African Studies Consortium

The greater Philadelphia area has unique features that make it an ideal place for an African Studies Consortium. Situated amidst the fifth largest urban center in the United States, the region boasts an extraordinary density of public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities. Among these are four nationally recognized schools, located within a fifteen-mile radius of Philadelphia. They form the basis for the four-school African Studies Consortium (ASC), created in 1993. Over a decade later, the originality, strength, and effectiveness of the ASC as a regional hub for sharing knowledge about Africa stems; in large part, from its capacity to draw on the assets of each institution while exploiting the seemingly endless potential for collaborative work. For example, the ASC offers unique language training opportunities; it maintains an extensive outreach program providing services at the local, regional, national, and international levels; it has Africanist faculty working in over sixty disciplines; it has developed two strong clusters in Islamic Studies and health; and it maintains a significant number of partnerships both within and beyond the Consortium. According to the most recent external evaluation, over the years the ASC "has emerged as a leader in teaching, research and outreach in African Area studies."

As we look towards the next four years, we would like to further consolidate this position. We see it as the foundation for more innovative consortial initiatives promoting teacher training, language instruction, undergraduate and faculty research, and institutional collaboration. Throughout the grant cycle, a comprehensive evaluation plan will be implemented to monitor and improve the effectiveness of programs. We have identified a set of specific initiatives that will be described in detail throughout the proposal. All of them will be guided by the common goal of establishing partnerships with Penn's professional schools, while broadening existing links.

Our overall plan is to: 1) actively initiate new collaborative teacher-training programs; 2) expand access to a diversity of African languages at the intermediate and advanced levels with a focus in West African languages; 3) promote advanced African language study for undergraduate and graduate students; 4) extend outreach activities in the region, with a focus on Website development, K-12 schools, and local two- and four-year colleges (including HBCUs); 5) facilitate the development of new interdisciplinary clusters in Gender, Visual Media and Culture, and Francophone Africa studies through course development grants, lecture series, and conferences; and 6) inaugurate and actively cultivate local, regional, national, and global partnerships that enhance our ability to promote the study of Africa. This will be done with a particular focus on universities, associations and scholars based across Africa.

We believe that the plan we have outlined consolidates the abundant resources available throughout the Philadelphia region and focuses them in ways that only a consortial structure can accomplish. We are confident that this vision constitutes a powerful, coherent, and practical roadmap. Our goal, in short, and in the words of Penn's new President Amy Gutmann, is to take the ASC "from excellence to eminence."