Majors & Programs


African & African-American Studies

What is African & African American Studies?

African & African American Studies (AFAS) is an interdisciplinary program largely concentrated in the humanities and social sciences. It offers instruction in the cultural, intellectual, economic, religious, literary, social, and political life and history of Africans, African Americans, and peoples of African descent around the world.

Two Intimately Related Areas

African American Studies and African Studies are two distinct areas of research. The AFAS program provides faculty who examine anthropology, archaeology, compar-ative literature, education, history, literature, linguistics, and political science. While most of our faculty specialize in either African or African American Studies, it is not unusual for students to become informed in one area because of the other.

Investigation of Vital Questions

These links become evident as we examine some of the essential questions and issues in African & African American Studies. For example:

  • What was New World slavery and why did it happen?
  • What was pre-colonial Africa like?
  • How did the concept of race originate in Western thought?
  • What is the connection between racism and American popular culture?
  • What was colonialism and why did it happen?
  • Why is Africa so fraught with wars and conflicts today?
  • What was the earliest type of literature produced by black Americans and how has this literature evolved?
  • What was the Civil Rights movement?
  • What is Affirmative Action and how has it fared?
  • What are the political, economic, and cultural connections between Africans and diaspora peoples of African descent?

Why Consider a Major in African & African American Studies?

Our Increasingly Diverse Society

The United States is increasingly becoming a multicultural society—a mixture of many people from many parts of the world. By the middle of the 21st century, the majority of the population of the U.S. will be composed of people who are of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent.

Our Multicultural Heritage

As we in the United States have become more aware of our multiculturalism, it has been increasingly important to have a broad range of perspectives on the human cultural heritage. The faculty in African & African American Studies has chosen traditional disciplines, such as English or History,
but their focus has been on African Americans or African peoples, issues, and themes.

A Rewarding Learning Experience

As a major you will focus on African and/or African American Studies. The major encourages students to become broadly informed about both African American and African subject matter by synthesizing knowledge from a wide variety of sources.

The Impact of Multiculturalism and Globalism

Today, differences in language, culture, ethnicity, race, economics, and politics impact in both expected and unforeseen ways. What happens in the domestic arena is intimately connected to the international one. African & African American Studies has long been a place to examine the intersection of Africans, African descended people, and other aspects of the international landscape. As a discipline it has led the way to multiculturalism that has prepared Americans to find new roots in globalism.

You Can Do a Lot with a Major in African & African American Studies

There is a broad array of career options for our majors. Some of the more common pursuits lie within the areas of:

  • Business
  • Creative Writing
  • Internal Relations
  • Law
  • Library and Archival Work
  • Medicine
  • Museum Curatorial Work
  • Philanthropic/Non-Profit Work
  • Professional Research
  • Publishing and Editing
  • Social Work
  • Teaching

African & African American Studies at Washington University

Started in 1969, our African & African American Studies Program provides you with an unusual opportunity to shape an individually tailored major—whether you are interested in an African or African American concentration. You benefit from having both fields housed under one roof. Working primarily with one advisor, you can pursue several options for fulfilling your goals.

Interdisciplinary Study

As an interdisciplinary program, AFAS allows students the opportunity to work with faculty who are experienced in successfully pairing African or African American studies with a wide variety of disciplines. AFAS challenges students to synthesize knowledge across diverse fields, theoretical approaches, and literature. Upon graduation, each student has a method with which to approach learning and problem solving within the context of African & African American Studies. AFAS faculty and lecturers are drawn from a wide range of programs, departments, and professional schools, including American Culture Studies, Biology and Biomedical Sciences, the Center for Humanities, Clinical Education, Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, the Henry Hampton Film & Media Archive, International Studies, the Program for Elimination of Cancer Disparities, Radiology, the School of Law, the School of Medicine, and the St. Louis Black Repertory Theater, among others.

Dedicated Teachers

Our African & African American Studies faculty not only represent different disciplines but many different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. What they have in common is their passion for African & African American Studies—and for teaching undergraduates. What distinguishes our teachers is their commitment to teaching excellence. Our faculty is composed of professionals who are active in their fields. They enjoy sharing their excitement with students.

Attention to Your Needs

Faculty members in African & African American Studies are readily available to meet with you on courses, careers, study methods, or other academic matters.

Special Academic Conferences

Open to students and all interested persons are academic conferences centered on African and African American culture and concerns. Titles of some recent conferences have been:

  • Miles Davis and American Culture
    The Life and Literature of Richard Wright
    Blacks and Jews: An American Historical Perspective
    Race and Science
    National Council of Black Studies

Meet and Hear a Wide Variety of Speakers

Our speaker series is dedicated to bringing important thinkers to campus to discuss a wide range of topics. Whether it is a reading by a noted author or a discussion of the United Nations Conference on Race or a presentation on the Freedom Singers, the speaker series stimulates discussion of a wide range of topics.

Summer Program in Kenya

Washington University’s Summer Program in Kenya is a dynamic program in Swahili language and culture offering full immersion for 4 weeks in the splendid and hospitable Kenya. This program, offered by the African & African American Studies Program, is designed to enhance a student’s understanding of Swahili society by carefully blending coursework, home-stay, and field experience.
The program is intended to accommodate individual student interests.

Interact with Our Post-Doctoral Fellows

You’ll have exciting chances to interact with people just out of graduate school who have a focus in African and/or African American Studies. The program offers two post-doctoral fellowships to allow new Ph.D.s the opportunity to spend up to two years in residence at Washington University. The learning is mutual.

The Major: General Course Requirements

Regardless of whether you choose an African or an African American concentration, you must take a total of 9 courses; one of which is the program’s introductory course. Students who decide to major in the program develop a plan with their advisor for the remainder of their coursework. As a culminating experience, the required senior seminar provides students with a way to interact with other majors whose focus may have been different from theirs:

  • If you concentrate in African Studies, you will complete an introductory course in African American Studies, as well as one introductory course to familiarize you with the great diversity and traditions of African societies, past and present.
  • If you concentrate in African American Studies, you will complete an introductory course in African Studies, as well as one introductory course that tries to answer the questions:
    • What is African American Studies?
    • Why is it important to understand not only African Americans but American society and culture as a

The rest is up to you. You can arrange your major in cooperation with the advisor you select from our faculty.

The Minor

The minor in African & African American Studies is similar to the major. You will take the introductory course plus 15 units at an advanced level. Here again, you determine the focus of the minor in cooperation with an advisor.


If you have a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 out of 4.0 at the middle of your junior year, you can apply to do an honors thesis. This is an exciting opportunity to pursue significant advanced research in African or African American Studies. Here are some examples of recent research topics for senior theses:

  • a comparative view of African feminist literature
    the music of Tanzania
    Black Nationalist movements in the United States in the 1880s
    Black American women writers since World War II

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