Students in class

African American Studies examines the shared experiences of African-descended people throughout the diaspora. Drawing on a rich tradition of scholarship, teaching, and civic engagement, the faculty introduce students to the foundations of African American Studies (AAS) and collaborates with them to develop projects and analyze information that leads to new intellectual perspectives. The African American Studies major involves three core areas of study:  history, religion, and the diaspora; literature and performing arts; and media, politics, and social institutions.

This interdisciplinary unit draws on faculty from many academic departments, including American Studies, Communication Studies, English, History, Journalism & Mass Communication, Religious Studies, Rhetoric, Sociology, Theatre Arts, and Women's Studies.

A major and a minor in African American Studies are offered for undergraduates.

On April 9, 1968, University of Iowa President Howard Bowen called for the creation of a $50,000 Martin Luther King scholarship fund to help bring more Negro students to the University.  He later announced to the student body the establishment of an institute of Afro-American Studies.

A course called “The Culture of Black America” debuted at UI during the spring semester of 1969 as one of the principal activities of the new faculty Committee of Afro‐American Studies.  Philip G. Hubbard, dean of academic affairs, chaired the committee of 20 individuals.  The committee assembled a list of courses that appeared in the course catalog under the heading “Afro-American Studies”.  The African American Studies Department was established in the fall of 1970.

Robert Corrigan, executive secretary and acting director of the American Civilization Program, instituted the Afro-American Studies Program, eventually renamed the African-American World Studies Program in the 1980s.  Corrigan’s aim was to attain high academic standards in this important new area of culture studies at UI.

Charles T. Davis served as the first director of Afro-American Studies from 1970-72.  In the early days, the program sponsored Summer Institutes bringing national scholars to University of Iowa’s Campus to foster research in Black Studies:

  • 1970 – Symposium on Harlem Renaissance
  • 1971 – Symposium on Richard Wright: His Work, His World and His Influence
  • 1972 – Symposium on W. E.B. DuBois
  • 1973 – Symposium on The Afro-American on Stage and Film

Darwin T. Turner chaired the department from 1972 –1991, and became a national African American scholar and a key figure in the department’s legacy.