James Pritchett new director of MSU’s African Studies Center

Contact: Tom Oswald, University Relations, Office: (517) 432-0920, Cell: (517) 281-7129,

Dec 05, 2008

EAST LANSING, Mich.—James A. Pritchett, one of the nation’s foremost experts on the sometimes intricate interaction between tradition and modernity in contemporary Africa, will serve as new director of Michigan State University’s African Studies Center.

At its meeting today, the MSU Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Pritchett as a professor of anthropology with tenure— an appointment that includes directorship of one of the nation’s leading African Studies Center.

Pritchett comes to MSU from Boston University, where he has served as director of African Studies and professor of anthropology since 2004.

“MSU has long stood as the exemplar of excellence in African areas studies and long resided at the cutting edge of efforts to demonstrate its ever-evolving relevance,” Pritchett said. “I am deeply honored to have been selected to continue and expand on this tradition.”

Pritchett began his BU career in 1990 and has held a variety of positions there, including assistant, associate and acting director of African Studies, and associate provost for intra-university programs.

He has been a member of the board of directors of the African Studies Association and is currently a member of the board of advisers of the International Consortium for Law and Development. He also has served as a research officer at the University of Zambia, and has conducted fieldwork there, as well as in Angola and Congo, since 1982.

Much of Pritchett’s research focuses on the coming together of tradition and modern ways in today’s Africa, particularly in the ways social change is interpreted and validated according to local beliefs.

He also has a strong interest in the African Diaspora and has studied communities of African-descended people in the Caribbean, Brazil and in Central and South America.

He has taught courses on African history and culture; anthropological theory; development; and symbols, rituals and myths.

Originally from Alabama, Pritchett earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.

Pritchett succeeds David Wiley, who has served as director of MSU’s African Studies Center since 1977.

Founded in 1960, the MSU African Studies Center is considered by many as the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. It was designated as a National Resource Center on Africa by the U.S. Department of Education and receives a portion of its funding under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

With approximately 170 faculty from 13 MSU colleges providing broad research, teaching and service in Africa, the center has the largest Africanist faculty in the country. In addition to courses and seminars on Africa, the center offers instruction in 30 African languages.

For information, visit the Web at www.africa.msu.edu.