African Studies Association Annual Meeting 2020

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Contributed by Kathryn Salucka, Deputy Director, African Studies Association

Established in 1957, the African Studies Association (US) has lived through immense changes in African Studies, including, to name a few, the independence wave of the 1960s, the fall of apartheid, and the decolonization of knowledge movement. In 2020, the ASA, like many other organizations, is faced with another challenge: rethinking academic gatherings and the sharing of knowledge during a pandemic. The ASA Annual Meeting brings together thousands of attendees from across the globe to share their latest insights, discuss new paradigms, and debate the finer points of the field. A long-standing tradition, the Annual Meeting serves as the highlight of the year for the ASA, and an opportunity for our members to come together.

In a time of COVID-19, such gatherings are not possible. Safety and travel concerns, combined with the danger of large group events, forced the ASA to reassess the purpose of the Annual Meeting. Though the ASA members cannot come together in-person, the Association believes that the knowledge produced and disseminated at the Annual Meeting is more important than ever. The 63rd Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association will run as a virtual event, November 19-21, 2020. With nearly 300 sessions scheduled, including keynote lectures, a virtual exhibit hall, a K-12 Teacher Workshop and a film screening, this event will be available to anyone who wishes to participate. In the past, the Annual Meeting has been limited to those who could physically attend. The ASA is excited to have the opportunity to remove several of these barriers to attendance, despite the fact that COVID-19 has upset many other aspects of everyday life. Though the program is finalized, individuals are still welcome to register to attend the conference as a participant, at the reduced rates of $50 for ASA members, and $75 for non-ASA members. K-12 Teachers are invited to participate in the Teacher Workshop on Saturday, November 14 for $35.

A truly interdisciplinary organization, ASA members and Annual Meeting attendees come from all fields within African Studies – from those in science and health, to the arts and policy. Insights from all of these corners have an important role to play in leading the charge against COVID-19. Countries in Africa have demonstrated sound approaches to mitigating and containing COVID-19 in 2020. The Annual Meeting program will contain a special track focused solely on COVID-19, featuring wide ranging presentations from governance during COVID-19, the role of religious organizations in the pandemic, and responses from the arts, among others.

In addition to the COVID-19 track, the Annual Meeting program contains a robust array of presentations for registered attendees, including sessions on sculpture and modernism, decolonization of the state, discussions of educational pedagogy, and more. Registered attendees of the conference will have access to on-demand viewing of several of the scheduled sessions, and will continue to have access to archived presentations through the end of the year. The preliminary program for the meeting can be viewed here. If you are interested in registering for the conference, you can do so from the myASA portal. If you would like to register to participate in the K-12 Teacher Workshop, you can do so here.

Any questions about the ASA Annual Meeting can be directed to Alix Saba, alix@africanstudies.org.

 

Third Chapter is Now Registered for Amazon Smile Donations

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by Clare Doyle

What changes economic disparity and fosters a strong society is education? To put our project into context, you need to look at the community we are serving. Six percent of eligible-aged Africans are enrolled in post-secondary education compared to 70% in developed nations. That number has doubled since 2000 but funding still lags far behind (Economist, August 10, 2019). In the United States alone, we spend $135.5 billion annually on higher education. Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of 46 countries and collectively the number is $5 billion, which represents almost 7% (Grand View Research, 2018).

The Third Chapter Project is now registered as a charitable organization with the Amazon Smile program. If you shop via Amazon, and would like Amazon to donate a percentage of what you spend on the site to Third Chapter, simply go to smile.amazon.com, and click the “Get Started” button. Log in with your Amazon credentials, and, when prompted, pick The Third Chapter Project, Inc, as your charitable organization. Many Amazon purchases are eligible for Amazon Smile donations and if you look underneath the product information you will see a badge “Eligible for amazon smile donation” if this is the case. You don’t need to do anything else—order the product as usual and Amazon will donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to Third Chapter. There are no fees and no extra cost to you! 

Once you’ve selected Third Chapter as your charitable organization, just remember to go to smile.amazon.com in future when you want to shop on Amazon—we suggest bookmarking the link for convenience. It’s an easy way to donate to Third Chapter and to support our mission to facilitate access to leading scholarly content in the social sciences and humanities among under-served academic institutions in Africa. Every donation counts!

Scholarship Out of Africa

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by Third Chapter President Lee Walton

When we first conceptualized the Third Chapter Project, Inc., our mission was to facilitate access to Humanities and social science via electronic resources to scholars in under-served communities. Africa was a natural choice as we became aware of the immense knowledge gap between developed countries and developing countries through our colleagues at the American Council of Learned Societies. What we learned from this experience was the critical need for the dissemination of scholarship coming out of and within Africa.  

For anyone who has been following this blog, you will not be surprised to learn how much we rely on our Advisory Committee (consisting of 17 African scholars) to be the voice of their community. All agree that the demand for current scholarship from the Global North is important, but the need for locally generated scholarly communications distributed to the rest of the world is critical for the future of African scholarship. 

In his article, Writing history: flow and blockage in the circulation of knowledge, Dr. Steven Feierman, author and professor Emeritus at University of Pennsylvania wrote about the need for local scholars to be on the forefront of research in Africa. They deserve to get the recognition for what they provide rather than simply contributing to better funded counterparts. Because locals provide better context, when research product from community scholars becomes widely available to the world, it contributes to better knowledge overall.  (or: The local context they provide to the community scholars’ research contributes to better overall knowledge when made available around the world.) 

On a more localized level, our advisory committee members are telling us that a vital element of the Third Chapter Project is the dissemination of African generated scholarship to the rest of the world because it elevates African researchers. The exposure leads to a broader understanding of Africa and an acceptance of those conducting the research at the local level. 

It is important to recognize that the continent of Africa represents 54 countries and 1.6 billion people and yet generates only 3% of the total global knowledge output, the majority of which is in the STEM fields. 

To learn more, I would suggest reading Dr. Steven Feierman’s Writing history: flow and blockage in the circulation of knowledge. 

The Three Questions Facing the Third Chapter Project

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By Third Chapter President Lee Walton

After months building key relationships, organizing the African Studies Advisory Board, launching an independent newsletter, and more, here are what I determined are the three biggest questions facing the Third Chapter Project.

  1.  What is the problem? How do we define it?

The problem we are facing is the serious lack of quality electronic resources flowing into Africa, and the obstacles in African scholarly communications emanating out of and within Africa. This is most profoundly affecting the social sciences, humanities, and other related areas. We have identified this as a global problem relating to a variety of causes with the final result being that the entire continent of Africa has been denied access to scholarly and research work, essays, monographs, journals, books, and intellectual exchange. For the most part, the North discriminates against the South by diminishing contributions of African scholarship to the global body of knowledge.

2.  Why is the problem so severe?

  • It can not be understated that there is almost no funding for humanities and social science research, nor access to digital content, especially to African nations. Universities in the African continent are severely underfunded and rely on local and national government funding for acquiring resources. Just like their northern counterparts, the focus is typically on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medical) with the desired outcome of creating jobs and driving their economies. To compound this, outside non-governmental organizations focus on STEM for the very same reason. By the time STEM programs are funded, there is not enough funding left over to purchase current research in the subject areas of the humanities and social science. The result is outdated or “barely good enough”.  Eighty percent of the African Humanities Program (AHP, an ACLS/Carnegie funded project) scholars we polled reported back that they did not have enough resources to complete their work.
  • Bureaucratic roadblocks – In late 2016, the ACLS Humanities E Book Project tried to give all African institutions with ties to the ACLS Fellowship program unlimited and free access to the ACLS collection of high-quality scholarly monographs in digital form. Of the 100 or so universities we reached out to, only two responded and then only one Makerere University signed up. The result was duplicated when the AHP tried to offer free books to the same university libraries. These are titles that are not only necessary to the research community and students, but to the institution themselves to maintain accreditation. Librarians cannot make a decision independently  without going through a cumbersome bureaucrat approval process, even on free material. To make matters worse, with each change in upper management, foci change and priorities are reset, resulting in access to needed resources lost due to subscriptions being cut from institutional collections.
  • Clunky, non-user-friendly library systems are hard to use and are not generally available off campus. Even with library access, students are relying on their phones rather than laptops. These are commonly affected by power outages, have periodic access problems, and are not universally accepted by students.
  • Students rely on faculty for resources, not on the university library. This sets up an inequality between faculty that have relationships and travel in the North, versus those who do not and must rely on the content in the library. A professor who has contacts or travels outside of Africa can acquire new books and journals and make copies (outside of copyright) for the benefit of their students. This workaround has unintended consequences as publishers from the North are wary of piracy of their products.
  • COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem of online access. Currently, most of Africa is conducting online classes but access to online resources lags behind the need. If a student is no longer able to go to the library, print becomes more out of date than ever before.
  • Acquiring journals from the North is difficult because of their cost. One highly sought-after journal can wipe out the entire budget leaving little to nothing for other resources. 
  • African research products suffer from the lack of demand from the North, resulting in works that go unpublished or are simply under-circulated. This situation is a further continuation of publishing colonialism. African scholars need to learn from their peers, and the North needs to hear and learn from Africa. 

The time has long passed for Africans to define their own narrative, for far too long have better funded Northern scholars written the history of Africa.  

3.  Dispelling the myth about other publishers and nonprofits “solving the problem”. 

  • When we first conceptualized The Third Chapter Project, we were met with two reactions. The first, and the one that has solidified our commitment, was hearing anecdotal stories about scholars who were begging, borrowing, and stealing content because the resource gap was so great.
  • The second, and much more problematic issue, was “others are in Africa providing content”. This statement is not accurate. What African scholars are telling us is that Northern publishers are providing low cost or free content that is not as desirable or is out of date, while the material that is critical for research is behind expensive paywalls. Publishers are trading on the goodwill generated by “supporting Africa” but are just an expansion of the exploitation that so many others have done before.  
  • There are wonderful organizations in Africa doing excellent work, mostly in STEM. There are others who are tackling small segments like primary education (K-12) country by country, or someone like the American Theological Library Association who is supporting small seminaries. No one is supporting the humanities and social science by bringing grant and donation-funded content to Africa.

Africa is a continent of 55 countries and home to 1.6 billion people. Yet only 7% of what we spend here in the Global North is spent on higher education there. If we want to see educational parity with the rest of the world, we need to provide African scholars the tools they need to reach their collective potential. 

Third Chapter Project Update: May 2020

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As anyone who has ever tried to help another can tell you, your assistance will only be helpful if the need and the solution match up. You cannot give a 10-year-old child a car when what they need is a ride. This holds true for nonprofits as well. As we work toward the establishment of Third Chapter in Africa, it is vital that we listen to the community that we hope to serve. To that end, here are the steps we are taking to hear this voice at Third Chapter:

  1. We reached out to a cohort of mostly ACLS Fellows involved in the African Humanities Project through their network website and invited them to take a short survey. The goal was to gain insights into the conditions these scholars were facing. What we discovered after the data was analyzed was that almost 80% of our respondents reported they did not have access to the basic material needed to complete their work. We heard things like: 
    • “(we need) recent publications from Africa: Many of these publications are not available in Ghana and so I have to rely on trips abroad to purchase them or get friends (to buy them)”
    • “Folk Music collections of other African Countries, they are not within reach”
    • “If I want to stay up to date on scholarship and participate in contemporary debates, I need to buy books myself…”
    • “…not available because they are expensive to subscribe to and Music Education is not valued as much by my university.”

2. We added Lala Pop to head up our African Studies Advisory Committee. Ms. Pop tapped into her 12 years of experience working with the African Humanities Project in Africa to create an incredibly deep roster of 13 scholars from different countries with diverse experiences. 

3. Most recently, we welcomed Dr Toboho Moja to the Third Chapter board. Dr. Moja is a visiting professor at NYU. Her background includes time at the University of Oslo and the University of Tampere, as well as several universities in her homeland of South Africa. She has been instrumental in the formation of the Center of Higher Education Transformation in South Africa and has served on boards of international organizations examining and researching education policy. Dr. Moja was appointed by Nelson Mandela to the position of Executive Director and Commissioner at the National Commission on Higher Education. She has written extensively on Education policy and politics in Africa within a global context. All of us at Third Chapter are thrilled that Dr. Moja will be able to help guide the future direction of our organization.   

We are excited to be building Third Chapter with the knowledge that we are providing the resources requested by the community, rather than what so many in the developed nations think they need. This helps to tie together the symbolism of our logo… the light shining from within… outward.

Third Chapter 2020 Spring Update

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Education = Freedom

As we all shelter in place and learn to adapt to our new normal, we here at The Third Chapter Project hope that you are all safe and healthy. We also want to thank everyone who is still working because they are truly essential.

The following is an introduction to Third Chapter Project and the inspiration behind its founding. 


Education in Sub-Saharan Africa has a complicated history. From the days of colonial rule to today’s patchwork of educational inequities, the African education system has tried to serve the needs of the few and failed to meet the needs of the many. Sub-Saharan Africa has a combined population of approximately 1.2 billon with a 64% illiteracy rate, which represents close to 20% of the worlds illiterate. If you look at the Gross Enrollment Ratio and compare it to other developing nations and then contrast it with Europe and North America, you can see the magnitude of the problem. Only 3% of age appropriate Africans are enrolled in post-secondary education, 11.3% for other developing nations and a whopping 70% in the developed nations. (UIN Global Education Digest 2010)

That is why we, the former ACLS Humanities E Book team, have formed The Third Chapter Project, Inc. a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Our mission is,

To facilitate and improve access to and support digital scholarly communication predominately in the social sciences and humanities to underserved academic communities in selected regions of developing nations including the Global South.

There are many agencies, corporations and foundations addressing the problem from many different angles and frankly, it still is not enough. Third Chapter is focused on providing digital content and scholarship in the humanities and social science to a community that is inadequately supplied and resource strapped. How we differ from others in the field is in our approach to the problem. We look to be the bridge between publishers and the needs of the students/scholars. We are a grant funded resource for the university at the same time we are developing future markets for publishers. 

We here at Third Chapter hoped to be in Africa visiting universities and schools but because travel is now delayed by a few months, we have been working on building our structure and relationships. Our website will now have an Amazon link to print versions of a curated collection of African Studies titles. The first phase will have 280 books that were recommended by scholars and societies. Currently, we have a few titles live, but will be adding to this list as more content becomes available and we hope to develop independent relationships with the different Presses themselves. Please visit https://www.thirdchapter.org/bookstore/

We would love to connect with you, visit our Contact page to drop a note or ask us any questions!