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Conversations with Colleagues: Africanist and Afrocentric Reactions to Wonders of the African World

Jonathan T. Reynolds, Burks Michael, Karen Cudjoe, Michael Washington


In the weeks and days before the premier of Henry Louis Gates' "Wonders of the African World," the advent of the series was a frequent topic of conversation among the four members of the Northern Kentucky University History faculty who tended to pay attention to such things. Mirroring, no doubt, discussions taking place in the halls and near coffee machines of many other departments around the country, we speculated on the content of the program. Each expressed optimism of one sort or another that the series would serve to help improve popular images of Africa and would prove a useful tool for teaching our students about Africa. Once the series had finished though, our optimism had largely faded into disappointment. Mirroring listserv threads around the globe, we discussed what we saw as the failings of "Wonders of the African World." Unlike the populations of most listservs, which are amalgams of scholars who have self-selected for discussion with colleagues who have relatively similar ideological and methodological perspectives, we came to "Wonders" from a variety of scholarly backgrounds and perspectives, despite our common interest in things African. Dr. Washington holds an Ed.D., with a specialty in African- American education, Dr. Reynolds is an assistant professor of African History. While both have sympathies for Afrocentrism, they were trained in a method of history which stresses objectivity and the keeping of emotional distance from one's subject. Michael Burks and Karen Cudjoe are graduate students teaching part-time in the department and self- proclaimed "Afrocentrists" who make little or no apology for presenting material from an African perspective or for identifying emotionally with African history. The following text consists of comments made during discussions and from short commentaries prepared by each of the four department members to facilitate this article. Many of the points were energetically argued and disputed, the details of which we will spare the reader. Rather, it is hoped that this extreme condensation of our discussions will not merely offer a variety of perspectives on Gates' series, but will, more importantly, tell us something of how our reactions to the program are shaped by our methodologies and ideological paradigms. We hope that these diverse views, in turn, will help us all to better understand the great variety of perspectives to be found among those who study and teach Africa.

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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