• ANDREW APTER: Ph.D. Yale University, 1987.
    West Africa (Yoruba, Nigeria) and the African Diaspora (Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba); Religion and Ritual, Colonialism, Cultural Production (World History)
    310-825-3070/4601/3686, aapter@international.ucla.edu
  • GHISLAINE LYDON: Ph.D. Michigan State University, 2000.
    Western Africa (pre-colonial and colonial, Muslim, francophone); Institutions; Commerce; Law; Women
    310-825-4214/4601, lydon@history.ucla.edu
  • WILLIAM H. WORGER: Ph.D. Yale University, 1982.
    Southern Africa, Pre-colonial to the Present; Social and Economic History of Africa; Labor and Law
    310-825-1768/4601, worger@history.ucla.edu

Emeritus Faculty

  • EDWARD A. ALPERS: Ph.D. University of London, 1966.
    Eastern Africa; African Diaspora and the Indian Ocean; Lusophone Africa; Women; Islam
    310-825-2347/4601, alpers@history.ucla.edu
  • CHRISTOPHER EHRET: Ph.D. Northwestern University, 1968.
    Early history of Africa; Pre-colonial Eastern, Central, and Southern African history; Historical Linguistics
    310-825-4093/4601, ehret@history.ucla.edu
  • MERRICK POSNANSKY: Ph.D. Nottingham University, 1956.
    African Prehistory and Archaeology; Historical archaeology; Caribbean
    310-825-4601, merrick@history.ucla.edu


These are exciting times to be a historian of Africa. Recent publications, such as the edited volume by John Edward Philips (UCLA Ph.D. 1992), Writing African History (Rochester University Press, 2005), demonstrate to what extent the field is growing in new and dynamic ways. Since Jan Vansina’s path-breaking work on oral history, scholars of Africa have been thinking comparatively, applying rigorous methods and analytical tools, and developing innovative approaches a broad range of historical sources for reconstructing Africa’s past.

The African History Program at UCLA embraces an interdisciplinary perspective. With three professors of African history, UCLA offers a strong combination of regional specialization, methodological expertise and theoretical debate. Our courses cover many geographic areas and time-periods of African history from the distant past to modern times, with a current emphasis on Northwestern, Western and Southern African history. We do not see the Sahara Desert as representing a geographic, and by extension a cultural, divide between “Arabs” and “Black Africans,” but rather as an active space with deep, broad and diverse historical connections. Nor is Africa limited to the confines of a continent in our vision, but extends through the Atlantic to Europe and the Americas, eastward through the diasporas of the Indian Ocean, and across the Sahara to the Mediterranean world. In other words, our approach is all-inclusive of Africa’s many Diasporas across deserts and oceans.

UCLA faculty represents a unique combination of expertise. Andrew Apter brings an anthropological perspective to West African religion and politics, locating coastal-hinterland relations within Black Atlantic modernity. Ghislaine Lydon is broadly interested in the economic and cultural history of western Africa with a focus on Islamic institutions, long-distance trade and women’s history. William Worger’s expertise is in South African history, where he has worked on industrial segregation and labor in the 19th century, legal institutions and apartheid in the 20th.

UCLA is an internationally recognized center for the study of Africa. In addition to the James S. Coleman African Studies Center, founded more than fifty years ago, UCLA has a number of research centers and departments with expertise in Africa. These include the French and Francophone Studies Department where several scholars specialize in the study of African literature, and postcolonial and philosophical discourse; the Department of World Arts and Cultures with strengths in western and Central African performance, art and religion; the Departments of Geography, Anthropology and Comparative Literature with specialists of Africa and the Maghrib; the Center for Oral History Research which offers methodology workshops and is developing its role as an archival repository for digital oral sources; the Fowler Museum with the largest collection material from Africa and the Africa Diaspora west of the Mississippi; the Marcus Garvey Papers Project housing the official Garvey archives; and the Young Research Library, a top-rated resource with archival holdings, collections of rare books, journals, microfilm and digital resources for the study of Africa. In addition, the Business, Law, and Medical Schools all have faculty with field experience and expertise in Africa.

UCLA is also the home of the African Activist Association, one of the oldest and most dynamic graduate student organizations in North America. Aside from community organizing and raising awareness, graduate students take turns as editors of the association’s scholarly journal Ufahamu.

The city of Los Angeles offers a propitious environment for studying African history. It is home to sizeable communities of Africans from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and beyond. Every summer, a month-long African festival and marketplace brings together artists and vendors from across the African Diaspora. During Black history month, the Pan-African Film Festival is a unique opportunity for students and faculty to meet and view the latest movies and documentaries. There are a range of performances, restaurants and clubs run by the African community of LA. Moreover, the Getty Museum holds unique collections of private papers, newspapers, artwork and other material culture from Africa.

Graduate Studies

Since 1957, 121 students have successfully completed dissertations in African history at UCLA. The scholarly excellence generated by UCLA’s graduates has long been recognized both nationally and internationally. Graduate students in African history have received national awards, particularly Fulbright grants and scholarships from the Social Science Research Council. They have an outstanding record in both job placement and publishing their monographs by reputable university presses. Ninety percent of students entering the graduate program in African history since 1981 who completed their doctorates have secured permanent employment, the majority in university positions. UCLA graduates account for ten percent of all historians of Africa employed in tenured and tenure-track positions in the United States, and thirty-three percent of professors of African history in California (according to the American Historical Association). In recent years, UCLA graduates have secured the following academic positions:

Nwando Achebe – Michigan State University
Jeremy Ball – Dickinson College
Regan Buck Bardeen, Lawrence University
Shimelis Bonsa Gulema – SUNY Stony Brook
José Curto – York University, Canada
Thomas J. Desch-Obi – Baruch College, City University of New York
Mary Dillard – Sarah Lawrence College
Roquinaldo Ferreira – University of Virginia
Karen Flint – University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Tiffany Gleason — University of Californial-Merced
Cymone Fourshey – Susquehanna University
Rhonda Gonzales – University of Texas, San Antonio
Matt Hopper – Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Patrick Malloy – Hawkeye Community College, Waterloo, Iowa
Laura Mitchell – University of California, Irvine
Phoebe Musandu, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar
Emily Musil — Lafayette College
Willis Okech Oyugi — Oberlin College
Shobana Shankar — Georgetown University
Bridget Teboh – University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Caroline Vieira-Martinez – Chapman University
Constanze Weise — University of Arkansas-Monticello
Awet Weldemichael – Queens University, Canada

Future Prospects for Historians of Africa

Informed reports suggest that there will be a continuing demand for historians of Africa for the foreseeable future. The numbers of new jobs still exceed the numbers of new African history Ph.D.s on the market. Although budget difficulties are likely to cause short (and perhaps longer) term problems in hiring, the fact that at least one-third of Africanist faculty nationally will retire by the end of 2015 means that there is an excellent chance that there will be jobs for students entering the program now and graduating as is the norm in about seven to eight years’ time. In short, there will be a considerable national demand for historians of Africa, even if the total number of academic positions nationwide does not increase (see Robert Townsend’s 2007 article in Perspectives, “History PhD Numbers Lowest in Almost a Decade as Job Listings Continue to Rise“).

Moreover, the demand for historians of Africa seems certain to grow even beyond the numbers needed to replace current faculty. With national calls for courses to reflect to an ever greater extent the diverse heritage of the United States, and with growing interest in World History, there is going to be an ever greater need for faculty who can teach the history of non-Western cultures. Many of our students have competed successfully for positions that emphasize World History, African Diaspora, and other non-Western fields of specialization together with African History. Moreover, there is likely to be considerable demand for such specialists in the future as universities and colleges reconsider their teaching priorities.

Figure 2: Number of Entry-level Positions according to Geographic area, 1992-2012
Africa figure 5


All applications to enter the program from individuals interested in the professional study of African history are welcome. Early expressions of interest in the program via email correspondence are particularly encouraged and should be addressed to the faculty member whose interests seem to match most closely those of the applicant. Application materials must be completed online.

Application materials include:

  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • Completed Applicant Profile Sheet
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Official University or College Transcripts

In addition to the materials requested of all students applying to the UCLA graduate program in history, those applying to the Africa field must also provide a sample of their written work. This sample, of no more than ten pages in length, could be an excerpt from an undergraduate or graduate paper or a masters or honors thesis or a published article.

Requirements for the Doctorate in African History

The doctoral program in African history at UCLA has four components—coursework, languages, written and oral examinations, and dissertation. Students entering with a BA degree will need to fulfill the requirements for an MA in History—no more than two years of coursework, and a four-hour examination in African history—before proceeding to the doctorate. Students entering with an MA do not have to fulfill the same requirements, but in most cases their program of study will require the completion of at least one year of coursework in African history before proceeding to the written and oral examinations for the doctorate.

Students should complete the coursework and language requirements during their first six quarters of study at UCLA, and schedule their doctoral written and oral exams during their third year. The fourth year should be spent carrying out dissertation research overseas, and the fifth or sixth year writing up the findings. The aim of any student’s doctoral studies should be the production of a publishable dissertation which contributes original ideas to historical knowledge.

Students should bear in mind that at UCLA during the past fifteen years the mean time to candidacy (i.e. the satisfaction of all requirements except the dissertation) for all graduate students in history was 4 years, and to the successful submission of the dissertation and award of the Ph.D., 8 years. These figures are largely consistent with those for students in most other disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities, but many students in the Africa history graduate program obtain their doctorates by their sixth or seventh year.

Within the African history field, we encourage people to move expeditiously through the program, completing coursework and oral examinations within the first two to three years, doing research in Africa in the third or fourth year, and then completing the dissertation in the fifth and/or six year. Note that students in history are not eligible for any form of financial aid from the department after their seventh year as a registered student in the doctoral program (i.e. not counting up to six quarters of official leave of absence), although some university-wide grants are not subject to this limitation.

Students with considerable background in African history or African studies are encouraged to accelerate their program by applying for national grants at the beginning of their second year, and, if successful, they could start their fieldwork research in Africa in their third year. In any event, all students should apply for extramural funding in the fall of their third year (for more information see the section below on Financial Assistance).


Students entering the doctoral program with a BA must obtain an MA at UCLA. The minimum standards for the MA degree as established by the Graduate Division, are:

  • One year in graduate standing at the University of California (including two terms at UCLA).
  • Nine graduate and upper division courses (of which at least six must be graduate courses).
  • B average required in all courses applied toward the master’s degree.
  • Successful completion of a comprehensive written examination.

For the award of the MA with African History as the major field, the History Department requires also that a minimum of six courses be at the graduate level, that only one course in the “500” series and none in the “300” series be counted, and that first-year students must enroll in the History 204 fall seminar.

The 204 seminar aims to introduce students to key methodological and historiographical debates. On occasion it also provides a forum for the presentation of research papers and dissertation chapters, or for grant application and proposal writing. First year students are also strongly encouraged to enroll in African Studies 201A, an inter-disciplinary seminar offered by the Interdepartmental Degree Program in African Studies each fall quarter. This course could substitute for a History 200/201 during the first quarter of study in the graduate program.

Successful progress in the graduate program is measured by a four-hour comprehensive exam. Students entering with a BA should take the written exam in May of their second year, while students entering with a MA should take the written exam in May of their first year. Together with coursework, success in this exam will determine whether or not students will be permitted to continue toward the doctorate.

The examination, which is confined to the major field of study, attempts to assess the candidate’s ability to synthesize a broad body of knowledge in African history. Students preparing for the examination should be conversant with the historiography of the continent, especially with regard to changing interpretative paradigms, and to key debates about significant historical questions and various methodological approaches that often span the disciplines of African studies. Students can use the annotated African entries in the American Historical Association Guide to Historical Literature (1995 edition) as an introduction to historical writing about the history of the continent and its peoples. They should also discuss their reading lists and the format of the examination with relevant faculty members.

Since full-time study requires the taking of at least 12 units per quarter, students in the MA/Ph.D. program will choose the balance of their courses from those subjects that they plan for their “fields” of concentration (a total of four including “Topics in African History” as the main field, and “Survey of African History”—which requires evidence of teaching ability—as a related field) for their oral exam, and in areas that develop their research expertise such as languages.

In selecting fields, students should consider subjects that fit well with their major area of specialization, and that provide a solid teaching core for the future. Since the members of each student’s doctoral orals committee will be composed of faculty in the fields selected, students should ensure that they take courses from, and develop good working relationships with, relevant faculty members. Such fields can include subjects within history—e.g. South Asian History, Middle East History, Latin American History, African-American History, World History, European History, Women’s History–as well as across disciplines—e.g. Anthropology, Linguistics, Political Science.

All students must produce a substantial research paper based at least in part on primary sources as part of the requirements prior to taking the Ph.D. Qualifying written and oral examinations. Students should complete all coursework requirements by the end of their sixth quarter in residence (for a sense of how to schedule coursework, see the Recommended Program of Study).


Students at the master’s level must demonstrate proficiency and pass an examination in at least one foreign language, and in the doctoral program at least two, one of which must be an African language, and the second a relevant European or African language. Students must have completed one of their language requirements (demonstrated by passing Education Testing Services or departmentally-administered exams in European languages, and UCLA internal assessment in African languages), no later than the end of their sixth quarter in residence and both before they can take their Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.

In cases where the field deems it appropriate, coursework or alternate languages may be used to fulfill the language requirement, subject to the approval of the field coordinator and faculty adviser. The coursework option would only be available for less frequently taught languages and the student should have ‘B’ or better in the coursework.

UCLA regularly schedules classes in elementary Swahili, Arabic and Afrikaans. Arrangements can sometimes be made for instruction in additional languages so long as qualified teachers are available. Students can also take advantage of the intensive language training offered every summer by overseas programs or at several of the Title VI African Studies campuses in the United States (SCALI). Competitive scholarships are made available at the host institutions to assist students to meet the costs of attending such programs.

Relevant European languages besides French include Dutch, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Significant amounts of source material also exist in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. All of these languages are taught on a regular basis at UCLA.

Advising and Forming Committees

Students entering the program should have a general idea about their area of focus, both in terms of the African region of interest and the time-period of focus. But it is not uncommon for students to change their regional focus after entering the program. First-year students should select a working advisor to meet with regularly and provide academic guidance. By the second year, students should start thinking about forming their doctoral committees and selecting a committee chair or co-chairs. You can find more information on the Graduate Intranet under How do I form my committee?

Students prepare a total of four fields:

  • Survey of African History
  • Topics in African History (on a regional basis)
  • Other History Field (outside of African history)
  • A Fourth Field in History or an Outside Field (e.g. Linguistics; Anthropology; Archaeology; Art History; Sociology; Geography; World Arts and Culture; Ethnomusicology; French and Francophone Studies, etc.).

The outside fields are determined usually through coursework and independent reading. Typically outside field committee members are faculty with whom students have taken at least one graduate-level seminar. Students are encouraged to start thinking early on in the program about choosing their outside fields and enrolling in selected seminars.

Doctoral Written and Oral Exams

  • Written examination

Students must pass an eight-hour written exam designed to assess their knowledge of the broad parameters of African History and of specific debates within the field. This examination will be set by the chair of the candidate’s doctoral committee and the candidate’s performance will be discussed at the subsequent oral examination. Students should consult closely with their chair and with other relevant faculty members in order to fashion a program of reading that reflects the thematic and geographic emphases of their individual program.

The written examination must be taken no later than the end of the ninth quarter of graduate study in the doctoral program or before the end the third year. Students who enter the program with an MA in African Studies or in an Africa-related discipline, and have a clearly defined dissertation topic, may well be ready to schedule their examination earlier in the doctoral program.

  • Oral examination

The oral examination should be taken within a period not exceeding six months from the passing of the written examination.  The oral examination has three basic components: (i) a return to issues raised in the written examination; (ii) an oral examination by committee members in the two outside fields; and (iii) a defense of the written doctoral research prospectus.

The prospectus (which can be written for credit as a History 596 or 597) must contain (i) a full statement of the dissertation topic and theoretical contribution; (ii) an historiographical discussion of the literature bearing on the topic; (iii) a statement of the methodology to be employed; and (iv) a summary of the sources sufficient to demonstrate the validity of the topic. Before the exam, the approved prospectus will be distributed to each member of the candidate’s committee and will form an integral part of the oral examination.

The aim of the examination is to assess the extent and quality of the candidate’s broad knowledge in a range of fields within history and, if appropriate, in an associated discipline, and to determine readiness to carry out independent research, usually overseas, on a specialized topic. Candidates who intend to apply for national research fellowships at the beginning of their second year of study, and who succeed in securing funds, will need to complete the oral examination before the end of the Fall quarter of the third year of study. Most grants require that the recipient take up funds before the end of the calendar year in which they are awarded.

In general, students should schedule their oral examination toward the end of their third year in the graduate program or by the end of the following summer. According to History Department policies, the maximum period from graduate admission to the completion of the written and oral qualifying examinations should not exceed nine quarters. If a student fails the oral exam s/he may retake it within a period not to exceed six months. Students who successfully pass the written and oral examinations advance to candidacy for the doctorate and are eligible for the award of the degree Candidate in Philosophy (C.Phil.).


The dissertation, normally ranging between 300 and 500 pages in length, should be on a topic of historical significance and must demonstrate originality in choice of subject, theoretical contribution and methodological approach. It should show a thorough mastery of the relevant sources, demonstrate the author’s ability to carry out independent research, and communicate the results of this research in excellent literary form. All students should aim to write dissertations of publishable quality. The Chicago Manual of Style, provides the definitive guide to the formal presentation of scholarly writing. There is generally no oral defense of the completed dissertation in the Department of History.

Financial Assistance

All applicants to the graduate program in history are considered for merit-based financial aid by faculty members in each field, with all final decisions made by the department’s Graduate Admissions Committee. Starting in 2013-2014, all students admitted to the department will receive a 5-five recruitment package. The History Department takes very seriously the issue of financial aid and tries as hard as possible to ensure that student needs are met. Each year the Graduate Awards Committee engages in an exhaustive reevaluation of every continuing student in the graduate program.

For financing their doctoral research and fieldtrips, students can apply to both UC-based and national funding agencies. The most important national fellowships that support research in Africa are the Fulbright-Hays administered by the Department of Education (DOE), the Fulbright fellowships administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), and the grants awarded by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). The deadlines for application to these programs are usually in September, October or November of each year. Awards that have a narrower thematic and/or geographic focus are offered annually by theCouncil for American Overseas Research Centers (such as the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal, and the American Institute of Yemeni Studies in Sana’a, Yemen), the Belgian American Educational Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and numerous other organizations.

African and other international students can apply for grant money from SSRC, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and other fellowship-granting institutions including UCLA (International Institution Awards, UC Awards of various kinds, History Department travel grants, etc.).

For details on these and other fellowships consult the UCLA Graduate Division’s website (which also includes information on internal and external grants in its database). Two very useful websites that provide access to information resources on all of Africa (not related to grants but to research planning) are maintained by Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Refer also to the American Historical Association’s website containing information on Grants, Fellowships, and Prizes of Interest to Historians.

For students at UCLA and elsewhere, the period when students return from research in the field and need uninterrupted time to write is also the period when financial assistance is most critical and funding sources are scarcest. Some SSRC fellowship awards include funds to support a six-month write-up period after the research is completed, but most dissertations take at least a year to write. History students can apply for Teaching Assistantships through their seventh year of study but not beyond. Speedier completion of the comprehensive examinations means that students will have more years later in the program in which they will be eligible for departmental support.

The Graduate Division awards a restricted number of highly competitive dissertation fellowships. Some outside agencies also offer write-up awards, such as the Mellon Foundation/ACLSAmerican Association of University Women, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation (for topics on education). Information on most of these awards is available from the Graduate Division’s website.