Now celebrating its 25th anniversary the Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora series remains at the forefront of the field by bringing Africa-based voices to the mainstream academy. From its inception, the series has also given prominence to the social, economic, and cultural impacts of the African diaspora on the continent’s history. The books in the series represent the strengths of Africa and the African diaspora as disciplines.
In 1995, the University of Rochester Press agreed to my proposal to establish a series on Africa that would favorably compete with established series from presses such as Indiana, Cambridge, Ohio, Oxford, Heinemann, Westview, and Lynne Rienner. We succeeded beyond our expectations.
Such a series made tremendous sense from a publishing and marketing perspective, but, even more importantly, the series was conceived as an intellectual, emancipatory, and futuristic project. The establishment of Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora was suitably positioned in time to catch the currents and ride the waves of transformations not only in studies of African history, but also in developments in African political and social history on the continent and far abroad. The 1990s was a period of great changes and transitions across the continent, of economic failure and political instability, of Africa’s increasing marginalization in global affairs, of the flopping of extant Western paradigms for viewing Africa, of the collapse of the African academy itself, of the folding of major international academic presses based on the continent, of significant emigration of African academics to the Western academy, and of a dire need to reinvent African history as relevant to the times. Against this backdrop, this series was auspicious in every way conceivable.
My broad description to the press of the proposed series was as follows:
With contributions from both emerging and established scholars and reflecting a variety of perspectives and approaches, this series is about Africa writ large and its diasporic extensions. Each book will be insightful, broadly comprehensive, and based on rich evidence. As much as possible, every work that is included must demonstrate relevance to Africa, either by the theme that is explored or connections with broad theoretical literature. The series will consciously encourage studies that are located within the context of debates internal to Africa and those generated by the exciting and growing field of African studies in the West, in order to further an understanding of the key challenges facing Africa in the 21st century as well as the sacrifices and contribution of Africans to the development of the modern world. As a general principle, each manuscript must contribute to a clearer understanding of at least some aspects of the many issues that currently confront Africans of the continent and those of the diaspora.
Our objectives, well established and largely achieved, have been to rethink previous academic assumptions on a wide range of African issues; extend the frontiers of knowledge about Africa and the African diaspora, without contributing to polarizations, stereotypes, and ethnocentricities; represent African voices; interrelate issues of location, diversity, difference, and the commonalities in global humanities across time and space; and transform the study of the discipline with high-quality scholarship focused on the past, the contemporary, and the future.
The Rochester series on African History and the Diaspora has made major contributions in several ways:
- The series addresses issues on the cutting edge, generating and contributing to key debates in African studies. Books in the series address central themes in the development of socioeconomic and political institutions at local, regional, national, or continental levels. Identity, gender, culture, and race remain key areas of study. This series has also covered significant historical and theoretical themes that were not often discussed with regard to African history, such as subaltern and cultural studies, and literary criticism.
- The series bridges the gap between Africa and the African diaspora, and indeed it was the first to make this connection.
- At the time this series was proposed, existing series were geared toward the perspectives of a small circle of North American and European scholars. This had tended to generate a void in scholarship, one in which alternative voices were not heard and perspectives for understanding Africa were limited. The Rochester series has addressed this void by accommodating diverse methodologies and perspectives on Africa and the diaspora.
- While most existing series on African history ignored the modern period of Africa, our series has given this area prominence as the continent moved into a new century with the need to meet the expectations of a new generation of students and public.
Thus from the onset, we defined the mission of the series in broad terms to cover historical and contemporary experience in all its ramifications and manifestations: cultural, institutional, economic, and social. Some volumes have dealt with the complexity of African encounters with the West (as in slavery and colonialism), others with subjects as wide-ranging and contemporary as race, decolonization, and global citizenship in South Africa; Nigerian digital diasporas; and agriculture in Kenya. Thus far, the series has covered all historical eras, from the precolonial to the present, in countries including Algeria, Angola, Brazil, Cuba, Equatorial Africa, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Togo, and Zimbabwe.
The series created an immediate impact. Its founding symbolized the expansion of African history as a discipline and its infusion with the African diaspora broadly defined. The series has featured the most prominent and renowned scholars of African studies, and has also promoted younger scholars whose work has (and will continue to) shape the field. In addition, it is unique in publishing contending visions of African studies, from the “Afrocentric” to the “Afropolitan” to the “Afrofuturistic.”
A major strength of the series is its emphasis on Africa-based voices. The books in the series represent the whole wide range of topics important to the discipline of African and African diaspora studies. We have covered topics and places that have tended to be ignored by scholarship in the past, such as The Gambia, African islands, disability, and the Yoruba. When we published Adiele Afigbo’s The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Southeastern Nigeria, 1885-1950, we became the first major series in the US to publish the work of a scholar based in Africa. Many of the books have been reprinted in paperback because of their wide appeal. Several have made it to the classroom as textbooks, while others have received major awards, among them Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie’s Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, which won the African Studies Association’s Herskovits Prize, and Teshale Tibebu’s Edward Wilmot Blyden and the Racial Nationalist Imagination, which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.
Our authors have continued to distinguish themselves, many on the basis of our books, as in the case of Wale Adebanwi, who has become the first black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University; Kwaku Korang, who became editor of the leading journal in his field, Research in African Literatures; Nemata Blyden, whom we published as a young assistant professor and who is now full professor at George Washington University; and Alusine Jalloh, who recently retired as director of the Africa Program at the University of Texas at Arlington. We have also published the works of the most famous and established scholars in the field, including Bernth Lindfors and Gareth Austin.
In keeping with our long-lived practices, we invite manuscript submissions from scholars at all points in their careers. Our call for manuscripts may be found here; in addition to the topics listed therein, we particularly encourage submissions on emerging areas and ideas, notably Afropolitanism, African Renaissance, and Africa Rising, as well as youth cultures in the area of music, films, and dress.
As the modern history of Africa is written, the series aims to contribute a major chapter to it.
This guest post was written by Toyin Falola, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, The University of Texas at Austin.