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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

African and Afro-American Studies names new department chair

Published: August 24, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

After nearly a year of searching, the committee has hired Hamilton College Professor Chad Williams to serve as chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AAAS). He will replace Professor Faith Smith, who had been serving as acting head of the department. Professor Smith will continue to teach within the department.

The hiring of a new department head is a positive sign for AAAS, a department that has had a turbulent history since its inception at Brandeis. As recently as 2009 the department was recommended for downsizing, an initiative that did not pass. The Classical studies and American Studies departments were also recommended to be downsized into independent programs but the move was opposed. Since then, African and Afro-American Studies has rebounded significantly. Professor Williams said he saw his hiring as a commitment on the university’s part to the AAAS program. This coming semester, the department will be offering a new course taught by Professor Ibrahim Sundiata titled Black/Jewish Relations in American History. The African and Afro-American Studies department at Brandeis is one of the oldest in the country. The major was originally founded following the occupation of Ford Hall when a number of African-American students occupied the building to implement change in the university’s policies. One of the implemented changes was the founding of the AAAS department. The development of the major at Brandeis ended up greatly influencing the manner in which African-American studies are taught in colleges and universities all over the country. Williams arrived on campus in July and is already making plans to steer the department in an exciting new direction. Williams said he was planning on using the history of the department as a launching pad for future growth. “Be on the lookout for what the department is doing this year,” Williams said. “You’ll be seeing a lot of activity from us so keep your eyes and ears open.” Williams attended UCLA for his undergraduate studies and received his masters and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He previously taught as an associate professor in the History Department at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., for six years before coming to Brandeis.  Williams said he was excited to make the transition with his family from Clinton to Boston. Williams’ area of expertise is African American military history during World War I. His book, “Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era,” focuses on the experiences of African Americans in the armed services in the time period surrounding the first world war. The book garnered praise from a number of scholars and won the Distinguished Book Award for US History from the Society for Military History. Williams said he plans on teaching a course on African American Military History next semester. When asked why curious students should consider taking classes in the African and Afro- American Studies department Williams said that taking classes in African and Afro-American Studies could help a student broaden their skills and learn about a range of issues that could exposes a student to different themes, subject matters and people while preparing them to critically balance Brandies and the larger world. This semester Williams is teaching Introduction to African and Afro-American Studies.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Professor Faith Smith as Faith Hill.