Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Africa Network Conference: Denison University

This weekend, September 30 to October 2, I have been at Denison University, Ohio, attending the Africa Network conference. It has been a time of intense intellectual engagement and reflection, with about a dozen scholars presenting papers on various topics pertaining to Africa.

The topics ranged widely, including the importance of early African history in African studies, new trends in African studies, the use of exhibits and digital resources, quality in higher education, music as a bridge between Africa and America, classroom and community, study abroad, and the anthropology of multinational corporations in Africa.

The Africa Network conferences have the advantage of being relatively small, enabling participants to explore issues in depth and to their satisfaction. Another notable feature of these conferences has been that though the participants represent different disciplines, the presentations and discussions have always managed to remain accessible to everyone.

A recurring theme of the conference was the need to challenge ignorance and stereotypes about Africa. We know that we have to deal with people who think of Africa as a country, a relatively easy stereotype to dispel. However, there are also more insidious and stubborn misconceptions and biases, such as the tendency to see Africa solely or predominantly in terms of needs and deficiencies.

As usually happens in conferences, many interesting and memorable encounters occur on the sidelines. This conference has been no exception. In the picture on the left, I am standing with two professors. On my right is Stephen Volz of Kenyon College, who said that he is scheduled to lead students of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest to Botswana and is using my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, for cultural orientation.

On my left is Kristofer Olsen of Montana State University. Last year, while teaching a course on mythology, he used my book, Matengo Folktales, and requested me to talk with his class via Skype, as I reported on my blog.

In his presentation to the conference, Professor Olsen talked about that class, noting that his students appreciated seeing me and hearing my singing of the songs in the folktales.

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