Undergraduate Student Learning Initiative

Department Profile

The Ethnic Studies department, which included African American Studies, began in 1970. A B.A. degree has been offered in African American Studies since 1973. In 1975, African American Studies was elevated from program status to a department in the College of Letters and Science. As an autonomous department in the largest college on the Berkeley Campus, African American Studies became more integral to the academic mission of the university. The department has continued its process of steady growth, strengthening, consolidating, and fine tuning all aspects of its programs on African Americans and increasing its focus on other sites across the African Diaspora. Over the last two decades, the Department has continued to be named by academic journals and research investigations as one of the top African American Studies Departments in the country based on published papers by faculty members. The department of African American Studies offers students a Bachelor of Arts degree as well as a minor in African American Studies. In addition, in 1997, the Department established one of the first Ph.D. programs in African American Studies in the United States. and the first to emphasize African Diaspora Studies. The undergraduate curriculum focuses on Africa and the African Diaspora, with particular attention paid to the life and culture of the populations of African descent in North American and the Caribbean. There is also some focus on populations of African descent in Latin America and Europe. The program is interdisciplinary and prepares students to use and develop analytical approaches to critical issues associated with the African Diaspora.

With an African American Studies degree, a student may apply to law school, medical school, and most graduate schools for a wide variety of disciplines. African American Studies majors may decide to go into public policy, journalism, education, entertainment, film, medicine and law. With a strong grade point average, and solid letters of recommendation, the possibilities are limitless.


The African American Studies Department has a mission of developing the theoretical and analytical frameworks for the study of African Americans, Africans, and the African Diaspora. We particularly bring together a wide range of scholars to anchor our interdisciplinary methods and projects. In addition to theoretical and analytical frameworks, we focus on problem-solving in relation to social and community organizations and institutions.

Learning goals for the major:

· Introduce students to the study of African American culture through the humanities by examining the production and social function of literature, music, visual arts, and performance. Explore the unique role that African American culture has had in defining and responding to larger constructs of American Culture.

· Trace the history of Africa from the earliest times (or prehistory) to the early modern period. Examine various aspects of pre-colonial African life and emphasize cultural and demographic themes. Equip students with the intellectual tools for intelligently discussing African history in both academic and non-academic settings.

· Gain a critical awareness about twentieth-century Africa and give due attention to postcolonial social, political and economic processes in the general context of Africans’ attempts to remake their world in the postcolonial era.

· Examine the history (employment, migration, family life, culture, social institutions, and protest traditions) of African Americans since 1865. Acquire particular attention to the interplay between race, class and gender.

· Examine the political, social and intellectual origins of the discipline and assess the disciplinary and institutional status of African American Studies.

· Acquire a range of research methods as they are applied to the study of African American Communities with the main focus on qualitative methods.

· Obtain familiarity with basic canon texts in African American Studies.

· Gain advanced knowledge of a particular area of specialization (either interdisciplinary or disciplinary).

· For honors students, successful completion of an undergraduate thesis to demonstrate research, analytical and theoretical skills related to an area of specialization.


· Demonstrate clear writing and formulate persuasive arguments in the form of research papers and essays.

· Development and improvement of critical thinking and analytical skills.

· Demonstrable competence in theoretical and research methodological issues either from an interdisciplinary or disciplinary approach.

· Demonstrable knowledge and understanding of course reading and lecture materials.

· Use and develop analytical approaches to critical issues associated with the African Diaspora

· Ability to analyze literature, visual culture, music, social and political institutions critically.

· Ability to conduct primary or secondary research in the field.

Path to Goals

In preparation for declaring a major in African American Studies, students should complete the Reading and Composition requirement and freshman/sophomore seminars. :

AAS 4A: African History and Culture

AAS 5A-5B: Black Life and Culture

Upon declaring the major, students are required to complete the following upper division core requirements:

AAS 100: Introduction to African American Studies

AAS 101: Interdisciplinary Research Methods

AAS 116: Colonialism, Slavery, and African American Life Before1864

AAS 117: African Americans in the Industrial Age, 1865-1970

To complete the major, students must take a cluster of ten courses focused on a specific area of concentration (for those who are doing an honors thesis, the two theses courses will serve as electives). Seven of the ten courses must be selected from African American Studies departmental course offerings. The remaining three courses may be taken from other departments. The cluster must be pre-approved by the department’s academic advisor.

Evaluation of Goals

Student papers, student presentations, exams, discussions, exit surveys