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Cornell University

Graduate studies, Africana Studies and Research Center


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About Africana

In 1969, and in the wake of the historic, student-led takeover of Willard Straight Hall on campus, the Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC) at Cornell University became the birthplace of the field of Africana Studies. At the same time, like San Francisco State, it represented one of the nation's earliest departments established in Black Studies. Since its origination at Cornell, the field of Africana Studies has been increasingly embraced and universalized as a discipline in academic programs and departments at colleges and universities around the nation. That is to say, many programs and departments have increasingly adopted the name "Africana" to signal their investments in interdisciplinary methodologies and in examining blackness comparatively in global and diaspora perspective. We are proud to literally be the pioneers in having established "Africana" as a concept and remain actively involved in advancing its development theoretically and pedagogically toward yet new directions and new horizons.  

Just what IS Africana Studies?  The African American historian and emeritus professor from this department, Robert L. Harris, offers a useful definition of the field in Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel's anthology The Black Studies Reader:  "Africana Studies is the multidisciplinary analysis of the lives and thought of people of African ancestry on the African continent and throughout the world. It embraces Africa, Afro-America, and the Caribbean, but does not confine itself to those three geographical areas. Africana Studies examines people of African ancestry wherever they may be found—for example, in Central and South America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Its primary means of organization are racial and cultural. Many of the themes of Africana Studies are derived from the historical position of African peoples in relation to Western societies and in the dynamics of slavery, oppression, colonization, imperialism, emancipation, self-determination, liberation, and socioeconomic and political development."  

In the twenty-first century and nearly fifty years after its inception, the ASRC remains committed to continuing academic innovation in this field and to remaining at its forefront theoretically and pedagogically, while sustaining its ongoing commitments to activism and community engagement. The ASRC has continued to be a site of critical and theoretical dialogues related to topics such as the philosophy of "Africana Thought."  The department, whose research is supported and enabled by its John Henrik Clarke Library, has advanced toward a more central engagement with gender and sexuality in areas such as Africana women's studies and black queer studies. As an institution, the ASRC has increasingly shaped the "new Africana Studies." The work of this field is significant and exceptional at Cornell and in the larger profession for its consistent and sustained critical and theoretical engagement of the concept of race. This engagement can be found in the overall models and methods of teaching at Cornell that are truly dynamic. In recent years, the ASRC's commitments to scholarship and activism have been evident in the faculty's development of programs and projects related to topics, such as the prison industrial complex, the crisis of Darfur in Sudan, race and the presidency, academic labor, the black radical intellectual tradition, Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantel, and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The ASRC extends the teaching and learning opportunities that we provide in both our undergraduate and graduate classrooms well beyond to service learning projects and community initiatives from local to transnational contexts.

Graduate Studies

The Graduate Field of Africana Studies offers a doctoral program that the Africana Studies and Research Center administers. Accepting its first cohort of doctoral students in Fall 2014, the Ph.D. in Africana Studies is the first of its kind in New York State. The program is interdisciplinary in approach and transnational in scope. Africa and the African diaspora are studied and taught in their overlapping and intersections, with attention to intellectual traditions, the latest theoretical discourses in the humanities and social sciences and the most current critical interventions in the field of Africana Studies.  

Areas of Concentration in the Doctoral Program

Doctoral programs at Cornell require students to complete a Ph.D. concentration and one or two minors. At the ASRC, there are two concentrations to choose from as students gradually define their research and teaching interests during the first two years of the program: (1) Historical, Political, and Social Analysis and (2) Cultural, Literary, and Visual Analysis. These broad concentrations provide students with the freedom to explore areas of inquiry and the flexibility to define research projects in Africana Studies and in other potentially pertinent fields, such as history, government, literary and cultural studies, art history, music, anthropology, and sociology. This interdisciplinarity is reinforced by the access that students have to Africana's graduate field, which consists of both the ASRC's graduate faculty and faculty who belong to the graduate field but who are based in departments such as those mentioned above. When they constitute their Ph.D. committees, students will be able to choose committee members from the Africana graduate field faculty. The full list of Cornell faculty who belong to the Africana graduate field can be found here.


Students in the Ph.D. program in Africana Studies are required to have at least three committee members as required by the Graduate School's Code of Legislation, i.e. the chair of the Special Committee and two minor committee members. The degree program consists of two concentrations—(1) Historical, Political, and Social Analysis and (2) Cultural, Literary, and Visual Analysis. Within each concentration, students select a geographic area of concentration, e.g. Africa, African America, the Caribbean & Latin America, and Emerging Studies of the Global African Diaspora. Students take a minimum of ten courses in Africana Studies and related fields before taking the qualifying exam (Q-exam) by the end of the second year of graduate study.

There are two required courses that introduce students to the field of Africana Studies. They are "Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis" and "Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary, and Visual Analysis." These seminars introduce students to the program's two concentrations as well as the relevant theoretical and methodological concerns. Students complete the required seminars during the first year and, in consultation with their Special Committee, develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration. All students must demonstrate proficiency in one language other than English. This requirement can be satisfied by taking a proficiency exam upon entering the program or by taking the relevant language course, preferably during the summer. In a given semester students may carry only one incomplete, which must be completed by the end of the following semester. The Graduate School at Cornell requires six semesters of full‐time study and "prides itself on not imposing requirements for courses or credits but in promoting academic freedom and flexibility."

Requirements Summary

  • All Graduate School Requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants   
  • Statement of Purpose 
  • Writing sample   
  • Three letters of recommendation on letterhead   
  • GRE general test not required

    To Apply

    If you are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Treva Levine at