Bachelor of Arts in African and Afro-American Studies
The study of the peoples and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora has a long and dynamic history. So too does the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS) at Brandeis. AAAS is one of the oldest departments of its kind in the country, founded in 1969 at the height of a movement to institutionalize Black Studies in U.S. colleges and universities.
Just as Black Studies is a foundational field, AAAS is a foundational department. People of African descent, in countless ways, have transformed the cultures of the Americas and the world. African, African-American and Caribbean thinkers have also played a major role in defining some of the most critical issues in modern history of our time, just as the cultures of Africans and their descendants have transformed the cultures of the Americas and the world.
As a AAAS major or minor, you will take courses in the humanities, creative arts and social sciences. You will gain the analytical tools needed to read, write, talk and think knowledgeably about the past, present and future of black people on the African continent, in the Americas and around the world.
The possibilities of a degree in AAAS are endless. Some of our students go on to pursue graduate study in African and Afro-American studies or in a discipline represented in our department. Others use their knowledge to pursue careers in health care, social work, government, international organizations, business, journalism, law, education and other professions.
At Brandeis, you will be taught by award-winning AAAS faculty from a range of disciplines who are at once active, research-intensive scholars and dedicated to their students. They will encourage you to think and learn deeply about this vibrant field of study.
As a AAAS student at Brandeis, you’ll explore cultures, histories and societies of African and African-descended people through an approach that is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, both comparative and cross-cultural. Indeed, our department prides itself on the diversity of disciplines represented by our faculty, which include sociology, creative arts, law, history, literature, music, politics and more.
Academics and Research
As a AAAS major, in addition to Introduction to African and Afro-American Studies, you’ll take eight courses in history, the arts, social sciences, Africa and African-American or the Americas. You will also take an elective, which can be a regularly offered course or a senior essay, senior thesis or independent study.
If you’re passionate and up to the challenge, you might consider completing a senior honors thesis on a research topic of your choice. You’ll work closely with a faculty member, hone your writing skills and be well prepared for graduate study. In recent years several AAAS honors students have won the prestigious Doris Brewer Cohen Award for best senior thesis in the social sciences.
Recent student theses include: “James Baldwin as Mirror: A Critical Race Theorist on the Making of American Jewish Whiteness;” “The Space Between: A Critical Examination of Psychic and Social Relations in Black Women’s Subjecthood;” “Native Tongues: A Dialogue between Hip-Hop, Hiplife and Diaspora;” “Womanhood, Gender, Resistance and Authority in and through Candomble of Salvador, Bahia;” and “Applying the [Science] Fiction: Blackness in the Global Future.”
Faculty and Student Excellence
Our faculty are both highly productive researchers and recognized teachers as well. They have received fellowships from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American research; the Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government a Harvard University; and the National Humanities Center. Others have taught in Salvador, Brazil, with the Fulbright Fellowship program. Here are some more highlights:
Chad Williams, Samuel J. and Augusta Spector Professor of History and AAAS, was a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where he continued work on a book about W. E. B. Du Bois’ unfinished history of the African-American experience during World War I.
Carina Ray, Associate Professor of AAAS, won multiple awards for her first book, Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana. It received the 2016 Wesley-Logan Book Prize for African Diaspora History from the American Historical Association and the 2017 Aidoo-Snyder Prize for the best scholarly work written by a woman that prioritizes the experiences of African women from the African Studies Association Women’s Caucus.
Wangui Muigui, Assistant Professor of AAAS and History, received the Shyrock Medal for outstanding, unpublished essay by a graduate student on any topic in the history of medicine from the American Association for the History of Medicine for her paper “All My Babies: Black Midwifery and Health Training Films in the 1950s.”
Derron Wallace, Assistant Professor of Education and Sociology, recently received a prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and was named the Stuart Hall Fellow from the 2018-2019 cohort of W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute Fellows at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research in support of his project, Seeking A Safe Way to School: Black Caribbean Youth Negotiating Police Surveillance in London and New York City.
- Gregory Childs, Assistant Professor of History, received an American Antiquarian Society-NEH Fellowship in support of his book project, Seditious Spaces, Public Politics: Antiracism, Freedom, and Sedition in 1798 Bahia, Brazil.
- Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, was recently honored by the American Association of Nurse Attorneys Foundation for her contribution to the development of health law, nursing and policy.
AAAS majors and minors are amongst the best students at Brandeis. We are very proud of our students, who regularly receive prestigious awards for their scholarship, entrepreneurialism and activism. These include the Richard Kaufman ’58 Memorial Prize, the Bruce R. Mayper Memorial Award, the Rose Schlow Award, the Outstanding UDR Award, the Doris Brewer Cohen Award in Justice and Public Life and the Sorensen Fellowship from Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.
Beyond the Classroom
To complement your classroom learning, the department organizes a multiple programs and events throughout the academic year. These include symposiums, film screenings, campus conversations and lectures from world-class scholars, artists and thinkers. Recent guest speakers include Jennifer Packer, Alondra Nelson, KRS-One, Janet Mock, Christopher Emdin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Many students that major or minor in African and Afro-American Studies do internships in the U.S. and abroad, including in Ghana, Haiti, Brazil and South Africa, where they engage in issues such as poverty reduction, AIDS, gender dynamics and youth development.
Brandeis contains a number of campus organizations that will allow you to connect your AAAS major or minor to your everyday student experience. Some of these groups include the African Dance Club, the African Students Organization, the Black Student Organization, the Mixed Heritage Club, and Brandeis Black Lives Matter.
Careers, Graduate Study and Alumni
In addition to pursuing graduate work, our majors and minors go on to rewarding careers in a wide variety of fields. Many have pursued jobs in activism, public policy, social work, education and law and are working in organizations such as Peace Corps, Teach For America and Operation Crossroads Africa. Others have worked at the New England Journal of Medicine, MIT’s School of Engineering and the Genetics Institute.