The Department of African American & African Studies plays an important role in the University's rich liberal arts tradition. The department's beginnings in the Morrill Hall takeover of 1969 by students demanding change demonstrate that the academy—and society—often move forward by challenging traditional boundaries and practices.
Today, the department offers students opportunities to explore American cultural diversity and the wide diversity of the African continent. An undergraduate major in African American & African Studies provides students with a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the cultural and historical experiences of African American & African peoples from a multidisciplinary perspective including history, political science, sociology, psychology, literature, music, and art. Courses and faculty are drawn from the department as well as from other units of the University.
The department is integrated conceptually not by a single academic discipline, but by common social, cultural, economic, and political themes interwoven in the histories of African American & African peoples. Students investigate a diverse and challenging body of human experience using methods of inquiry that are both traditional and pioneering.
The interests of the department's faculty are wide-ranging: oral history; family life; Francophone literature; jazz; comparative politics; cartography and cultural geography; minority community development; social psychology of racism; and intellectual history are just a few of their areas of research.
From these teachers, scholars, and mentors, students learn to view human achievements and problems from a variety of perspectives, and to use materials and methods from several disciplines. As a result, majors in African American & African Studies acquire a broad, liberal education that prepares them to pursue a variety of professional careers, or for further study at the graduate level.
In addition to educating scholars who have chosen African American & African studies as their primary field, the department plays a central role in the University community by helping students meet the innovative cultural pluralism requirement instituted in 1985. "The study of ethnic diversity and intergroup relations is itself hardly new," notes the 1986 departmental planning statement. "Many generations of scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspectives have laid its foundations. What is new at Minnesota is the first attempt of a major American land grant University to make the study of cultural pluralism a central and requisite, rather than a marginal and elective, feature of undergraduate education." As disciplines continue to form new intersections and the curriculum becomes increasingly global, the Department of African American & African Studies will strengthen the University's liberal arts tradition.
The department celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2009.