community foreclosed by national independence. We need a political science that takes seriously the arenas of life—borderlands, informalities, refugees and migrant populations—that do not generate numbers. We need an economics that reaches outside government data sets and explores the generation of value as a subject of research. We need new ways of thinking about archives management, museology and other infrastructures of cultural preservation. We need a scholarship of development and public health that is not beholden to the encompassing demands of consultancy work. We need a humanities that re-engages the African state.
2015 Program Chairs:
Dismas A. Masolo, University of Louisville
Derek R. Peterson, University of Michigan