African-American Studies

Institute for Research in African-American Studies: 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-7080 

Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies: Prof. Farah J. Griffin; 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-7080;

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Prof. Kevin Fellezs; 816A Dodge; 212-854-6689;

Assistant Director: Shawn Mendoza; 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-8789;

Administrative Assistant: Sharon Harris; 758 Schermerhorn Extension; 212-854-7080;

The Institute for Research in African-American Studies was established at Columbia in 1993, expanding the University’s commitment to this field of study. The African-American studies curriculum explores the historical, cultural, social, and intellectual contours of the development of people of African descent. The curriculum enables students to master the basic foundations of interdisciplinary knowledge in the humanities and social sciences in the black American, Caribbean, and sub-Saharan experience.

Courses examine the cultural character of the African diaspora; its social institutions and political movements; its diversity in thought, belief systems, and spiritual expressions; and the factors behind the continuing burden of racial inequality. During their junior and senior years of study, students focus their research within a specific discipline or regional study relevant to the African diaspora.

Students should consider a major in African-American studies if they are interested in careers where strong liberal arts preparation is needed, such as fields in the business, social service, or government sectors. Depending on one’s area of focus within the major, the African-American studies program can also prepare individuals for career fields like journalism, politics, public relations, and other lines of work that involve investigative skills and working with diverse groups. A major in African-American studies can also train students in graduate research skills and methods, such as archival research, and is very useful for individuals who are considering an advanced graduate degree such as the Ph.D.

Departmental Honors

The requirements for departmental honors in African-American studies are as follows:

  1. All requirements for major must be completed by graduation date;
  2. Minimum GPA of 3.6 in the major;
  3. Completion of senior thesis—due to the director of undergraduate studies on the first Monday in April.

A successful thesis for departmental honors must be selected as the most outstanding paper of all papers reviewed by the thesis committee in a particular year. The Thesis Evaluation Committee is comprised of department faculty and led by the director of undergraduate studies. The thesis should be of superior quality, clearly demonstrating originality and excellent scholarship, as determined by the committee. Normally no more than 10% of graduating majors receive departmental honors in a given academic year.

The African-American Studies Thesis

Although the senior thesis is a prerequisite for consideration for departmental honors, all African-American studies majors are strongly encouraged to consider undertaking thesis work even if they are ineligible or do not wish to be considered for departmental honors. The senior thesis gives undergraduate majors the opportunity to engage in rigorous, independent, and original research on a specific topic of their choosing, the result of which is a paper of 35-60 pages in length. 

The senior thesis must be written under the supervision of at least one faculty member. Should the thesis writer elect to have more than one thesis adviser (either from the outset or added on during the early stages of research), these faculty in the aggregate comprise the Thesis Committee, of which one faculty member must be designated chair. In either case, it is incumbent upon the thesis writer to establish with the thesis chair and committee a reasonable schedule of deadlines for submission of outlines, chapters, bibliographies, drafts, etc.

In many cases, thesis writers may find that the most optimal way in which to complete a thesis is to formally enroll in an AFAS independent study course with their thesis adviser as the instructor. All students interested in writing a thesis should notify the director of undergraduate studies and submit the name of the faculty adviser ideally by October 1, but certainly no later than the end of the fall semester. In close consultation with the thesis adviser, students develop a viable topic, schedule of meetings, bibliography, and timeline for completion (including schedule of drafts and outlines).

Senior Faculty

  • Robert Gooding-Williams (Philosophy)
  • Steven Gregory (Anthropology)
  • Farah J. Griffin (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Samuel K. Roberts (History)
  • Josef Sorett (Religion)
  • Sudhir A. Venkatesh (Sociology)

Junior Faculty

  • Kevin Fellezs (Music)
  • Frank Guridy ( History)

Research Fellows

  • Marcellus Blount (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Fredrick C. Harris (Political Science)
  • Carl Hart (Psychology)
  • Obery Hendricks ( Religion/African-American Studies) 
  • Kellie E. Jones (Art History and Archaeology)
  • Natasha Lightfoot (History)
  • Mignon Moore(sociology-Barnard)
  • David Scott ( Anthropology) 
  • Mabel Wilson (Architecture, Planning and Preservation)

Affiliated Faculty

  • Vanessa Agard-Jones (Anthropology) 
  • Belinda Archibong (Economics) 
  • Christopher Brown (History)
  • Maguette Camara (Dance, Barnard)
  • Tina Campt (Africana & Womens Studies , Barnard College)
  • Mamadou Diouf (Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies)
  • Ann Douglas (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Barbara Fields (History)
  • Eric Foner (History)
  • Saidiya Hartman (English and Comparative Literature)
  • Ousmane Kane (School of International and Public Affairs)
  • Rashid Khalidid (History)
  • George E. Lewis (Music)
  • Mahmood Mamdani (Anthropology)
  • Gregory Mann (History)
  • Alondra Nelson (Sociology; Women's and Gender Studies)
  • Gary Okihiro (School of International and Public Affairs)
  • Robert O'Meally (English and Comparative Literature)
  • David Scott (Anthropology)
  • Susan Strum (Law School)  

Major in African-American Studies

Please note that as of December 2017 Major Requirements have changed.  Please consult with the department if there are any questions. The major should be arranged in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies. Students interested in majoring should plan their course of study no later than the end of their sophomore year. A minimum of 27 points is required for the major as follows:

AFAS UN1001Introduction to African-American Studies
AFAS UN3936Black Intellectuals Seminar
A new course "Major Debates in African-American Studies" will replace this course in 2018-2019
One senior research seminar
A minimum of four courses in the governed electives category, which provides an interdisciplinary background in the field of African-American studies. Such electives must be drawn from at least three different departments. Of these, one must be a literature course; one must be a history course; and one must focus primarily on cultures and societies located in Africa or within the African diaspora outside of the United States, such as the Caribbean or Latin America.
Five courses must be taken within a designated area of study, preferably within a distinct discipline (e.g., anthropology, English, sociology, political science, history). Students may also select their five courses within a distinct regional or geographical area within the African diaspora (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa). One of these five courses must be a seminar.

Concentration in African-American Studies

Please note that as of December 2017 Concentration Requirements have changed.  Please consult with the department if there are any questions. A minimum of 19 points is required for the concentration. All students must take the introductory course, AFAS UN1001 Introduction to African-American Studies. Within the governed elective category, a minimum of 9 points must be taken. Of these, one course must be selected from the humanities; one course must be in the social sciences; and one must focus primarily on non-U.S. cultures and societies within the African diaspora and sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, a minimum of 12 points must be acquired from courses within a designated area of study, such as a specific discipline or a regional area (e.g., Africa). One of the courses taken to fulfill either the governed electives category or the designated area of study category must be either AFAS UN3936 Black Intellectuals Seminar (This course will be replace by "Major Debates in African-American Studies" in 2018-2019 ) or a research seminar.

AFAS UN1001 Introduction to African-American Studies. 4 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement

Prerequisites: Students need to register for a section of AFAS UN1010, the required discussion section for this course.

From the arrival of enslaved Africans to the recent election of President Barack Obama, black people have been central to the story of the United States, and the Americas, more broadly. African Americans have been both contributors to, and victims of, this “New World” democratic experiment. To capture the complexities of this ongoing saga, this course offers an inter-disciplinary exploration of the development of African-American cultural and political life in the U.S., but also in relationship to the different African diasporic outposts of the Atlantic world. The course will be organized both chronologically and thematically, moving from the “middle passage” to the present so-called “post-racial” moment—drawing on a range of classical texts, primary sources, and more recent secondary literature—to grapple with key questions, concerns, and problems (i.e., agency, resistance, culture, etc.) that have preoccupied scholars of African-American history, culture, and politics. Students will be introduced to a range of disciplinary methods and theoretical approaches (spanning the humanities and social sciences), while also attending to the critical tension between intellectual work and everyday life, which are central to the formation of African-American Studies as an academic field. This course will engage specific social formations (i.e., migration, urbanization, globalization, etc.), significant cultural/political developments (i.e., uplift ideologies, nationalism, feminism, Pan-Africanism, religion/spirituality, etc.), and hallmark moments/movements (i.e., Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights movement, etc.). By the end of the semester, students will be expected to possess a working knowledge of major themes/figures/traditions, alongside a range of cultural/political practices and institutional arrangements, in African-American Studies.

AFAS UN3030 African-American Music. 3 points.

This course focuses on a central question: how do we define “African-American music”? In attempting to answer this question, we will be thinking through concepts such as authenticity, representation, recognition, cultural ownership, appropriation, and origin(s). These concepts have structured the ways in which critics, musicians and audiences have addressed the various social, political and aesthetic contexts in which African-American music has been composed (produced), performed (re-produced) and heard (consumed).

Spring 2019: AFAS UN3030
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
AFAS 3030 001/78285 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Kevin Holt 3 11/14

AFAS UN3930 Topics in the Black Experience. 4 points.

Please refer to Institute for Research in African American Studies for section course descriptions:

Spring 2019: AFAS UN3930
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
AFAS 3930 001/13198 T 4:10pm - 6:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
C. Daniel Dawson 4 18/16
AFAS 3930 002/69265 W 12:10pm - 2:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Zinga Fraser 4 12/14
AFAS 3930 003/10947 Th 10:10am - 12:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Josef Sorett 4 10/14

AFAS UN3936 Black Intellectuals Seminar. 4 points.

AFAM Major/Concentrator required course

This undergraduate seminar examines a diverse group of black intellectuals' formulations of ideologies and theories relative to racial, economic and gender oppression within the context of dominant intellectual trends. The intellectuals featured in the course each contributed to the evolution of black political thought, and posited social criticisms designed to undermine racial and gender oppression, and labor exploitation around the world. This group of black intellectuals' work will be analyzed, paying close attention to the way that each intellectual inverts dominant intellectual trends, and/or uses emerging social scientific disciplines to counter racism, sexism, and classism. This seminar is designed to facilitate an understanding of the black intellectual tradition that has emerged as a result of African-American thinkers' attempts to develop a unified response to an understanding of the black condition. This course explores of a wide range of primary and secondary sources from several different periods, offering students opportunity to explore the lives and works of some of the most important black intellectuals. We will also consider the way that period-specific intellectual phenomenon-such as Modernism, Marxism, Pan-Africanism, and Feminism-combined with a host of social realities.

AFAS UN3940 Senior Thesis Seminar. 4 points.

The Senior Seminar will afford thesis writers the chance to workshop their idea, conduct research and/or interviews, work with the IRB protocols (if necessary), learn to work with archival materials, and perform other research activities prior to writing the thesis. Students who choose to write a capstone paper or conduct a capstone project can choose an elective course the following semester.

The Thesis Seminar, conducted in the spring semester, is a workshop-oriented course for Senior Thesis writers organized around honing their writing skills while providing guidance to students in their field/disciplinary-specific projects. For example, a student may choose to write a historical biography of an artist while another may pursue a sociological study of the effects of mass incarceration on voting rights. The instructor of the Thesis Seminar, working with a faculty adviser (dependent on the specific field of inquiry in the thesis), will provide feedback and supervise the writing schedule of the students.

Spring 2019: AFAS UN3940
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
AFAS 3940 001/29576 F 2:10pm - 4:00pm
652 Schermerhorn Hall
Josef Sorett 4 0/14

AFAS GU4031 Protest Music and Popular Culture. 3 points.

Open to graduate students and limited advanced undergraduates.Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

This course will examine the relationship between popular music and popular movements. We will be taking a historical, as well as a thematic, approach to our investigation as a way to trace various legacies within popular music that fall under the rubric of "protest music" as well as to think about the ways in which popular music has assisted various communities to speak truth to power. We will also consider the ways in which the impact of the music industry has either lessened or enhanced popular music's ability to articulate "protest" or "resistance" to hegemonic power.

AFAS GU4035 Criminal Justice and the Carceral State in the 20th Century United States. 4 points.

To apply for course enrollment, please contact Prof. Samuel Roberts (

This course provides an introduction to historical and contemporary concepts and issues in the U.S. criminal justice system, including state violence; the evolution of modern policing; inequality and criminal justice policy; drug policy as urban policy; and the development of mass incarceration and the “carceral continuum.” The writing component to this course is a 20-25 page research paper on a topic to be developed in consultation with the instructor. This course has been approved for inclusion in the African-American Studies and History undergraduate curricula.

AFAS GU4037 Third World Studies. 4 points.

Introduction to third world studies; an introduction to the methods and theories that inform the field of third world studies (aka ethnic studies), including imperialism, colonialism, third world liberation movements, subjectivities, and racial and social formation theories;

AFAS GU4080 Topics in The Black Experience. 4 points.

Please refer to Institute for Research in African American Studies for section-by-section course descriptions.

Spring 2019: AFAS GU4080
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
AFAS 4080 001/67846 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Farah Griffin 4 11/12
AFAS 4080 002/67550 Th 2:10pm - 4:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Johanna Almiron 4 8/14
AFAS 4080 003/67046 M 12:10pm - 2:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Kalia Brooks 4 5/14
AFAS 4080 004/98600 T 12:10pm - 2:00pm
758 Ext Schermerhorn Hall
Frank Guridy 4 12/14

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