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New Global Seminar in Mauritius invites students to engage with Africa

This year, PIIRS will launch four new Global Seminars — including “African Modernities: Culture, Politics and Citizenship” in Pamplemousses, Mauritius, with Simon Gikandi, the Robert Schirmer Professor of English.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

By Pooja Makhijani, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

Each summer, Princeton University students spread out around the globe to explore the international dimensions of their academic interests in six-week courses taught by University faculty in locations at the heart of the seminar’s subject matter. These PIIRS Global Seminars, offered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, give students the opportunity to learn in the classroom, visit local sites and hear from people in the community.

This year, PIIRS will launch four new Global Seminars — including “African Modernities: Culture, Politics and Citizenship” in Pamplemousses, Mauritius, with Simon Gikandi, the Robert Schirmer Professor of English.

The seminar will explore the relationships between modernity and systems of thought rooted in African traditions; the African culture and political traditions that modernity privileges; and African contributions to the idea of modernity in the humanities, arts and social sciences.

Gikandi hopes the seminar provides “an interdisciplinary space for thinking about Africa societies in relation to one of the most pressing issues at the moment — namely the legacy of European modernity on the continent and its effects on debates about culture, politics and citizenship,” he said. His teaching and research has revolved around the problem of modernity from the margins of the global system. “I want to understand what modernity means in relation to other terms such as ‘globalization’ and ‘world cultures,’” he said.

The seminar will be based at the African Leadership College in Pamplemousses, which is halfway between the capital city of Port Louis and the resort town on Grand Baie. “The seminar’s location excites me because of its unique relation to Africa,” Gikandi said. “Mauritius invites us to rethink the geography of Africa. It’s connected to the continent and is an active member of African organizations, yet is also acts as a bridge to Asia. Its multiple colonial histories — Dutch, French and English — together with its hybrid population make it an ideal space for understanding African pasts and futures.”

In addition to seminar discussions at African Leadership College, students will participate in local Creole language classes, take excursions to historical sites, and explore, by foot, bicycle or from the water, the island nation. 

Gikandi wants seminar participants to engage with Africa outside their own set of assumptions, and to reflect seriously on what modernity means on the continent. “We will witness the making of politics, culture and citizenship firsthand,” he said. “It’s my hope that the students will bring this experience to bear on their knowledge of Africa.”

PIIRS Global Seminars are held over six weeks in June, July and August. Since the program was launched in 2007 by PIIRS in collaboration with the Office of International Programs, more than 800 students have taken part in 56 Global Seminars in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Europe, the Near East and South America. Participating students earn credits for one University course.

Learn more about Global Seminars and apply to “African Modernities.” The application deadline is Feb. 13, 2018.