The African Studies Department at UW-Madison will host the 50th annual Africa at Noon weekly lecture series starting September 13 at 12pm in Room 206 of Ingraham Hall on the university campus.
The annual event started when a group of graduate students in the department came together and started the Sandwich Seminar, a time to meet and discuss topics around Africa over lunch. African Studies Department Associate Director Aleia McCord spoke with Madison365 on the initial inspiration to start the series as a way for more discussion around African cultures and peoples along with connecting the university and community.
“This is the 50th year in a row that UW-Madison has hosted a weekly lecture series that celebrates the diversity of the African continent, and all of its many languages, and peoples and places,” McCord told Madison365. “That is a huge milestone for us, and makes this year’s lineup especially exciting for those of us in the program, and for those of us in the community who care to join. This program was started by a group of intrepid graduate students who wanted to create a space on campus for folks from different disciplines to come together to talk about Africa, and to think about what constitutes African Studies.”
Recognizing that the series may not be the easiest to attend for everyone being at noon on Wednesdays, McCord was also happy to assure that they would also be hosting an event later in the evening on the last Wednesday of the month in collaboration with the African Center for Community Development and UW South Madison Partnership called Africa Talks.
The African Studies Department also often collaborates with the African Association of Madison and this series continues the shared work of sharing culture and knowledge throughout the university and Madison community. McCord spoke on how the kickoff event on Sept. 13 has a significant history on that exact mission of recognizing and celebrating history.
“We always kick off the series with what’s called the Jan Vansina lecture celebrating one of the early founders of the African Studies program, whose name was Jan Vansina,” said McCord. “He was an African historian, and is credited with being the first sort of Western historian to draw attention to the fact that just because a people don’t necessarily have a written history doesn’t mean they don’t have a history. He was a person to really say oral history is history, and in fact, it’s central to understanding a place.”
Edda Fields Black will be the presenter for the kickoff event discussing connections between West African peasant rice farmers and enslaved laborers on Lowcountry rice plantations. Following topic areas range across the continent, cultures, and people of Africa with a variety of presenters nationally and internationally, as well as presenters from UW-Madison itself.
McCord was joyful to share how engaged people are in the process of cultivating the great list of presenters, as it is an example of a cross-discipline effort at the university and stands as a piece of pride for the accomplishments of the African Studies Department.
“When we put these speaker series together, I send a call out to all of our faculty, which come from 45 different departments on campus,” McCord said. “I ask the faculty, ‘Who’s doing interesting work, and who do you want to invite here next year?’ We solicit these nominations from across all the disciplines that we work with on campus. This is what bubbles to the surface is what you see here.”
A full list of presenters can be found on the Africa At Noon events website here, as well as more information on the series.