African American Studies

Degree Types: PhD

African American Studies by its very nature is an interdisciplinary field. It acquaints students with myriad ways of thinking, researching, and writing about the diverse experiences of African Americans in the United States and of African descended people throughout the African Diaspora (from dispersion, colonialism, the slave trade and slavery, through emancipation, decolonization, independence, and postcolonialism). African American Studies brings together the voluminous scholarship generated by past and present historians; political scientists; sociologists; cultural, literary, and performance studies critics; and scholars working on diverse topics and constructions of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

The Department of African American Studies is comprised of renowned core faculty and faculty affiliates who are integrally involved in the teaching, service, and research interests of the department. Affiliated faculty members are invited, and in fact expected, to be key participants in African American Studies. Both our core and affiliated faculty have appointments in the following Northwestern University schools: Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communication, Human Development and Social Policy, Medill, the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, and the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. This involvement of affiliates positions us well to mobilize their active support and engagement for the graduate program in African American Studies. Affiliated faculty stand poised to assist with graduate teaching by cross-listing their current graduate course offerings; serving on the examination and dissertation committees of our students; and participating on administrative committees related to the graduate program such as in-house competitive fellowships, admissions, and program governance.

The Department offers advanced graduate training through a PhD in African American Studies. Three substantive areas form the basis of this program:

  1. Expressive Arts, Literature, and Cultural Studies
  2. Politics, Society, and Culture
  3. History

Each of these areas is populated by scholars within the department who focus their research within a domestic and/or international context. The PhD program in African American Studies provides students with the historical background in the experiences of people of African descent, the analytic preparation to carry out rigorous empirical and theoretical research, and the professional development to pursue careers in academia or beyond.

Students in this program are also encouraged to participate in TGS’s Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative program. For more information on how you can have a second intellectual “home” outside of your department or program, please visit the Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative page.

Additional resources:

African American Studies Courses

AF_AM_ST 401-0 Research Seminar in Black Studies (1 Unit)  

Introduction to central debates in Black Studies on a graduate level. Emphasizes critical thinking, research design and method, forms of argumentation, and theory building. Readings highlight a range of methods -- historiographic, literary, ethnographic, social scientific etc. Assignments focused on developing student independent research projects.

AF_AM_ST 402-0 Theorizing Black Genders and Sexualities (1 Unit)  

Examines the multiple and changing meanings and political effects of gender and sexuality on Black identity in different socio-cultural contexts. Puts in dialogue global Black feminist theory and Black queer theory through the discussion of topics such as: slavery, colonialism, diaspora, citizenship, activism, labor, kinship, desire, art, reproduction, violence, and others.

AF_AM_ST 403-0 Theorizing Blackness and Diaspora (1 Unit)  

Introduces students to cultural, social, historical, artistic, and theoretical approaches to developing a global analytics of Blackness. Surveys Blackness as a category of critical analysis for both historical and contemporary social formations in the African Diaspora. Considers how gender, class, sexuality, and nationality shape the territory of Blackness.

AF_AM_ST 410-0 Black Feminist and Black Queer Theories (1 Unit)  

Team taught course stages a series of dialogues between US black feminist theory and black queer theory through the discussion of such topics as the legacy of slavery; activism; work, family and self-esteem; body politics, i.e. sexuality, reproduction, HIV/AIDS, popular culture representation; appropriations and alliances.

AF_AM_ST 420-0 Expressive Arts and Cultural Studies (1 Unit)  

Utilizes slave narratives, fiction, poetry, music, drama, critical theory, and the visual arts to survey how African-descended writers, artists, and theorists have grappled with such issues as: the relationship to Africa; self-articulation and struggle; performance as a site of knowledge production and contestation; and the global circulation of Black cultural production.

AF_AM_ST 440-0 Black Historiography (1 Unit)  

Interrogates the development of Black History and its writing. Introduces graduate students to key themes, debates, sources, methods, periods and events that have shaped the emergence of Black Historiography. Examines historical methodology, including the histories of archives, their sources, and the challenges faced by historians seeking to uncover the Black past.

AF_AM_ST 441-0 History of Black Women in the Diaspora (1 Unit)  

Examines the voices, struggles, theorizing, leadership, and writings of Black women, individually and collectively, locally and in Diaspora. Interrogates and challenges definitions of Black women by probing categories of difference, including ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, gender identity, spirituality, and migrant/immigrant status.

AF_AM_ST 442-0 Africans in Colonial Latin America (1 Unit)  

Historiography of Africans and their descendents in Latin America, from early colonial times to abolition. Focuses on a series of historical problems affecting Africans, including the realities of slavery, free black life, gender and sexuality, culture, and questions of identity formation.

AF_AM_ST 444-0 Civil Rights/Black Liberation (1 Unit)  

Surveys the scholarship on what many historians have termed "the long Civil Rights Movement." Begins with the labor activism of the 1930s and the global wars of the 1940s, and treats the U.S. Black Freedom Movement as part of the broader anti-colonial upheaval of the 20th century.

AF_AM_ST 445-0 Historicizing Race in Latin America (1 Unit)  

Surveys the principle themes, sources, methods and arguments animating scholarship on race, sexuality, and modernity in Latin America.

AF_AM_ST 460-0 Race, Politics, Society, and Culture (1 Unit)  

Uses texts from sociology, anthropology, political science, and other social sciences to consider how the concepts of "race" and "Blackness" have functioned across time and space. Explores how race and Blackness reflect, inflect and inscribe inequality as well as group consciousness, struggle, and everyday life.

AF_AM_ST 467-0 Ethnographies of Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity (1 Unit)  

Interdisciplinary examination of texts for their theoretical, contextual, and methodological approaches to immigration, race, and ethnicity. Themes include the politics of location, representation, and fieldwork.

AF_AM_ST 469-0 Poststructuralism and Black Political Thought (1 Unit)  

Developing theoretical perspectives on the conceptualization of Black politics in the work of different Black thinkers, using the poststructuralist distinction between 'politics and the political'.

AF_AM_ST 475-0 Genealogy of Racism as a Concept: Deconstruction & Governmentality (1 Unit)  

Interrogates the histories and logics of racism as a concept since its formulation and formation during the early 20th century. Critiques the discursive traditions in which racism has been traditionally narrated as a historically self-evident object of moral condemnation or political critique.

AF_AM_ST 480-0 Graduate Topics in African American Studies (1 Unit)  

Explores special topics pertinent to Black Studies. Content changes with instructor.

AF_AM_ST 490-0 Independent Study (1 Unit)  

Individualized reading, research, discussion, and/or writing with faculty member.

AF_AM_ST 491-0 Reading and Pedagogy (1 Unit)  

Individualized training and practice as a teaching assistant (TA). Students registered for 491 and 2 other courses are considered full time.

AF_AM_ST 590-0 Research Seminar (1-3 Units)  

Independent research in first two years of PhD program, including summers. Students registered for 590 and 2 other courses are considered full time.