50+ Years of Africana Studies
At UT, the Africana Studies program was initially called the Afro-American Studies program when it began in the 1968-1969 academic year. The program offered two courses: one about the Afro-American family and the other about Black history. By the next academic year, the program offered courses in the Departments of English and Religious Studies. Through a $10,000 grant secured by Professor Edwin Redkey, then chair of American Studies, the program launched officially, offering a minor in Afro-American Studies. Professor Marvin Peek was appointed in 1971 as the first official head of the program.
The program’s name changed to African and African American Studies during the 1990s, under the leadership of Professor Cynthia Fleming, who arrived at UT in 1992 as the program’s first tenure-track faculty member and a joint hire in the Department of History. The program’s current name, Africana Studies, changed under the leadership of Professor Wornie Reed, who sought to keep the program current by following trends in the larger discipline, which were leading to a more diasporic focus, by providing global offerings that complemented the initial focus on African American Studies in the context of the United States.
As a larger discipline comprised of interdisciplinary studies and research, the program known today as the Africana Studies program, comprises faculty members who represent expertise in teaching and research in diverse peoples of the African diaspora (American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, European, and African), with specializations in far-ranging disciplines, that include, but are not limited to, anthropology, history, language, literature, political science, religion, and sociology. The program is an independent academic unit in the College of Arts and Sciences, serving as one of several interdisciplinary programs (IDPs). Offering courses to more than 650 undergraduate students, they also may choose to major or minor in Africana studies. Graduate students also may choose to earn a graduate certificate in Africana studies. Students who would like to supplement their on-campus learning experience also have the opportunity to participate in the study abroad program, which emphasizes service learning and coursework in African languages and culture, to enhance their fuller understanding of the African presence around the world.
The program also has historically featured national and international researchers and speakers, who enrich our students’ and community’s learning experiences. As the flagship campus for the University of Tennessee, we have a rich history of collaborations with the Knoxville community, and we believe that learning opportunities can be extended through our outreach and engagement with Knoxville’s local community, especially as we continue to learn more about and engage with the rich history and contemporary presence of Knoxville’s Black community.
“It is my esteemed honor to be appointed our new chair of the UT Africana Studies program,” said Shayla Nunnally, professor of political science. “I aim to continue this strong legacy of leadership through working diligently with our faculty, students, and broader Vols and Tennessean communities.”
Our Year(s) Moving Forward
As of February 2021, our Africana Studies program launched the official start of our commemoration of the 50+ years of Africana Studies as a discipline and as a program at UT. The celebration will span over the next two years, and due to the pandemic, our programming will be virtual for 2021 and in-person for 2022. Working with various members of our communities at UT and beyond, we also aim to be engaged academically, culturally, and socially to disseminate knowledge about our program and Africana Studies, in general. As we celebrate our 50+ years of Africana Studies for 2021 and 2022, we will inform you about our programming (guest lecturers, artists, movies, commemorations, and research presentations) and special highlights of our program’s faculty and students.