2018: Inaugural

The University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program created the annual Jan Vansina Lecture to honor the legacy of Jan Vansina, one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa.

September 21-22, 2018
The University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jan Vansina at his home in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

This opening lecture on Friday, September 21 featured Nancy Hunt and Steven Feierman, followed by a Saturday symposium. The symposium featured a set of panels on various aspects of Jan’s legacy with Pamphile Mabiala Mantuba-Ngoma, of University of Kinshasa, as keynote speaker.

Registration for this event has now closed.

To support programming such as this and other efforts that honor Vansina’s legacy, your gift to the Jan Vansina memorial fund is welcome.

Friday, September 21

2:00PM: Opening of “Jan Vansina: An Africanist Without Borders” exhibit

Memorial Library, 728 State Street

4:00PM: Lecture

Memorial Union Tripp Commons, 800 State Street 

Nancy Hunt, Professor of History & African Studies at the University of Florida
“Vansina in Flux”

Steven Feierman, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania
“Inheriting Oral Tradition”

5:45PM: Complimentary Concourse Hotel shuttle service (optional)

Pick-up outside Memorial Union on Langdon Street

6:30: Cash bar open

Concourse Hotel Assembly Room (1st floor), 1 West Dayton Street

7:00PM: Dinner

Reservation required; dinner registration has now closed.
Concourse Hotel Assembly Room (1st floor), 1 West Dayton Street

Remarks from Neil Kodesh, Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former Faculty Director of the African Studies Program

Saturday, September 22


Memorial Union Tripp Commons, 800 Langdon Street

8:15AM: Complimentary Concourse Hotel shuttle service
Concourse Hotel to Memorial Union

8:30AM: Coffee and pastries

9:00-10:15AM: Panel 1: Vansina and Oral Traditions, Past and Present

  • Chair: Iris Berger, University of Albany, SUNY
  • Michele Wagner, State Department
    “Out of the Magic Trunk: Vansina’s Oral Historical Methodology and Contemporary Narratives”
  • Charles Mulinda, University of Rwanda
    “The Contribution of Vansina’s Scholarship to Rwandan Oral Traditions”
  • Gillian Mathys, Ghent University, and Sarah E. Watkins, Independent Scholar
    “Saving the Precolonial: A Modest Proposal”
  • Hines Mabika, University of Bern
    “Jan Vansina’s Work and Gabonese Historiography: Reception, Re-appropriation, and Tensions”

10:15-10:30AM: Break

10:30-11:00AM: Keynote

  • Pamphile Mabiala Mantuba-Ngoma, University of Kinshasa
    “Theorizing Oral Tradition: Jan Vansina and Beyond”

11:00AM-12:00PM: Panel 2: Vansina Across the Disciplines

  • Chair: Paul Landau, University of Maryland
  • Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia
    “Riffs on Jan’s History of Bantu-Speaking Africa”
  • Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, University of Minnesota
    “Indivisible History and Situated Knowledge: Clandestine Labor Migration from Mozambique to Southern Rhodesia (Colonial Zimbabwe) 1940-1980”
  • Shannen Hill, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
    “The Importance of History in Art: Jan Vansina’s Intervention in Art History”
12:15PM: Complimentary Concourse Hotel shuttle service (optional)

Pick-up outside Memorial Union on Langdon Street

Iris Berger received her BA in history from the University of Michigan and, after teaching for two years in Kenya, went on to receive her MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in African and Comparative Third World History. She has written extensively on the history of precolonial East Africa and on twentieth-century South Africa. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, and the Rockefeller Foundation and other awards for research and service, including the Distinguished Africanist Award from the New York African Studies Association. Her extensive professional service has included terms as a Board member of the African Studies Association and the Social Science Research Council, President of the African Studies Association, delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies, Vice President for Research of the American Historical Association, and editor of the Journal of African History.

Steven Feierman teaches African history at the University to Pennsylvania. He is the author of Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), The Shambaa Kingdom: A History (University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), a co-author of African History: from Earliest Times to Independence (Longman, 1995), co-editor of The Social Basis of Health and Healing in Africa (1990), and author of many articles about memory, religion, and healing in Africa. Professor Feierman has doctoral degrees in both African history, from Northwestern University, and social anthropology, from Oxford University. He has spent many years living and working in East Africa. Prior to coming to Penn he was professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught from 1969 until 1989, and at the University of Florida, from 1989 to 1995.

Shannen Hill is a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, and President of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. A former Fellow of both the J. Paul Getty Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, she is best known her book Biko’s Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness (Univ. of Minnesota Press 2015). Southern and Central African art histories are her primary areas of expertise.

Nancy Rose Hunt, Professor of History & African Studies at the University of Florida since 2016, is undertaking new research on psychiatry and mental health in Africa, with a focus on diagnostic categories and care in zones of war, migratory politics, and securitization. Awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018 for “Ideation as History,” as well as receiving a Fulbright Specialist Award to an STS global health laboratory in Paris and migratory corridors in Niger that year, she has also been writing for History and Theory while spearheading with Achille Mbembe and Juan Obarrio a new book series at Duke University Press: Theory in Forms. Her recent book, A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo (Duke, 2016), received the Martin A. Klein Prize from the American Historical Association. A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Work, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Duke, 1999) is an innovative ethnographic history of objects and childbearing, which received the Melville Herskovits Book Prize from the African Studies Association. Suturing New Medical Histories of Africa (LIT Verlag, 2013) began as the seventh Carl Schlettwein Lecture at the University of Basel. She has done fieldwork in and near Bujumbura, Burundi; Accra, Ghana; Niamey and Agadez, Niger; and in many cities of Congo-Zaire: Kisangani, Mbandaka, Kinshasa, and Bukavu. Her current work takes stock of imperial psychiatric approaches across Africa’s empires; focuses on war and disequilibrium in Africa’s Great Lakes region; considers new forms of mental health care in the Sahel; and mines vernacular images, texts, and drawings as sources calling out for field-based dialogues. A historical ethnography of one psychiatric hospital and war town is expected

Allen Isaacman is Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Western Cape. He also taught at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Allen has published 8 books and edited several more. His most recent study, co-authored with Barbara Isaacman, Dams, Displacements and the Delusion of Development, won the African Studies Association’s  Meviille Herskovits Award as well as the Martin Klein Award from the American Historical Association. His first book, Mozambique: The Africanization of a European Institution ( 1973), was also awarded the Melville Herskovits Award.  He has directed approximately 50 Ph.D. dissertations, many of which were written by young scholars from Southern Africa.

Barbara Isaacman is a retired Public Defender. She also served as an attorney for the Minneapolis Legal Aid Society and the National Labor Relations Board.  She has an ABD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin and was a senior editor of Law Review at the University of Minnesota. She taught in the Law School at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, where she wrote Women, the Law and Agrarian Change in Mozambique. She has conducted  extensive research in Mozambique and co-authored several books with Allen Isaacman, including Dams, Displacement and the Delusion of Development.

Paul Landau is a History professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. He teach classes about South Africa, African cities, ethnic groups and where they come from, South Africans’ actual political heritage, Christianity, prophetic and political movements in West Africa and the Atlantic world, pictures and cinema and colonialism, and mid-20th century revolutionary movements and the Cold War in Africa. His field is (southern) Africa. He taught for three years at the University of New Hampshire, for four years at Yale University, and from 1999 on as an associate professor, and then a full professor at Maryland. He is a fellow at the History Centre at the University of Johannesburg and am participating this year at the University of the Western Cape. At present, he is writing about violence and revolutionary ferment in South Africa in 1960-3.

Charles Mulinda Kabwete is Associate Professor at the University of Rwanda in History and Heritage Studies. He has published extensively on Rwandan history, democracy in Africa, China – Africa relations and genocide studies. He also chairs the Board of Directors of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda.

Hines Mabika graduated from the University of Libreville, Gabon (MA, History) and holds a PhD from the University of Aix-en-Provence, France (2008), specializing in the history of medicine and health in Africa (Medicalizing Africa). He served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Basel, Switzerland, researching on Swiss medical missionaries in South Africa (2008-2011). Since 2012, he has been working as  an Assistant Senior research Fellow and Coordinator of a Swiss National Science Foundation-funded research.  Recent publications include Medicalizing Africa (Médicaliser l’Afrique 2017) and Albert Schweitzer’s principle of reverence for life in Africa (Principes éthiques d’Albert Schweitzer en Afrique (ed., 2018) and a few articles on missionary and colonial medicine in southern and central Africa, and on networks in the pharmaceutical industry.

After a M.A. Degree in History at the University of Lubumbashi (DRC), Pamphile Mabiala hold his Ph.D. in Ethnology and studied Sociology and Roman Philology at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mayence (Germany) and a postgraduate a diploma on Higher Education and International Development at the University of Kassel (Germany). He is now Ordinary Professor at the Department of Historical Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, University of Kinshasa (DR Congo), and National Coordinator of The Konrad Adenauer Office in the DRC. His research interests include Cultural Anthropology, Theories of Culture, Methodology of African Arts, History of African Religious Art, Old African Technologies, African Local Knowledge, Social History of the Military, African Gender and Womens’ History.

Gillian Mathys is a researcher with the Department of History at the Ghent University. Her research group is the Economies, Comparisons, Connections (ECC) with a research focus on History. Specifically, her research focuses on the Africa region and the time period of the 19th Century, 20th Century, and Contemporary period. Dr. Gillian Mathys has numerous publications, including Urbanizing Kitchanga: spatial trajectories of the politics of refuge in North Kivu, Eastern Congo (2018).

Joseph C. Miller is the T. Cary Johnson, Jr. Professor of History, emeritus, at the University of Virginia, where he taught African, Atlantic, and world history from 1972 to 2014.  He served as president of both the American Historical Association (1998) and the African Studies Association (2006-07).  His best-known book remains  Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).

Michele Wagner received her B.A. in History (concentration in Africa) from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, M.A. in African History/Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, and Ph.D. in African History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently is a professor at the University of Minnesota with affiliations with the History Department, African American & African Studies Department, and the Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Dr. Wagner has numerous specialties, including contemporary Africa, colonialism, Central Africa, Great Lakes Africa, oral history, East Africa, precolonial Africa, and human rights.

Sarah Watkins is a historian who specializes in the history of Rwanda from the eighteenth century through the abolition of the monarchy in 1960. She is primarily interested in how power intersects with gender and intimacy–which leads to analysis of the institutions of monarchy and kinship, but also to intimate relationships between individuals and groups, creating the foundation for state-building.

A block of rooms for individual booking will be reserved for registrants at the Concourse Hotel. To book a room, please follow this link or call the Concourse Hotel at 800-356-8293 and ask to book a room in the Jan Vansina Lecture block.


The Madison Concourse hotel provides complimentary shuttle service between Dane County Regional Airport and the Concourse Hotel for all guests. Please use the courtesy phone in the baggage claim area (located between Carousels 1 and 2, near Door 5) to request this service upon arrival. Allow up to 20 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. The shuttle pick-up area is located outside baggage claim door 5.  Please make a reservation at the front desk for your return trip to the airport. Please note that this shuttle service is limited to guests staying at the Concourse Hotel. The airport is approximately 5 miles from the hotel and UW-Madison campus (10-20 minutes).


Complimentary shuttles will be available to ferry guests from Memorial Union to The Madison Concourse following the 4:00pm Jan Vansina lecture on Friday. On Saturday, complimentary shuttles are also available to bring participants from The Madison Concourse to Memorial Union at 8:15AM and to return participants to The Madison Concourse at 12:15pm. Shuttles are available for all participants, not only guests of The Madison Concourse. Alternatively, it is a pleasant 15-20 minute walk along State Street between the two venues.


For the lecture and symposium (Memorial Union) public parking is reliably available at the State Street Campus Garage (415 N. Lake St. Madison, WI 53715). Limited public parking is sometimes available at the Helen C. White Parking Garage (600 N. Park St, Madison, WI 53706). For the dinner, parking is reliably available at the State Street Capitol Ramp (214 N. Carroll St., Madison, WI 53703), and limited parking is available at the Concourse.

The Jan Vansina Lecture and associated activities are sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program and Department of History.

africa.wisc.edu • asp@africa.wisc.edu • 608-262-4460
Ingraham Hall, Room 205, 1155 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI

history.wisc.edu •  historydept@history.wisc.edu • 608-263-1800
3211 Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI