ATLANTA—The Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University has been renamed the Department of Africana Studies, reflecting a global approach to teaching and research in the department, as well as national trends in academia.
“Since its inception in the 1960s, our academic discipline has been identified in numerous ways, from ‘Black,’ to ‘Afro-American’ to ‘African-American Studies,’ said Jonathan Gayles, professor and chair of the department.
“These transitions in naming have reflected similar transitions in the self-naming and cultural identification of people of African descent in the United States, as well as philosophical and scholarly perspectives on the discipline,” Gayles said.
The term “Africana” means studies or research pertaining to people of African descent in Africa, the United States and throughout the global diaspora.
As international connections with the African Diaspora have increased in recent years and as populations of African descendant students from around the world have arrived on U.S. campuses, the demand to broaden the perspective of the discipline has grown. Gayles said the name change reflects the field’s intellectual and scholarly interests in the social, cultural, historical and psychological experiences of the peoples of the Diaspora, including Africa, Europe and the Americas.
A growing number of departments in the field have adopted the Africana Studies identity, including Harvard University, Ohio State University, the University of South Florida and Cornell University.
Members of the department at Georgia State believe this growing trend in disciplinary identification is important because it reflects the need to pay attention to the interests and academic needs of an increasingly diverse student population with a strong interest in international, cross-cultural scholarship, Gayles said.
“We hope to engage our student body, colleagues in academia and community partners about this name change and use it as an opportunity to continue and strengthen our legacy of academic excellence and scholar-activism,” he said.