History dept. hires two African studies experts
By Katie Edkins
Published on Friday, October 3, 2008
Two professors specializing in African history have joined Dartmouth's faculty this fall, filling the void left by the departure of two African historians in 2007. The professors -- George Trumbull and Naaborko Sackeyfio -- will teach a total of six courses this term.
The new hires will replace Dartmouth's former African history specialists -- Judith Byfield, who left the College to join the Cornell University faculty, and Leo Spitzer, who retired from teaching. Dartmouth hired a visiting professor for the 2007-2008 academic year.
The new faculty will enhance African studies at Dartmouth, history department chair Margaret Darrow said. Darrow emphasized the importance of developing a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to African studies, which would include recruiting cross-departmental faculty. She attributed Byfield's departure to Cornell's strong cross-disciplinary African studies program.
"As a whole, the College doesn't offer as much as it should across the curriculum in terms of African studies," Darrow said.
Darrow added that she hopes other departments at Dartmouth will consider hiring more African specialists over the next few years.
"It's one way to keep our African specialists here if they have colleagues not only in this department but also in other departments," she said. "We have hired two wonderful people and we want to keep them."
Trumbull, who specializes in the history of North and Islamic Africa, is currently teaching courses on Islamic and African history in the global context. He said he was struck by the high level of interest in his course material.
"Undergraduates ask questions that are very creative and challenge a lot of orthodox assumptions in my field," he said. "These are the best undergraduates I'm ever going to be able to teach."
Sackeyfio, who lived in Zaria, Nigeria for roughly 10 years, is teaching a survey course on pre-colonial and modern African history, as well as a course on the history of slavery in West Africa.
Many students remain relatively unaware of issues confronting modern Africa, Sackeyfio said.
"From what we hear in the media or what we watch on various programs, we get a very limited and sort of monolithic view of Africa," she said. "A lot of Dartmouth students do have some knowledge of Africa, but, in comparing them to other students or just the broad society -- it's still fairly limited."
High enrollment in two of the new courses -- Pre-Colonial African History and Africa and the World -- suggests that students are eager to expand their knowledge about Africa, Darrow said.
"It does bear out our belief that there is a lot of student interest in Africa that we haven't been able to fill in recent years," Darrow said.
Student responses appear to support Darrow's conclusion.
"When Professor Trumbull talks, he has a captivated audience," according to Catherine Faber '12, who is enrolled in Trumbull's Africa and the World course.
The course has also raised awareness of a region with which many students were not familiar, she added.
"I feel like we're being introduced to a whole new continent," Faber said. "There's a huge, complicated history of so many cultures that influenced the world in ways that we're not always aware of because we're trapped in our little era."
Faber believes that Dartmouth students exhibit more enthusiasm to learn about Africa and other cultures than the people she encountered while living in England, Bulgaria and Zambia, she said.
"Even if [Dartmouth students] haven't traveled, and they didn't come to campus with a lot of world experiences exploring other cultures, they want to," she said.
Amma Serwaah-Panin '10, who is from Luyengo, Swaziland, said she thinks that many students are uninformed about her culture and that the courses are a step in a positive direction.
"I feel like they're already approaching the idea of Africa from a different point from people who just watch the Lion King," she said.
Combating that ignorance, however, is really a task that each student should embrace individually, Serwaah-Panin said
"I really don't feel like it's Dartmouth's responsibility to improve the awareness," she said.