African American Studies Department expands with dual-title doctoral program

It’s been 45 years since African-American studies officially entered the U.S. academy as a degree-granting program. Today, such programs are central to the mission of more than 300 U.S. colleges and universities ranging from Harvard and Berkeley to San Francisco State. Penn State’s Department of African American Studies has launched a new dual-title doctoral degree program in African-American and diaspora studies, training future professors and scholars to teach about and study the history and culture of nearly 1 billion people of African descent in key regions around the world.

As of late 2012, only 11 colleges or universities offered doctoral degrees in African-American studies. Penn State is joining this distinguished group that includes top private institutions such as Harvard, Brown, Northwestern and University of Pennsylvania and leading public schools such as Berkeley, Michigan State and Indiana University.

"The new waves of transnational migrations of black people from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa to the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have increasingly influenced the interdependent contemporary world and its diverse patterns and politics of representation," said Paul Taylor, head of the African American Studies Department and associate professor of philosophy. "These new population movements have compelled scholars to rethink conventional debates about freedom, citizenship, experience, and knowledge.

"Our new Ph.D. program will train students to teach and produce new knowledge on understanding the forces that shape and link the worlds of African descended populations, beginning with the U.S. and the broader Americas, but also in Europe and Asia," he said. "There will be emphases on U.S. slavery, emancipation, colonial and post-colonial periods up to the civil rights and post-civil rights area in America, but in addition, our faculty will look at the contemporary forms of globalization and migration."

The College of the Liberal Arts established the Department of African and African American Studies 20 years ago. In 2012, the department evolved into two units, enabling the faculty to focus on their different scholarly objectives. The Department of African American Studies is redesigning its curriculum for its undergraduate major and minor, which will be greatly enhanced by a doctoral dual-title program and the accompanying graduate students and faculty. The College has had considerable success with its other dual-title doctoral degree programs.  These programs significantly enhance the education of doctoral students and broaden their job opportunities.  Previous graduates have gone on to make an impact in their fields.  

 "We’ve built this dual-title program with our partners in the Department of History to leverage the significant faculty strengths in African-American scholarship that already exist in the College of the Liberal Arts," said Taylor. “This gives us a model for future collaborations with other departments such as English, philosophy, and art education."

Among the faculty are: Keith Gilyard, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and African-American studies; Lovalerie King, director of Africana Research Center and associate professor of African-American studies and women’s studies;  Nan Woodruff, professor of modern U.S. history; and David McBride, professor of African-American studies and African-American history. The department already has forged a collaborative network with the Africana Research Center and the Richards Civil War Era Center to support workshops and programming for cutting-edge scholarship and professional networking.

"The first generation of African-American studies faculty across the United States will likely move to retirement in the near future, and our program will be well positioned to contribute to the development of the next generation of teachers and scholars across the country," said Taylor.

For more information, go to the website at

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated October 16, 2013