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Graduate Studies at Vanderbilt - African History

Updated January 17, 2018

Vanderbilt University's History Department continues to diversify geographically and thematically, with African history being the latest doctoral field to be added to our offerings. Our doctoral program in African history is designed to produce scholars and teachers who possess a simultaneously broad and deep knowledge of the African past. We train academic historians of Africa who are grounded in the historiographies, methodologies, and debates that animate the field but who also recognize and account for Africa's connections to the rest of the world and to global events.

We welcome applications from prospective graduate students who desire rigorous training in the core historical methodologies as well as in ethnographic approaches to the African past. Graduate students will be trained to mine and make sense of archival, oral, ethnographic, linguistic, and other unconventional sources as well as to utilize clues offered by Africa's vast material culture to reconstruct and interrogate the past. The goal is to develop our students into producers of new knowledge about Africa and effective teachers of African history.

Students can expect to be trained in the social, economic, and political histories of the continent while exploring themes as diverse as gender, technology, trade, religion, colonialism, nationalism, healing practices, slavery, intellectual production, among others. Students will be trained to appreciate the dominant dynamics of Africa's precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial histories while recognizing the parallels and overlaps between these periods. Our courses explore trans-regional patterns but also cover the peculiar historical features of particular regions.

Like their counterparts in other fields, doctoral students in African history typically take four semesters of classes in their first two years, followed by comprehensive exams at the end of their fourth semester. The third year is devoted to developing the dissertation research prospectus and preparing for field work. Students spend their fourth year pursuing dissertation research, followed by one to two years of writing. Students are encouraged to complete the thesis by the end of the sixth year.

The small number of our Africanist faculty means that we are able to devote considerable time to independent studies, collaborative learning, and mentorship. We perform traditional mentoring tasks, but we are also able to provide consistent support as students identify research fields, apply for research grants, and apply for jobs during the dissertation phase of their training.

Current faculty include: Moses Ochonu (West Africa, social/economic/political/cultural), Tasha Rijke-Epstein (Eastern and Southern Africa, social history/history of science and medicine, colonialism), Jane Landers (Slavery/Atlantic World/precolonial West-central Africa), and Tiffany Patterson (West and Southern Africa, Global Africa, African Diaspora and Pan-Africanism).