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History of the Center for African Studies at OSU

July first of 2008 marked twenty years since the founding of the Center for African Studies at OSU. This year has also been a time to recognize the accomplishments of Dr. Isaac Mowoe, the Center's founding director, as well as Dr. Magbaily Fyle, who served as CAS Director in 1995 and 1996, both retiring from teaching at OSU in 2008. The following summary describes the origins and accomplishments of CAS since 1988.


In September 1987, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Myles Brand, established a committee to review the possibilities of developing an African Studies Program. Vice Provost for International Affairs, Francille Firebaugh, chaired the committee which was appointed from departments and colleges with an interest in African studies. The committee recommended that an academic center for African studies be formed, that it be interdisciplinary in nature and involve students and faculty from a wide range of departments and colleges. The vision of the committee was that the Center would (a) foster curricular programs in and interdisciplinary approaches to African studies, (b) expand and strengthen the teaching of African languages, (c) facilitate and encourage research by faculty and students in and about Africa across disciplinary borders, (d) expand the collection of African materials in the library, and (e) develop an outreach program to extend knowledge and information about Africa to various groups. The proposal was submitted and the Center for African Studies (CAS) opened on July 1, 1988.


From the beginning, CAS was under the Office of International Affairs, along with other area studies centers. The Vice Provost appointed an internal advisory committee, with the approval of the Provost. An external advisory committee was also formed. Professor Isaac Mowoe of the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) was appointed the first director of the Center in 1988. Subsequent directors, also faculty members in AAAS, were Magbaily Fyle (1995- 1996), Okey Onyejekwe (1997 – 2002), Ahmad Sikainga (2002 – 2006),David Kraybill (2007- 2010), Kelechi Kalu (2010 - 2012) and Robert Agunga (2012 - 2016). Assistant/Associate Directors, charged with administering the center's programs, have included Catherine VerEecke, Okey Onyejekwe, Solomon Tunde Aiyeru. The current Assistant Director is Laura Joseph.

Funding History

Building on a base of support from the OSU Office of International Affairs, and with strong assistance from the Office of the Dean of the College of Humanities , the Center has been successful in raising funds from outside sources. The U.S. Department of Education, through its Title VI programs, has been an important source of support throughout the history of the Center. Under Isaac Mowoe, the first director, CAS obtained a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 1988. These funds supported fellowships for students studying Swahili, Zulu, Hausa, Twi, Shona, and Yoruba from 1989 through 2000, as well as curriculum development, visiting lecturers, symposiums, and other activities. CAS was the only African Studies program in the country to administer FLAS funds from the U.S. Department of Education without holding National Resource Center (NRC) status (1991-1994). In 1994, CAS was awarded NRC funding in a consortium with Ohio University . CAS also continued to administer FLAS funds separately. The OSU-OU consortium continued to administer NRC funds during the 1997-2000 cycle. In 2006, CAS obtained a two-year Title VI Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. With these funds, CAS has developed courses, established a Somali language program, and sponsored speakers and conferences on the themes of conflict, health, and natural resources. Since 1988, CAS has administered approximately $1,585,784 in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Other grants have been awarded from Battelle, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Ohio Humanities Council. In total, CAS has leveraged more than $2 million dollars in outside funds since 1998.

Selected Accomplishments

  • 1995: hosted the 21 st annual conference of the African Literature Association on the theme of “The Postcolonial Condition.” Professor Abiola Irele was convener.
  • 1996: co-hosted, the Ohio Association of African Studies in Athens , Ohio with Ohio University.
  • 1997: hosted the African Studies Association at the Columbus Hyatt Regency with over 1200 attendees. Dr. John Conteh-Morgan was convener.
  • Sponsored conferences on a variety of topics over the years. Examples include “Technology, Culture, and Development” (1991); “HIV/AIDS: Africa and African Diaspora's Public Health in the New Milleneum” (2000); “Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Africa ” (2004)”; 10th Triennial Somali Studies International Conference on theme of “Local and Global Perspectives: Somali Studies in the 21st Century” (2007).
  • Hosted lectures on campus by noted Africanist scholars including Ali Mazrui, Paul Hountondji, Horace Campbell, and many others.
  • The Swahili program at OSU is the longest running program of its kind in the U.S. CAS also supports the teaching of Zulu and other African languages, including Somali, which was added in 2007.
  • Sponsored annual series of K-12 summer workshops on various topics, including Teaching about Africa through Technology, Language, and Culture; Somali History and Culture; Selected Perspectives on the Horn of Africa; African Women in Comparative Perspective; African Art and Visual Culture; and African Livelihoods.

Current Mission

Today, the activities of CAS continue to reflect its original statement of purpose. The Center (a) has over 90 Africanist faculty affiliates in 34 academic departments, (b) works with departments to support and expand African studies courses, (c) organizes lectures, symposia, conferences and other events often co-sponsored with academic departments, (d) collaborates with other area studies centers, Mershon Center, Foreign Language Center, International Programs in Agriculture, Study Abroad and International Students and other units on, (e) conducts African-related outreach to primary and secondary school teachers, government agencies, the media, and civic and community, and (f) develops and maintains relationships between OSU and African universities.