Letter from the Chair

African American and African Diaspora Studies is a vibrant intellectual enterprise that has transformed the way we think about the United States and the world. The scholarship produced by these fields has enhanced and transformed disciplines throughout the social sciences and humanities. In establishing the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, Columbia University strengthens its leadership in the field.

Throughout Columbia’s history, scholars such as anthropologist Franz Boas, his graduate student Zora Neale Hurston, and decades later, political scientist Charles Hamilton, among others, contributed to the development of African American and African Diaspora studies. The founding of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies in 1993 was a major step toward strengthening the University’s visibility both in Harlem and in the field of African American Studies. The appointment of Manning Marable, inaugural director of IRAAS, firmly established Columbia as a leader in the study of Black political thought and socially engaged scholarship. IRAAS’s explicit focus on the Black experience in Harlem and other parts of New York gave, and continues to give, Columbia’s African American studies its distinctive urban vision.

The African American and African Diaspora Studies Department takes IRAAS’s strong foundation of scholarship and teaching on the African Diaspora, urbanism, Black political and religious thought, Black cultural studies, and critically engaged research in new and exciting directions. Our faculty publishes across several disciplines that speak to audiences both within and outside of the University. Given this rich and diverse background—along with the ongoing production of award-winning scholarship, innovative teaching, and impactful programming—our faculty trains students to engage and shape contemporary intellectual conversations and debates about the study of the African Diaspora, as well as address always-important policy concerns regarding neoliberalism, housing, education, criminal justice, health, and other pressing issues.

We are uniquely positioned to pursue a research program on the cutting edge of scholarly and policy debates. Our proximity to and longstanding relationship with Harlem provide a wealth of opportunities for students and faculty to pursue these interests in partnership with neighboring institutions. Over the next several years, thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are embarking on an agenda to highlight and sustain the centrality of the arts in African American and African Diaspora Studies and its broader intellectual community. Look for programs with the Artist-in-Residence and our Black Arts Dialogues, and courses with our International Scholar-In-Residence and Postdoctoral Fellow emphasizing music, creative writing, and visual arts. This is an exciting time of growth and opportunity for our department, and we are thrilled to build upon our legacy while extending our intellectual and pedagogical mission into the future.

At this time in the history of our University and our nation, African American and African Diaspora Studies Department plays a vital role in training students to be engaged and informed global citizens, conducting research that helps to foster a greater understanding of the challenges that confront us, and building and sustaining strong community ties both within and outside of the gates of Columbia University.


Kellie Jones
Chair, Department of African American & African Diaspora Studies
and Hans Hofmann Professor of Modern Art, Department of Art History & Archaeology