In April 2007 David William Cohen and his graduate students held a symposium on the future of African Studies at the University of Michigan. David Cohen, two graduate students—Isabelle de Rezende and Clapperton Mavhunga—as well as five invited speakers with different disciplinary backgrounds—Pius Adesanmi, Tim Burke, Jennifer Cole, Paul Zeleza, and myself—contributed papers. The purpose of the conference, entitled “2020: Re-Envisioning African Studies,” was twofold. First, it appeared timely to reflect yet again on the state of African Studies in disciplinary-based and area studies departments. Second, David Cohen had the idea of 2020 representing both the utopia of ideal vision and the concrete question of what the field might look like when the graduate students participating might conceive their second book projects. What follows are the thoughts—not a list of solutions—by a historian who has studied in three academic contexts—Germany, Zimbabwe, Britain—who has taught in as many—Britain, Germany, USA—and who has gathered experience both in area and disciplinary-based departments.
Finding one's intellectual home in area studies is problematic for a range of reasons, not least for the exoticization and marginalization of non-western world regions in the global flows of ideas. At the same time, African Studies make for a comfortable sense of belonging. This is a community of scholars who provide a productive and engaging, if at times impassioned, conversation with colleagues across disciplinary boundaries, time periods, and the great diversity of African and diasporic societies and regions. The question is: what place does the historical discipline occupy within this field, and what is its future?