back to news Feb. 7, 2019

Department of African American and African Studies and a history of excellence

Simone Drake, chair of the Department of African American and African Studies, writes on the department's history of excellence in research, outreach and historic impact in honor of Black History Month.

Institutionalized in 1969, the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) is one of the first departments in the nation to emerge out of the social movements and protests of the civil rights and post-colonial era in the Americas and Africa. AAAS is an interdisciplinary department whose faculty research and teaching span the humanities, arts, social sciences, behavioral sciences, public policy and law, and does so both locally and globally.

In addition to being one of the nation’s pioneer black studies programs to receive departmental status in the academy, AAAS is the home of the first global black studies master’s program in the world, producing excellent scholars who have gone on to earn doctorates and are now professors at institutions such as Washington University, Michigan State University, Dartmouth College, University of Illinois-Chicago, Clark University, Ohio University, University of California-Santa Barbara, University of Wisconsin, Morgan State University and The Ohio State University (the current chair). Many graduates have taken up the discipline’s commitment to social responsibility and justice by working for state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofits such as the King Arts Complex, the city of Columbus’ My Brother’s Keeper initiative, federal HIV task forces, the American Kidney Fund and other humanitarian organizations and causes. Other graduates are making impacts in K-12 education, public media, technology, the arts and entrepreneurial endeavors. The department is continuing this legacy of producing an engaged citizenry with its relatively new doctoral program launched in 2012 that graduated and placed its first two doctoral students in 2018.

AAAS has been heavily involved in the Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme, with one of the pilot projects — Transnational Black Citizenship (TBC) — housed in the department. TBC was composed of a group of scholars from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Human Ecology, and Public Health who worked collectively to consider how knowledge can be produced in ways that conjoin blackness with humanness in both the academy and society, interrogating what it means to be human, who is allowed to belong, under what circumstances are they granted belonging and whether membership has limitations.

A true gem of both AAAS and Ohio State is the department’s Community Extension Center (CEC). Like the department, the CEC was birthed out of demands for inclusion and representation. Housed in a 4,000-square-foot building on Mount Vernon Avenue in the historic King-Lincoln District on Columbus’ near-eastside, the CEC is a space for community programming and engaged scholarship, hosting lectures, workshops, symposia, and academic and community education courses. The CEC is always looking to expand its partnerships and collaborations within and outside of Ohio State.