UA Professor From Zimbabwe Teaching History of Africa
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama department of history will broaden its curriculum this year by offering classes on the history of Africa taught by Dr. Josephine Nhongo Simbanegavi, UA assistant professor of history from Zimbabwe.
“I was excited to be asked to teach classes on the history of Africa because it was something that UA had not offered before and I think it is an opportunity for American students to learn about this globe we live in from the perspectives of the other people we share it with,” Simbanegavi said.
Simbanegavi said because a significant segment of the population in the South traces their past and their identity to Africa, it is important for our curricula to reflect that and to promote a better understanding of Africa. “It is commendable that UA and the history department in particular took the initiative to seek out an African historian to join their faculty. As a Southern-based university, I do not think that the teaching of African history is something UA can choose to have or not to have,” she commented.
She says that history course offerings should “accommodate all sections of our population, giving African-Americans an opportunity to learn about their ancestral past in a way that takes them beyond the history of enslavement. A study of African institutions and civilizations takes their history to a healthier start.” Simbanegavi views this as something that would greatly benefit contemporary U.S. society. “While restoring respectability to the African-American ancestral past, the study and deeper understanding of African history fills many gaps in Americans’ understanding of the world that they share with others,” she says.
Simbanegavi studied for her first degree at the University of Zimbabwe then attended St. Antony’s College in Oxford University where she obtained her doctorate in 1997. She taught for a number of years at the University of Zimbabwe prior to coming to the U.S. Before assuming her current position, she was a UA Bankhead Fellow and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York.
This fall she is teaching a 200-level class “Introduction to the Study of African History” — an introductory course designed to contrast students’ preconceived knowledge of Africa with perspectives that are African-informed — and a 400-level course “Women in Southern African History” tracing feminist issues in Southern African countries as they relate to changing times and changing cultures. This Southern Africa-focused course connects Simbanegavi with her current research project investigating the intricate relationship between gender and international migration in that region.
At present, Simbanegavi is the only professor of African history teaching at UA. She hopes that her classes will interest students and gain enough attention that complementary courses could be added. She aims to help her students visualize Africa through the occasional use of films in her classes, but she also hopes that, in the future, it will be possible for UA to broaden its study abroad programs to Africa to provide students with deeper insights into the African world.
“My attempt is to help students gain access to a different culture,” she said. “In fact, the history of Africa is the history of many worlds. With many centuries of history to cover, at least 52 African countries, hundreds of linguistic and cultural groups to account for, I will be happy if I am able to give my students the necessary skills to find information and cultivate a better knowledge of this vast continent on their own.”
She says if we are genuine about connecting with the rest of the world as neighbors in a global village, African history “is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”
For the future, Simbanegavi said she hopes to encourage her department to include African history as one of the required courses for history majors “Beyond the bits and pieces we get from CNN and other such organizations, we need a more balanced and comprehensive knowledge of the continent and its peoples,” she says.
For more information about the classes on African history or to register for her spring semester offerings of Peoples and Cultures of Africa (HY 200) and Aspects of African History (HY 400), please contact the UA history department at 205/348-7100.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.