UVA Gets Grant to Revamp Black Studies
The Ford Foundation just gave the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies a $250,000 grant to revamp its program.
With help from Ford, five outside consultants and more than 30 university faculty from 12 departments are participating in the redesign of the program.
Beginning this semester, the program’s courses and resources are shifting in focus.
“We’ve tended to follow a very traditional paradigm,” explains Dr. Reginald Butler, director of the Woodson Institute. The program has told “the story of African Americans in the New World in a very linear trajectory” that began with the slave trade, proceeded in a progressive “up from slavery” fashion, and ended — quite literally — with the Civil Rights Movement.
The problem with that linear trajectory, however, was that it tended to exclude comparative histories — students learned too little, for example, of the experiences of 18th century Africans in London and Amsterdam or of 19th century Africans under colonialism, Butler says.
Therefore, officials plan to refocus the program on three broad areas of study: Africa and the “Black Atlantic,” North America, and South and Central America and the Caribbean.
The goal is to use the university’s particular strengths — the legacy of Carter G. Woodson, the state of Virginia’s extremely rich documentary resources and the university’s high-tech multimedia capabilities — to attract more students to the program and to build bridges with faculty across the Arts and Sciences disciplines, Butler says.
The Ford Foundation is quite excited about the possibilities, says Dr. Margaret Wilkerson, former chair of University of California-Berkeley’s Black Studies department and currently a Ford program officer specializing in issues of gender, ethnicity and identity in higher education.
Ford officials have been broadly engaged for many years in helping institutions build on their strengths to “rethink” their approaches to the African American Studies field, Wilkerson says. Indeed, in the fall, the foundation will release a report on ten selected programs to which they’ve contributed funds.
“All of this is very promising,” says Scott. “African American Studies is poised to become one of the few truly postmodern, postnational, interdisciplinary fields.”
— Kendra Hamilton
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