One of the more charming and usually harmless attributes of humankind is our propensity to impute mystical significance to intrinsically ordinary events. Thus it is that, in regularly recurrent rites, particular numbers in the unending sequence acquire singular symbolic prominence: 10, 25, 50, 100. Why these numbers and not others?
No ready answer comes to mind. Certainly none was sought by the remarkably energetic Program Committee which, working with our Howard University hosts, organized with superb skill the 25th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association. “XXV” connoted a silver anniversary, a rite de passage which commanded observation.
Commemorate, then, but how? On due reflection, the Program Committee struck upon the formula of a review and inventory of Africanist scholarship during the quarter century which has elapseed since the birth of the Association. What had been the major intellectual trends in the various fields of Africanist scholarship? How had the major paradigms which have shaped conceptual discourse evolved over these years?
Early in the life of the Association, a comprehensive survey of Africanist scholarship had been undertaken, under the direction of Robert Lystad (published as The African World, Praeger, 1965). The preliminary inventory, organized by academic discipline, serves as a valuable benchmark in intellectual history. To reread its useful essays today is to be reminded of the magnitude of the changes in problematic and perspective since that time.