African American Studies

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Morrison Hall

Program Offerings:

  • Certificate

Department for program:

Director of Graduate Studies:

Ruha Benjamin (ruhab)

Graduate Program Administrator:


The graduate program in African American Studies provides an opportunity for students to complement doctoral work in their home department with coordinated interdisciplinary training in African American Studies. Students entering the program may come from any department in the Humanities and Social Sciences.  Requirements for earning the graduate certificate include the introductory readings course, AAS 500; two additional courses; participation in the yearlong Faculty-Graduate Seminar; and completion of a dissertation on a topic of significance to the field of African American Studies. Students wishing to obtain a graduate certificate in African American Studies are encouraged to consult with the Director of Graduate Affairs, ideally during their first year, to plan their course of study.

Graduate engagement with the department is not limited to students pursuing requirements of the certificate. Participation in the Faculty-Graduate Seminar, with its annually rotating focus area, is open to all Princeton graduate students seeking to engage in the intellectually stimulating community of the department. Recent seminar topics include "Black Speculative Futures"; "Plantation Effects: Visual Ecologies of Race, Place and Labor"; "Writing the Impossible: Black Studies and Critical Archival Praxis"; "Black Design: History, Theory, and Practice"; "Surveilling Blackness: Race and the Maximum-Security Society." The department also sponsors programming and events throughout the academic year for graduate students at all stages. Formal admission to the certificate will take place upon completion of the general examination and admission to candidacy in the student's home department.

Professor Ruha Benjamin serves as the Director of Graduate Affairs (DGA) for the Department of African American Studies.

Note:  Students cannot be admitted to Princeton University through the African American Studies Certificate Program since it is not a degree program. All graduate admissions decisions will be made through affiliated departments.

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Certificate

This certificate does not appear on transcripts.

Program description

Students wishing to obtain a graduate certificate in African American Studies are encouraged to consult with their home department advisers and the African American Studies Director of Graduate Studies, ideally during their first year, to plan their course of study. Interested students must complete all requirements listed below, and apply via the AAS Graduate Certification Program Registration Form

Professor Ruha Benjamin serves as the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of African American Studies. Administrative questions should be directed to Dionne Worthy.

Earning the Graduate Certificate

The graduate course of study is determined by a graduate students’ home department advisors in consultation with the Curriculum Committee in the Department of African American Studies. Certificate requirements include completion of AAS 500 African American Intellectual Tradition and two other courses in the Humanities or Social Sciences:

·         Whose contents are judged to be devoted primarily to race; or

·         for which they write research papers devoted to race; or

·         which are independent study topics tailored to the student’s interests in Race.



Individuals' course of study should be determined in consultation with students’ home department advisers and the Director of Graduate Affairs in African American Studies. Certificate requirements include:

  • AAS 500: The African American Intellectual Tradition
  • Two other relevant courses in the Humanities or Social Sciences
  • Participation in the Department of African American Studies’ Faculty-Graduate Seminar for one academic year

AAS 500, The African American Intellectual Tradition, is the core graduate course in African American Studies. This interdisciplinary seminar introduces students to the African-American intellectual tradition and to Black thought from the African diaspora. Reading across disciplines and genres, the seminar engages a broad set of topics and themes, including: race, racial formation and racism; slavery; empire; religion, social movements, and cultural representation. Particular attention is paid to issues of gender and class as well as race. The course presupposes a familiarity with issues in African American Studies.

(Note: Under certain extenuating circumstances, students may petition the Director of Graduate Affairs to substitute HIS 577/AAS 577: Readings in African American History for AAS 500).

In addition to AAS 500, students are required to complete two other courses in the Humanities or Social Sciences. These should be courses (a) whose contents are judged to be devoted primarily to African American Studies or to the study of race more broadly; or (b) for which they write research papers devoted to race; or (c) which are independent study topics tailored to the student’s interests in race or African American studies. Students should consult with the DGS regarding the relevance of their course work to the AAS certificate.

Dissertation and FPO

Central Themes in Dissertation

The dissertation is expected to center on a topic significant in African American Studies. Typically, the principal advisor for the dissertation will be a faculty member from the home department, with at least one African American Studies faculty member serving as a reader. At the time the student receives the Ph.D. in the discipline of the home department, the chair of the Department of African American Studies will award the student with a letter of certification.

Additional requirements

Participation in a Faculty-Graduate Seminar

Students must participate in at least one cycle of the Faculty-Graduate Seminar.

This works-in-progress seminar is convened by a faculty member around a selected theme and meets bi-weekly throughout the academic year. This interdisciplinary workshop provides a forum for faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars to explore particular topics in the field of African American Studies while engaging multiple fields and methodological approaches. A paper circulates one week prior to seminar meetings. The paper’s author briefly presents his or her work before one or more graduate students offer a response, raising questions and concerns and guiding open discussion of the paper and presentation.


  • Chair

    • Tera W. Hunter
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Ruha Benjamin
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Kinohi Nishikawa
  • Professor

    • Wendy Laura Belcher
    • Ruha Benjamin
    • Wallace D. Best
    • Lorgia García Peña
    • Eddie S. Glaude
    • Tera W. Hunter
    • Chika O. Okeke-Agulu
    • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Associate Professor

    • Joshua B. Guild
    • Anna Arabindan Kesson
    • Naomi Murakawa
    • Kinohi Nishikawa
    • Autumn M. Womack
  • Assistant Professor

    • Reena N. Goldthree
  • Associated Faculty

    • Tina M. Campt, Art and Archaeology
    • Rafael Cesar, Spanish & Portuguese
    • Jacob S. Dlamini, History
    • Paul Frymer, Politics
    • Hanna Garth, Anthropology
    • Simon E. Gikandi, English
    • William A. Gleason, English
    • V. Mitch McEwen, Architecture
    • Dan-El Padilla Peralta, Classics
    • Laurence Ralph, Anthropology
    • John N. Robinson, Sociology
    • J. Nicole Shelton, Psychology
    • Stacey A. Sinclair, Psychology
    • LaFleur Stephens-Dougan, Politics
    • Nicole M. Turner, Religion
    • Keith A. Wailoo, History
    • Leonard Wantchekon, Politics
    • Judith Weisenfeld, Religion
    • Frederick F Wherry, Sociology
    • Ismail K. White, Schl of Public & Int'l Affairs
  • Lecturer

    • Dannelle Gutarra Cordero
  • Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts

    • Marcus A. Lee
    • Ayah Nuriddin

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

AAS 500 - African American Intellectual Tradition

This interdisciplinary seminar introduces graduate students from many departments to the African-American intellectual tradition. The perspective concentrates on African-America and the African Diaspora, with attention to issues of class and gender as well as race. A broad set of topics, including race, racism, religion, and slavery are discussed. The course presupposes a familiarity with issues in African-American studies.

AAS 510 - Race, Religion, and the Harlem Renaissance (also REL 515)

The Harlem Renaissance (HR) of the 1920s is most often depicted as "the flowering of African American arts and literature." It can also be characterized as a period when diverse forms of African American religious expressions, ideologies, and institutions emerged. This course will explore the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the writings of Langston Hughes, to understand the pivotal intersection of race and religion during this time of black "cultural production."

AAS 522 - Publishing Journal Articles in the Humanities and Social Sciences (also COM 522/ENG 504/GSS 503)

In this interdisciplinary class, students of race and gender read deeply and broadly in academic journals as a way of learning the debates in their fields and placing their scholarship in relationship to them. Students report each week on the trends in the last five years of any journal of their choice, writing up the articles' arguments and debates, while also revising a paper in relationship to those debates and preparing it for publication. This course enables students to leap forward in their scholarly writing through a better understanding of their fields and the significance of their work to them.

AAS 555 - Toni Morrison: Texts and Contexts (also ENG 536)

This course provides a critical overview of the writings of Toni Morrison. Close reading, cultural analysis, intertextuality, social theory and the African American literary tradition are emphasized.

ART 529 - Ancient Egyptian Kingship in Image, Architecture & Performance (also AAS 529/CLA 528)

The institution of kingship was central to the ancient Egyptian worldview. Kings and their administrations sought to express the complex nature of a strong leader with access to the gods and secret knowledge, exceptional skill as a warrior and diplomat, and unrivaled power over and sacrifice to his people by using both mystery and overwhelming display. In this seminar we consider the nature of Egyptian kingship and how a vast body of material and visual culture shaped and expressed this essential concept from its origins in the beginning of the 4th millennium to the era of Roman rulers.

ART 560 - Art and the British Empire (also AAS 560)

This seminar proceeds through a series of thematic and case studies ranging from Britain's early colonial expansion to the legacies of empire in contemporary art and museum practice. Topics include science and ethnography; the colonial picturesque; curiosity and collecting; slavery and visual representation; art and nationalism and readings are drawn from a range of disciplines.

ENG 556 - African-American Literature (also AAS 556)

A survey of African-American narrative and critical traditions in the context of social and cultural change. Attention is also given to the changing status of black literature in the curriculum of American colleges and universities.

ENG 571 - Literary and Cultural Theory (also AAS 572/COM 506)

A study of the role of culture in literary practice and theory. Topics include postmodernism, post-colonialism, feminism, performance theory, queer theory, and popular cultures, among others.

FRE 504 - Slavery and Capitalism (also AAS 503/LAS 504)

This class initiates a reading of Marx's classic critique of political economy, Capital, along with a selection of the principal philosophical readings of the mature Marx since the 1960s: Louis Althusser's Reading Capital, Michel Henry's Marx, and Moishe Postone's Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Emphasis is placed upon developing a categorial understanding of Marx's conceptual apparatus adequate to the contemporary context, in the wake of the collapse of actually-existing Socialism, industrialization, and the crisis of valorization in the Twenty-First century.

GSS 543 - Interest Groups and Social Movements in American Politics and Policy (also AAS 543/AMS 543/POL 543)

This course engages theoretical and empirical work about interest groups and social movements in American politics and policy-making. We examine theories of interest group and social movement formation, maintenance and decline; how interest groups and social movements attempt to influence public policy; the impact of interest groups and social movements; lobbying; the relationships between interest groups and the three branches of the federal government; interest groups, elections, campaign finance, PACs, and 527s; and the effectiveness of interest groups and social movements as agents of democratic representation.

HIS 577 - Readings in African American History (also AAS 577)

Course examines significant themes in the evolution of African American life and culture since about 1619 and ending with the signing of the Emanicipation Proclamation. Some attention will be paid to historiographical issues and to pedagogical approaches.

HIS 578 - Topics in African Diaspora History (also AAS 578)

This readings course considers the dispersals, political movements, cultural production, social bonds, and intellectual labors that together have constituted and continually re-configured the modern African diaspora, from the emergence and collapse of the Atlantic slave system through the late twentieth century. The course tracks the evolution of diaspora as an idea and analytical framework, highlighting its intersections with concepts of Pan-Africanism, black nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and citizenship.

REL 505 - Studies in Religion in America (also AAS 505)

Themes, figures, and movements in American religions are examined.

SOC 560 - Topics in Social Stratification (Half-Term) (also AAS 561)

Covers social stratification and social inequality, including courses on race and gender

SPA 556 - Slavery, Anti-Slavery, and Post-Slavery in the Iberian Atlantic (also AAS 554/LAS 556)

This course introduces students to important texts from the immense body of scholarship on slavery, anti-slavery movements, and post-emancipation culture in the Iberian Atlantic world, focusing primarily on the "slave societies"of 19th-century Cuba and Brazil and their connections to the greater Caribbean. Grounded in historiography, the course includes literature, court documents, visual culture, studies of post-emancipation movements, theories from the black radical tradition, and films about Latin American slavery. Sub-topics include insurrections, autobiography, religion, the role of translators, conucos/provision grounds, fashion.