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African Studies

The Breakdown

From the sands of the Sahara to the beaches of Cape Town, Africa is a continent with a rich topographical and environmental tapestry, fascinating links to ancient cultures and an absorbing (though trying) political landscape. It is a land filled with potential and teeming with heartbreak. If you find yourself drawn to this dynamic, complicated and often harrowing place, perhaps African studies is the major you seek.

As one might expect, African studies majors focus on the history and development of Africa and the African diaspora. Through diverse course requirements ranging from music and art history to anthropology and political science, undergrads discover various African cultures and identities. Indeed they will study the effects of colonialism, the havoc and pain wrought by the slave trade, the spirit of West African drumming and a plethora of other subjects. Generally speaking, most classes will be reading and writing intensive. Finally, a majority of African studies majors spend some time studying abroad.

Should you choose to major in African studies, you’ll discover it’s important to be open to different cultures and ways of thinking. You will also find it beneficial to have a good ear for languages and strong communication skills in general. In addition, you should be great at analyzing and synthesizing information. And you should probably learn through which countries the Serengeti runs.

Nuts and Bolts

As an African studies major, you’ll have the opportunity to explore a wide range of topics including: The Transatlantic Slave Trade, Child Soldiers Through Text and Film, Africa Since 1800, Land of the Pharaohs, Elementary Swahili, Elementary Zulu, Schooling and Childhood in Anglophone Africa, Comparative Freedom Movements: the U.S. and South Africa, African Mbira Music, West African Dance and Third World Development.

Decisions, Decisions

African studies majors are typically curious about other languages, cultures and the way they develop. Therefore, not surprisingly, they might also be interested in studying Arabic, Middle Eastern studies, African-American studies, French, international relations, international business, Spanish, Portuguese, political science, Swahili, anthropology, theology/religion, archeology, history and comparative literature.

What's Next

All right – we’ll admit it. African studies does not necessarily prepare you for any specific career track. However, therein lies the beauty. The skills you’ll both hone and acquire are applicable to a variety of fields and professional pursuits. Indeed, if you do a little digging, you’ll find fellow majors in numerous industries. To begin, it’s fairly common for graduates to become translators or interpreters. Journalism is another popular route with majors often focusing on African stories/beats/bureaus. Many graduates, in search of adventure, seek positions with non-profits and NGOs, working and volunteering in Africa. International business is also a great path, with a handful of majors focusing on import/export. Additionally, government jobs are widely held with students becoming everything from immigration and customs officials to foreign service officers, dignitaries and diplomats. Still others might be found in such diverse fields as hospitality, consulting, social work and education. Truly you can start with African studies and (perhaps ironically) end up virtually anywhere!


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Don Munce