African Modernities: Culture, Politics and Citizenship

How does the question of modernity play out in Africa? Is modernity a curse or blessing on the continent? We will explore how and why modernity becomes an issue in African studies in a global context and how it forces us to rethink African identities in relation to questions of citizenship, culture and politics.

Pamplemousses, Mauritius: June 11 - July 20

Application Deadline: February 13, 2018

About the Seminar

For most of the twentieth century, modernity and the terms associated with it, including modernization in politics modernism in literature and art, were central to debates about African pasts, presents, and futures. Debated and disputed for most of the postcolonial period, modernity has either been condemned because of its association with European colonialism on the continent, or welcomed as essential to the economic development of Africa. Modernity sits at the center of a range of African debates on issues ranging from the culture of human rights, claims to citizenship, and entitlement to social and cultural goods. But is modernity a singular phenomenon that has historically spread from Europe to Africa through the colonizing process, or has the continent itself produced alternative modernities? What is the relationship between modernity and systems of thought rooted in African traditions? Is the discourse of modernity and the cultural and political systems it privileges a curse or blessing in African? What has been the African contribution to the idea of modernity in the humanities, the arts, and social sciences?

This interdisciplinary seminar will address these and related issues using its location in the island nation of Mauritius as the ideal site for thinking about modernity as both a global and local phenomenon. Mauritius is unique among African countries both because of its scenic and strategic location in the Indian Ocean and its hybrid history and mixing of languages and cultures. Populated by peoples from mainland Africa, Arabia, Asia, and Europe, Mauritius has been a historical bridge between world cultures for many centuries. Historically, it has been exposed to different streams of modernizing forces, from medieval Arab traders, French and English colonialists and enslaved or bonded laborers from the East African Coast and India. It is hence an ideal setting for thinking about the intersection of culture, politics and citizenship. In the postcolonial period, Mauritius has been at the forefront of debates about modernization and globalization in Africa especially in regard to education and economic development.

The seminar will be based at the African Leadership College at Pamplemousses, halfway between the capital city, Port Louis, and the resort town of Grand Baie. From this tropical paradise, you will have the opportunity to be immersed in local culture, to visit historical sites including remnants of the Sugar economy and explore the Creole culture of Port Louis, the capital. You will have the opportunity to interact with students and thought leaders from all over Africa and to learn the local Creole language. In your free time, you will go hiking or biking in the mountains, swimming with dolphins or exploring the cuisines the island has to offer.

Faculty Director

Simon Gikandi is the Robert Schirmer Professor of English and the director of the Program in African Studies. He has written numerous books and essays on African literature, cultural politics and modernity.

Seminar Manager

Tim Waldron
145 Louis A. Simpson International Building

Distribution Requirements

The seminar fulfills the Historical Analysis (HA) requirement and the requirements for the certificate in African Studies.

Costs and Financial Aid

The course fee is $5,700, which includes all housing, meals, required course excursions, related academic expenses, and estimated airfare ($1,950). World Travel, the University travel agency, will book all participants’ flights. Details on the required booking process will be provided by seminar administrators.

All participants should budget an additional $600 for personal expenses. Participants should also be prepared to cover costs of required and routine immunizations as recommended by University Health Services. The immunization costs are covered in full for students enrolled in the University’s Student Health Plan. For students covered by families’ health insurance or other insurance plans, the associated costs, estimated at $300, will vary.

PIIRS provides generous funding to help meet these costs to participants who receive term financial aid. Students accepted into a Global Seminar and receive term financial aid will automatically receive funding toward the course fee based on the level of term aid. Possibilities for additional financial support may be available through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE). Princeton subsidized Student Loans, available from the Office of Financial Aid, are also highly recommended over charging costs to a credit card. Please consult Financing Options and contact the Office of Financial Aid for more information.

Students who accept a place in a Global Seminar and then, on or after Friday, April 13, withdraw or cannot participate because they are no longer enrolled at Princeton will be charged a $500 cancellation fee and lose any unrecoverable costs. There are no refunds after the start of the program.                                      

PIIRS Global Seminars are also made possible in part by the generous contributions of alumni and friends and ongoing efforts of the Office of Development.