New Geoffrey Canada Chair Deepens Interdisciplinary Focus of Africana Studies

Story posted August 07, 2008

A leading Africanist scholar, Olufemi "Femi" Vaughan, has joined the Bowdoin faculty as the first Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History, and Director of Africana Studies.

Femi Vaughan
Olufemi Vaughan, Bowdoin's first Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History.

Vaughan comes to Bowdoin from State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook, where he was a member of the faculty for 18 years and served as Director of International Studies, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, Interim Chair of Africana Studies, and most recently, as Director of the College of Global Studies and Associate Provost.

A gifted teacher, Vaughan received both the President's and Chancellor's Medal for Excellence in Teaching from SUNY, for recognition of his mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students.

Vaughan has written extensively on the relationship between the state and society in Nigeria and West Africa, with influential scholarship on the history of the institution of chieftaincy and on comparative social movements. His interdisciplinary examinations of the historical processes of modern African state formation have earned him widespread recognition in the field, including a prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellowship in 2006-2007. His prize-winning book, Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890s - 1990 (2000, Univ. of Rochester Press), is considered a seminal study in modern African political history.

"Femi's cross-disciplinary and theoretically informed research speaks to scholars working in such disparate fields as history, historical sociology, political science, and anthropology," notes Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "His fields of research intersect wonderfully with scholarship already represented at Bowdoin, and his appointment will enable us to extend and deepen the scholarly base of the Africana Studies Program at this vital point in the evolution of the field."

Support for New Faculty
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Support for new faculty is a key component of The Bowdoin Campaign, which ends in 2009. This will allow us to deepen and diversify several existing programs, stay competitive, and maintain the close student-faculty interactions that are a hallmark of a Bowdoin education.


Bowdoin established an Afro American Studies program in 1969, as an academic inquiry into the life of African Americans in the United States. The name later was changed to Africana Studies as the program expanded its focus to include study of black cultures outside of the United States. Today, the department includes affiliated faculty members from disciplines as wide-ranging as music, anthropology, sociology and history. In 2007, the College hosted a symposium to examine the state of the field, which drew leading scholars from Africana Studies programs around the nation to discuss issues and trends in scholarship and pedagogy.

"The framework at Bowdoin is the kind of Africana Studies I've always envisioned," says Vaughan. "To see faculty colleagues in history, English, sociology, anthropology, music, and several other humanities and social science disciplines who are deeply committed to building a serious interdisciplinary program in Africana Studies is a truly progressive idea.

"Africana Studies came out of a critical moment in United States and world history: the intersection between the great African American freedom movement and global decolonization in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. As the field evolves, it's important to protect its emancipatory history and intellectual integrity, but it's also essential to understand it as an academic intellectual project to which everyone belongs, irrespective of gender, race, and sexuality—a deeply interdisciplinary enterprise.

"Inevitably, students in such an environment have a wonderful range of courses to choose from and scholars to help them embark on whatever their interest will be. I'm excited about the prospect of working with the program's excellent faculty and teaching Bowdoin's outstanding students, and I'm very pleased to see the Dean's deep commitment to an innovative interdisciplinary program in Africana Studies."

For the 2008-2009 academic year, Vaughan will teach Introduction to Africana Studies, Christianity and Islam in West Africa, and Conquest, Colonialism, and Independence: Africa since 1880.

Colleague David Gordon, Bowdoin Assistant Professor of History, observes that Vaughan's "broad-ranging research and teaching expertise engages with the African experiences on both sides of the Atlantic. His West African focus complements existing faculty strengths in southern and central Africa and makes the study of Africa at Bowdoin exceptional in its breadth and depth, strong in pedagogy and research."

Vaughan earned a B.A., and a M.A. in government from St. John's University and a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford University.

Geoffrey Canada '74, for whom the chair is named, is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Under Canada's leadership, HCZ has gained national recognition as a model for urban redevelopment. His determination to revitalize Harlem one block at a time has earned him numerous accolades, including Bowdoin's Common Good Award, the McGraw Prize for Education, and the Jefferson Award for Public Service.

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