Towards a Renaissance in Scholarship, Policies and Development in the African World: A Brief History of the African Heritage Studies Association

Journal of Pan African Studies, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Towards a Renaissance in Scholarship, Policies and Development in the African World: A Brief History of the African Heritage Studies Association


The African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA) was founded in 1969 for the purpose of providing a forum for scholars of African descent to exchange information and ideas about the history and culture of African peoples both on the continent and in the diaspora.

As an incorporated association of scholars, AHSA was empowered to engage in research education, preservation, interpretation and presentations on the historical and cultural heritage of African peoples at all levels and in all fields that may assist in better understanding and contributing to the development of the African world. The primary objectives of AHSA are: a) organizing conferences, seminars and workshops for exchanging ideas and strategies that promote African-centered history and cultural studies; b) establishing linkages and mutually beneficial collaborations between AHSA and interested scholars and associations in Africa and the diaspora; and c) encouraging, teaching and supporting students interested in studying the history and culture of African peoples.

AHSA has experienced three developmental phases since its inception and is currently undergoing a fourth. Phase 1 was a Protest Phase during which Black scholars expressed concern and protested years of marginalization in the field of African Studies. The two seminal protest activities were: a) calling for structural and operational reform of the African Studies Association (ASA), the sole arbiter of African Studies in the USA, during the 1968 Annual ASA Conference in Los Angeles, and, after concluding that the association was not inclined to address their views and concerns, b) occupying plenary sessions at the 1969 Annual ASA Conference in Montreal.

Phase 2 was devoted to the establishment of a viable disciplinary association. It began with the incorporation of the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA) in 1969 to serve as a forum for exchanging African-centered theories and research on African history, culture and development. During this Phase, AHSA engaged in research, scholarship, and action that challenged conventional views of Africa and interrogated the ahistorical idea of an underdeveloped, dependent, resource rich continent in perpetual need of Western aid and tutelage. Additionally, the association inaugurated its 1st Annual Conference at Howard University in 1970. This well-attended conference featured major national and international scholar-activists from Africa and the Diaspora that discussed groundbreaking research on African history and culture.

The 2nd Annual Conference was held at Southern University in 1971 and during the next decade, outstanding conferences were held at universities in New York, Atlanta, Baltimore and other major cities across the nation. One of the highlights of Phase 2 was AHSA's participation in the 1973-74 meeting of the International Association of Africanists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both AHSA and ASA delegation were present at the meeting and since only one American delegation could be seated, a compromise between the two associations made John Henrik Clarke, AHSA's founding president, head of the American delegation. This was a watershed moment for AHSA, one that was further enhanced by a special audience with Emperor Hallie Selassie. Also during this phase, AHSA organized a pilgrimage to Africa, with Ghana as the major site for very effective and productive collaborative community forums. …

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