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Three new MA programmes in African Studies to launch

By Kerry Milton, on 23 June 2015

In the 2015/2016 academic year UCL will launch three new masters programmes in African Studies, with pathways in Health, Heritage and the Environment.

It is perhaps remarkable that UCL has not pursued African Studies until now. For many years UCL has been the centre of Africanist scholarship in Anthropology and Geography and became the UK’s first venue for the study of African Historical Archaeology and Heritage in the 1990s. In terms of full-time, permanent scholars whose primary area of research lies in the African continent, a total of 37 academic staff, we are on a par with SOAS. Unlike SOAS, our expertise ranges principally across the Social and Natural Sciences.

The African Studies Masters programmes are set to take advantage of UCL’s traditional strengths in the anthropology and geography of African environments, research into regional health, epidemics and medical infrastructure, and the cultural and archaeological heritage of the continent and its management. This is NOT a typical approach to African Studies. Historically, African Studies has been deeply embedded either in the Humanities (with strong linguistic leanings) and/or in areas of political science and international policy. Its post-colonial creation as a discipline was largely shaped by the needs of the Foreign Office and Commonwealth NGOs.

We are proposing a new concept of African Studies at UCL as a fully inter-disciplinary nexus point for collaboration and information sharing across the sciences, social sciences and humanities. This approach will have utility both for international policy making and business bodies, as well as enhanced relevance for those working within African national infrastructures.

The initiative to launch African Studies at UCL was put forward by Anthony Costello, Mary Fulbrook, Jonathan Wolff, and Kevin MacDonald. The academic lead of this new programme, MacDonald, is a senior scholar in African Historical Anthropology and Archaeology, with inter-disciplinary research on ethnic ambiguity in Africa, slavery and memory in West Africa and the Diaspora, pre-colonial West African political systems, and heritage management.

The programme as a whole is coordinated by a steering committee of Africanists, drawn from across a range of disciplines: Ben Page (Geography) Sara Randall & Jerome Lewis (Anthropology), Michael Walls (DPU, Bartlett), Paul Basu (Institute of Archaeology), and Anthony Costello (Health). This summer two new Lecturers in African Studies will join UCL: Hélène Neveu Kringelbach (formerly of Oxford) and Matthew Davies (formerly of Cambridge).

Expect a range of African events next year at UCL, including major guest speakers from the continent, new seminar series, photographic exhibitions and concerts.

UCL African Studies is situated within the Centre for Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Inquiry and the Institute of Advanced Studies.

DPU awarded Comic Relief grant for Sierra Leone project

By Kerry Milton, on 23 October 2014

The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) has been successful in a grant application to Comic Relief, and has been awarded £830,776 for the project, “Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC): Capacities and knowledge for improving the well-being of slum dwellers.”

Freetown by Alexandre Apsan Frediani

The DPU will be running this project with Njala University in Sierra Leone, and in particular working with DPU alumnus Joseph Macarthy from Njala University’s Institute of Geography and Development Studies. The project is set to run over 36 months and due to start in 2015.

While the current Ebola outbreak presents challenges for this project, at the same time it re-emphasises the importance of developing the knowledge needed for actions to improve living conditions in informal settlements which are particularly vulnerable to these health crises.

The project builds on a feasibility study of existing information and knowledge on Freetown informal settlements, supported by Comic Relief in 2013, which DPU’s Alexandre Apsan Frediani contributed to, and is part of a broader city initiative that Comic Relief is funding in 4 countries (Cape Town, Freetown, Kampala and Lusaka) as part of their broader work on informal settlements. The feasibility study findings revealed the fragmented and limited data on informal settlements in Sierra Leone, largely due to insufficient institutional capacity for the generation, and dissemination, of urban research.

The project will therefore focus on working with Njala University to set up an urban research centre in Freetown, and working to build the capacity of the centre and its wider research networks (including residents of informal settlements and their organisations) as a research and data dissemination hub, with a view to ensuring its sustainability beyond the frame of the project.

The proposal was put together by DPU’s Andrea Rigon and Joseph Macarthy on behalf of Njala University, with support from DPU’s Caren Levy and Julian Walker, who joined Andrea for the assessment meeting with Comic Relief, as well as Alexandre Apsan Frediani, and Michael Walls (who will be on the project steering committee).

The DPU looks forward to starting work on this proposal, which we anticipate will lead to important impacts on the lives of slum dwellers in Sierra Leone, provide an opportunity to work with current Comic Relief funded partners in Freetown (and the other cities), as well as generating interesting research and collaboration opportunities for the DPU, Njala University and their wider urban networks (including the African Centre for Cities and the African Association of Planning Schools, who will also be represented on the steering committee.)