About the Department

Greetings from the Chair

Founded in 1972, the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern is a vibrant place for intellectual exchange, pedagological innovation, and community engagement. As you explore our website, you will notice our department's diasporic focus and its engagement with questions of race and blackness as they manifest all over the globe.

Our scholarship and teaching build and explore analytic paradigms that tease out the commonalities and connections, as well as the differences and debates, with respect to how people organize communities, shape cultures, and navigate dominant racial power structures. We use a variety of methodologies and engage both academia and the wider community in order to contribute to African American Studies' intellectual canon while offering insights, prescriptions, and critical challenges to address larger societal issues.

We are especially pleased to offer a doctoral degree in African American Studies. Launched in 2006, our program seeks to train the next generation of African Americanists in the areas of Expressive Arts and Cultural Studies; Politics, Society, and Culture; and Historical Studies. Our undergraduate program is outstanding and draws students from across the university and across cultures. Finally, our events programming represents an ongoing exchange among members of the Northwestern, local, and national communities.

This is an exciting time to be an African American Studies scholar! We invite you to explore our site and join our mailing list to join the conversation.

Martha Biondi, department chair

Martha Biondi
Professor of African American Studies and History
Chair, Department of African American Studies

Mission Statement

Our mission is to advance critical understandings of the central role that race plays in structuring lives, spaces, relations of power, and subjectivities within modern social formations. The department considers different manifestations of blackness as well as other forms of racialized identity across the globe from historical, theoretical, and perspectives. We analyze and theorize the ways that blackness and black subjects have been produced as signifiers of exploitability, criminality, deficiency, expendability, and sub-humanity over time.

We believe that this perspective provides a useful lens for understanding the destructive effects of racial subjugation and Eurocentrism the world over, effects that have always intersected with gender, class, sexuality, and geopolitics. We do more than scrutinize oppression, however, by also calling critical attention to how black subjects and other persons of color have responded to and resisted these conditions via their activism, expressive cultures, and intellectual work. In so doing, black people have contributed substantially to the formation of global freedom struggles and international political debates about social inequality.

In honor of the diverse, transnational, anti-racist, and anti-colonial movements that helped to create a space for Black Studies within the academy and that have inspired the faculty’s scholarly and political visions, we do not limit ourselves to analyzing black-white tensions or spaces that exist only within the geo-political boundaries of the United States.

The members of the faculty, therefore, find it imperative to examine the black experience within complex global processes of racial ordering in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Pacific, and Asia. This requires dedicating critical attention to the complex relationship between anti-black racism, xenophobia, settler colonialism, and imperialism; and, in the U.S., to the experiences of other non-white and non-European groups such as Native Americans, Latinos/as, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Arab Americans. Thus, the department views Black Studies as both a significant critique of western modernity and as offering essential social, political, and cultural alternatives to our current order.

Our core faculty and affiliates come from a range of disciplines and interdisciplines in the humanities and social sciences. By placing these scholars in conversation with one another, we aim to encourage an understanding of how, where, and when traditional disciplinary boundaries begin to blur. This process generates critical conversations regarding the social meanings of race and blackness across the globe, while a commitment to working across--and often against-- traditional disciplinary assumptions illuminates new terrains through which our intellectual and political mission can be advanced.