African Humanities Programme Advisory Committee met in Africa for the first time

For the first time, the Advisory Committee for the African Humanities Programme (AHP) met to select candidates for the programme’s doctoral completion scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships on African soil when they gathered at Rhodes University recently.

“The main objective of the African Humanities Programme is to develop scholarship on the continent,” said Rhodes University Dean of Humanities Faculty and Co-Associate Director of the AHP, Professor Fred Hendricks. “It is important for the programme to be rooted in Africa.”

Born of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the AHP is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Advisory Committee has previously always convened in New York, but been comprised of many respected intellectuals from countries on the African continent who have shaped the programme from the start.

The programme aims to create communities of humanities scholarship in Africa which are self-respecting and self-referring; something that Prof Hendricks believes is currently lacking but essential. “It is important for making the crucial leap from purely empirical work to conceptual work, from dealing with facts and figures to theorising your own condition,” he said.

He emphasised the significance of asserting an African view of the African condition and confidently expressing to this view when dealing with the rest of the world rather than simply mimicking external opinions about the continent. He described himself as totally committed to this as an objective of the AHP.

With this in mind, Prof Hendricks believed that the meeting at Rhodes was very successful, saying that the committee had not only managed to select candidates for the scholarship and fellowships, but also discussed the partnership with UNISA press that will see some of the best manuscripts from the programme’s fellows published in an AHP book series to be launched in June.

He explained that UNISA press was selected as a partner for this important project due to its continental reach and connections with University libraries across Africa.

The book project forms part of the programme’s wider intentions and offers a new opportunity to scholars and fellows who already benefit from manuscript development workshops, mentoring, and residencies in countries outside of the individual’s home country.

Of some 250 fellowships which have been awarded since the AHP began in 2009, Rhodes has seen two fellows drawn from among its students and also benefited from the presence of visiting fellows in residence. “This is important in bridging the huge gaps between ourselves and the rest of the continent,” Prof Hendricks said.

Focusing on research which asks questions about the human condition, the AHP has seen a lot of work in gender, cultural studies and literature, Music and Fine Art.

Prof Hendricks believes that having the Advisory Committee meeting in South African brought something new and unique to the process and hopes to see more African countries hosting these meetings in future.

By Kyla Hazell

Photo: Rhodes University Dean of Humanities Faculty and Co-Associate Director of the AHP, Professor Fred Hendricks