Visiting scholars bring new perspectives on African arts and humanities

This year, two visiting scholars have brought novel perspectives on African history, art, and literature to Yale audiences. Their work augments several developments related to African art at Yale during the 2023-2024 academic year, such as the African Art in Motion conference hosted in September by the History of Art Department, and the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage’s partnership with museums and cultural institutions in Africa.

Helen Yitah, a visiting professor of literature from Ghana, and Janie Cole, a research scholar from South Africa, both of whom are visiting Council of African Studies scholars, engaged in public scholarship, taught students, and led seminars in the arts and humanities on topics such as historical music practice in Ethiopia, postcolonial literary traditions in West Africa, and transitional justice in South Africa.

Yitah’s research focuses on feminist and postcolonial analyses of West African literature and blends together different disciplines including literary and cultural criticism, history, philosophy, and social theory. During the 2023-2024 academic year, she taught two courses at Yale: “Children’s Literature in Africa” and “Literature, Life, and Thought in West Africa from mid-1800s to 1960s.” She also delivered a lecture on tradition and custom in African women’s songs, as part of the spring lecture series administered by the Council of African Studies.

Cole, who served as a fellow at the Institute of Sacred Music, has a multidisciplinary range of work, both in terms of medium as well as content. While her work centers around guiding themes of the relationship between musical traditions, religion, and social change, her two major events at Yale explore these themes in very different settings. In October, Cole delivered a talk on “Sacred Music, Architecture, and Indigenous Encounters in the Christian Kingdom of Early Modern Ethiopia” at the Institute of Sacred Music while in February, she delivered a Council of African Studies Lecture entitled “Senzeni na (What Have We Done)? Music, Social Change, and Incarceration in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa.”