Recognizing the foundations of our history through African studies

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Man’s soul is laden with the intrinsic desire to understand, and to eventually unearth, the depths of his past for the creating of a credible future. If he is a wise man, then he is interested in understanding the full range of his human heritage. He hopes to learn of his ancestral exploits and to benefit from them in his lifetime. If he is denied this privilege, he will be an incomplete man by rational conclusion.

If you agree with the following line of logic, then what you will also agree with is that you are not a complete individual.

Georgetown University’s decision to dramatically reduce funding to the African studies program last year signaled more than just fiscal wisdom – it signaled a challenge to the spirit of higher education to create in each student a sense of wholeness. The entire crux of the argument for maintaining a fully resourceful, functioning and capable African studies program goes beyond mere emotionalism. The argument is rooted in the ideas of truth and justice.

From the perspective of someone who cherishes history in its most unadulterated form, the Georgetown’s preferred employment of European history as a base for historical knowledge represents a conservative gap in an otherwise adequate liberal education. It fails to register for me why a university of historians and researchers has not more accurately portrayed history as it truly was.

The average student is inundated from his first sequences of history in high school with a very European outlook on the world past and present. This is understandable since the academic discipline known as African studies did not become recognized as a real academic pursuit until the mid- to late 1960s. The study of Africa or of its descendents would not have been received well at that time or during the two decades that would follow. Consequently, unless you were a scholar of history, you would not have found the number of contradictions that arose with the understanding of this new history.

However, this is 1999, and the number of books and research on African studies is innumerable. The only challenge is that it has not become invaluable to the people for which it ought to be. Within the history of Africa, one will find the beginning of man, the beginning of civilization and the direct path that the world took from its onset some millions of years ago. Ideas such as these are grossly ignored because European history paints a picture of man, civilization and the path of time in a light that blinds individuals to the truth.

According to father of evolution and naturalist Charles Darwin, life sprang from the Oldavai gorge in northeastern Africa. His further inquiry into this finding led him and subsequent researchers on the subject to conclude that life not only began here but also because of the climate and condition of the continent, life subsisted here and only here for a number of years. Even before the first reported rise of a European kingdom or even a civilization, several had risen and fallen in Africa, each more impressive than the one preceding it. Before the great thinkers of Greece were even a glimmer in Zeus’ eye, on the African continent, the full range of metal ages had already come and gone.

However, all that is noted in European history is a civilized Europe and a brutish rest of the world, though we know differently. From these humble beginnings, Africa emerged to become a glimmering, reflecting pool for the world and foreteller of things to come.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that many individuals (white, black, Hispanic and Asian) will have read the preceding lines and either have learned something new or began to rebut the statements with the European history that has suited them so well. Yes, the University has denied the truth once again.

If Africa is the beginning of man and of his civilization and from these beginnings we derive all of our methods of being, subscribing to a European notion of who we are and where we have come from is fundamentally unjust. The reason being is that it does not fulfill the necessary requirement of giving each man his due. In order for a man to be complete, he must take the time to look beyond European history and its subsequent offshoots, to refuse to give credit to a number of writers who would alter history for purposes other than to truly teach history and to understand what it truly means to be a civilized human being within proper context.

This can only be done with the presentation of what English professor Dr. Angelyn Mitchell calls a pure history – a pure history that would come with the revitalization of the African studies program.

I have not written this piece on behalf of the black community. I have written this piece on the behalf of the average Georgetown student. I am asking in the name of truth, justice and wholeness that the African studies program be restored to its former, or even better, standing so that balance in the presentation of history might be achieved.

-The writer is a student at Georgetown University. This article was first published in The Hoya.

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