On April 23 – 24, 2015, NYU Accra co-hosted a conference entitled The Humanities in the 21st Century Africa: Towards Alternative Models of Human Development, which brought together scholars and students for lively discussions.
The idea of a conference was mooted in the fall semester of 2014 when the academic program was suspended. It was thought that some on-going intellectual activity would be good for the site even in the absence of students. The plan was to hold the conference that semester, however, it was realized that there was not enough time to apply for funding and to put together the necessary logistics. Therefore, upon the recommendation of the NYU Accra SSAC, the conference was scheduled for Spring 2015.
In order to raise the visibility of the site as well as the conference, we decided to collaborate with our partner institution to mobilize local faculty involvement. The Institute of African Studies (IAS) of the University of Ghana was therefore approached to partner with us. This step proved mutually beneficial in the end.
The theme “The Humanities in the 21st Century Africa: Towards Alternative Models of Human Development” was selected for two reasons. First, the NYU Accra curriculum focuses largely on the Humanities, and students who study at the site are interested in the history, religion, politics, culture, fine arts, music, dance, theater arts, etc., of Ghana and Africa. The second motivation was to contribute to a current policy drive in Ghanaian and African universities, towards a proportional intake of 70% science students and 30% humanities. In fact, in the Ghanaian education system, course specialization starts in high school where students are obligated to choose from Science, Arts, Social Sciences, Business, Home Economics, etc., at a stage when they are not even certain of their future career paths. The theme was therefore selected to encourage a conversation on the value of a broad-based undergraduate education and to discuss alternative models used elsewhere.
Attendance and Participation
The conference was successful in terms of attendance and presentations. On the first day, April 23, 126 people attended the opening ceremony, including several deans and directors of collages and schools of the University of Ghana, faculty, graduate students and a number of special invited guests. The second day, 50 more people registered, making a total of 176 attendees, in addition to 35 participants from various local institutions who presented papers, took part in the Roundtable discussions or chaired the sessions. I am happy to report that eleven NYU Accra instructors, the Vice President of Global Programs, Janet Alperstein, and Hannah Bruckner from NYUAD were among the participants.
Two unique features of the conference were a poetry dramatization and dance performance and the site’s tenth anniversary celebration event, at which some notable NYU Accra faculty were recognized.
On behalf of the NYU Accra faculty and staff, we would like to thank the Global Research Initiative of the Office of the Provost, NYU, for sponsoring the conference. We also thank the convener and members of NYU Accra SSAC as well as Linda Mills, Nancy Morrison, and Matthew Santirocco for their support. Finally, we are grateful to the Institute of African Studies for partnering with us.