Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing
After being in competition with several other historically black universities, Tuskegee University is now the permanent home for the impressive library of African studies manuscripts collected by the late Dr. James Anthony Pritchett, a preeminent scholar in the field. Comprised of nearly 1,400 separate publications, the collection makes Tuskegee a research destination as home of one of the country’s largest HBCU-based African studies collections.
Dr. Thierno Thiam, an associate professor and chair of Tuskegee’s Department of History and Political Science — who worked with the Pritchett family as they considered where to donate the collection — explained why this is such an honor for the university.
“Dr. Prichett’s research and resources have served as a source of inspiration for many of the African studies scholars of my generation,” said Thiam, himself a native of Senegal, West Africa. “His commitment to preserving the African perspective has been vital to scholars in our field.”
Materials comprising the Pritchett Collection will be of interest to those studying and researching African diaspora — including agriculture, literature, migration, politics and culture. Thiam indicated that housing this diverse collection of classic and rare publications is an achievement for up-and-coming academic programs and research at Tuskegee. These include developing a minor in African studies, supporting agricultural research and outreach partnerships in African countries, and on-campus courses focused on African literature and culture.
“Because of the richness and diversity found in the Pritchett Collection, Tuskegee University stands to the base of a growing pipeline of African American scholars bound for further studies at graduate schools throughout the nation,” Thiam said. “This collection will influence students studying history and political science, English, sociology and psychology, and agriculture — just to name a few.”
The collection will permanently reside at Tuskegee’s Ford Motor Company Library — where researchers can review individual manuscripts in person or borrow them through interlibrary loan. Among the collection’s signature pieces are the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) General History of Africa collection and the African Studies Review collection.
Those and the remainder of the collection will be catalogued and unveiled on Friday, Feb. 14 to participants attending the university’s fourth-annual History Research Symposium. The unveiling will include Dr. James C. McCann, a professor and chair of Boston University’s Department of History, and Dr. Awa Sarr, assistant director of Michigan State University’s African Studies Center — both of whom assisted the Pritchett family with choosing at which HBCU the collection would reside.
“We’re grateful to Drs. McCann and Sarr for finding Tuskegee University worthy of this collection, and especially thankful to Dr. Pritchett’s daughter Regina who coordinated the search and fundraising effort to catalog and ship the manuscripts to the university,” Thiam said.
Thiam noted that successfully securing the collection was a joint effort among the university’s Department of History and Political Science; Department of Modern Languages, Communication and Philosophy; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Science; and Libraries System — all areas of the university where students and researchers alike stand to benefit from the collection’s subject matter.
About Dr. Pritchett
At the time of his passing on Nov. 29, 2019, Dr. James A. Pritchett served as a renowned anthropology professor at Michigan State University, where he was a member of the core faculty for the African American and African Studies Program, and the Center for Advanced Study of International Development. His career also included serving as director of the African Studies Centers located at Boston University and Michigan State University. He held three degrees in anthropology — a bachelor’s from Ohio State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.
The collection he amassed over a 40-year period reflected his strong academic and research focus on African diaspora and his studies of African-descended people in the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere in Central and South America. His work was broadly concerned with the interaction between tradition and modernity in contemporary Africa — particularly the ways in which social change is interpreted and validated according to local belief systems.
Pritchett profoundly shaped the field of African studies through his visionary leadership and passion for engaging the continent from a broad range of positions and perspectives. He authored Lunda-Ndembu: Style, Change and Social Transformation in South Central Africa and Friends for Life and Friends for Death: Cohorts and Consciousness among the Lunda-Ndembu, as well as served as president of the African Studies Association in 2014 and as a member of the Board of Advisors of the International Consortium for Law and Development. He had served as a research officer at the University of Zambia, and had conducted fieldwork there — and in Angola and Congo — since 1982.
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