African-American Studies

Administrative Information

Interim Co-Directors of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies: 
Prof. Marcellus Blount, 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 854-7080;
Prof. Carl Hart, 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 854-7080;

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Kevin Fellezs, 816A Dodge Hall;

Assistant Director: Shawn Mendoza, 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 854-8789;

Administrative Assistant: Sharon Harris, 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 854-7080;

Institute for Research in African-American Studies: 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 854-7080

Senior Faculty
Steven Gregory (Anthropology)
Farah J. Griffin (English and Comparative Literature)
Kellie E. Jones (Art History and Archaeology)
Samuel K. Roberts (History)
Sudhir A. Venkatesh (Sociology)

Junior Faculty
Kevin Fellezs (Music)
Carla Shedd (Sociology)
Josef Sorett (Religion)
Dorian Warren (Political Science)
Carl Hart (Psychology)

Affiliated Faculty
Marcellus Blount (English and Comparative Literature)
George Bond (Anthropology)
Christopher Brown (History)
Maguette Camara (Dance, Barnard)

Affiliated Faculty (continued)
Mamadou Diouf (Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies)
Ann Douglas (English and Comparative Literature)
Barbara Fields (History)
Eric Foner (History)
Saidiya Hartman (English and Comparative Literature)
Fredrick C. Harris (Political Science)
Ousmane Kane (School of International and Public Affairs)
Rashid Khalidid (History)
George E. Lewis (Music)
Natasha Lightfoot (History)
Mahmood Mamdani (Anthropology)
Gregory Mann (History)
Alondra Nelson (Sociology & Women and Gender Studies)
Robert O'Meally (English and Comparative Literature)
Valerie Purdie-Vaughns (Psychology)
David Scott (Anthropology)
John Swzed (Music)

The Institute for Research in African-American Studies was established at Columbia in 1993, expanding the University’s commitment to this field of study. The African-American studies curriculum explores the historical, cultural, social, and intellectual contours of the development of people of African descent. The curriculum enables students to master the basic foundations of interdisciplinary knowledge in the humanities and social sciences in the black American, Caribbean, and sub-Saharan experience. Courses examine the cultural character of the African diaspora; its social institutions and political movements; its diversity in thought, belief systems, and spiritual expressions; and the factors behind the continuing burden of racial inequality. During their junior and senior years of study, students focus their research within a specific discipline or regional study relevant to the African diaspora. Students should consider a major in African-American studies if they are interested in careers where strong liberal arts preparation is needed, such as fields in the business, social service, or government sectors. Depending on one’s area of focus within the major, the African-American studies program can also prepare individuals for career fields like journalism, politics, public relations, and other lines of work that involve investigative skills and working with diverse groups. A major in African-American studies can also train students in graduate research skills and methods, such as archival research, and is very useful for individuals who are considering an advanced graduate degree such as the Ph.D.

The Institute for Research in African-American Studies sponsors research projects, colloquia, and academic conferences that are open to the Columbia community; students who major or concentrate in African-American studies receive information about these and related events. African-American studies majors and concentrators may also use the independent study course offering to conduct research on one or more of these faculty-sponsored projects. All inquiries concerning degree requirements should be forwarded to the director of undergraduate studies. Inquiries concerning course offerings and Institute-sponsored events should be forwarded to the assistant director.

Departmental Honors

The requirements for departmental honors in African-American studies are as follows:

  1. All requirements for major must be completed by graduation date
  2. Minimum grade point average of 3.6 in the major
  3. Completion of senior thesis—due to the director of undergraduate studies on the first Monday in April.

A successful thesis for departmental honors must be selected as the most outstanding paper of all papers reviewed by the thesis committee in a particular year. The Thesis Evaluation Committee is comprised of department faculty and led by the director of undergraduate studies. The thesis should be of superior quality, clearly demonstrating originality and excellent scholarship, as determined by the committee. Normally no more than 10% of graduating majors receive departmental honors in a given year.

The African-American Studies Thesis

Although the senior thesis is a prerequisite for consideration for departmental honors, all African-American studies majors are strongly encouraged to consider undertaking thesis work even if they are ineligible or do not wish to be considered for departmental honors. The senior thesis gives undergraduate majors the opportunity to engage in rigorous, independent, and original research on a specific topic of their choosing, the result of which is a paper of 35-60 pages in length. In particular, students who are contemplating graduate work of any sort should seriously consider the benefits of thesis research. It is strongly recommended that students begin consideration and exploratory reading of a thesis topic during their junior year, a strategy which proves to make the senior year research and writing process much more productive. The UndEC strongly recommends that, prior to embarking on a thesis, the student purchase and read Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (University of Chicago Press) and Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, (University of Chicago Press).

The senior thesis must be written under the supervision of at least one faculty member. Should the thesis writer elect to have more than one thesis adviser (either from the outset or added on during the early stages of research), these faculty in the aggregate comprise the Thesis Committee, of which one faculty member must be designated chair. In either case, it is incumbent upon the thesis writer to establish with the thesis chair and committee a reasonable schedule of deadlines for submission of outlines, chapters, bibliographies, drafts, etc. In many cases, the thesis writer may find that the most optimal way in which to complete a thesis is to formally enroll in an independent study course (AFAS C3997 for fall or C3998 for spring) with the thesis adviser.

All students interested in writing a thesis should notify the director of undergraduate studies and submit the name of the faculty adviser ideally by October 1, but certainly no later than the end of the fall semester. In close consultation with the thesis adviser, students develop a viable topic, schedule of meetings, bibliography, and timeline for completion (including schedule of drafts and outlines).