The African History Project (AHP) is a specialist school of Black history, political thought and culture. Our mission is to design and deliver world-class courses that inspire students, spark debate and champion the study of Black historical narratives.
A young institution, founded in June 2020 by Apeike Umolu, the school has been making waves ever since with its engaging public lecture series and structured courses.
‘There is still such a novelty about Black history’ says Umolu, a native of West Africa and a proud South Londoner. ‘Even for those of us within the culture, each day is an adventure as you find entire communities, entire movements that you can’t believe you didn’t know about before’.
In this way, the AHP is really a meeting place for the intellectually curious; students with a passion for learning, who want to be challenged to think about the history of people, places and ideas differently.
Defining and living up to this different way of doing things is a primary concern for the school: ‘we don’t want to be another “institution that could”,’ says Umolu, thinking of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, or even the Institute of Commonwealth Studies or the School of Oriental and African Studies both in London, and both of which have faced funding issues in recent years.
‘We are cautious and strategic in all of our actions because we want to be here for the long-run,’ continues Umolu, ‘but more than that, we understand that educational institutions cannot simply stick their heads in the ground and churn out graduates. We have to speak authoritatively about pedagogy; we have to contribute actively to discourses on the philosophies and theories of learning’.
The AHP’s Department of Education is leading this drive in institutional sustainability. The mission of the department is twofold: firstly, to support teachers who want to use Black historical narratives to enhance their curricula, and secondly, to be a leading agent in the surveying and codification of African pedagogies of formal education.
The AHP’s Department of Education is a leading agent in the surveying and codification of African philosophies and theories of education
‘You can choose to understand the narrative, ignore it or create it’, offers Umolu, whose recent essays on race and the classroom have been published in the The Africxn Review. ‘The first of these makes you vulnerable to the whim of others, the second makes you vulnerable to institutional ego, and the last is really the only place for pioneers and those looking to stay the course’.
Thus, the AHP believes that institution building rests firmly on thought leadership; on being able to ask the questions and find the answers to problems in a way that others cannot.
There is no denying the personal nature of these aims for Umolu: ‘Of course I am driven by the desire to give to my community an institution cast in their image,’ says the Director, an educator of over fifteen years, ‘but I am also driven by the belief that the Black experience, with its humanist core, provides so many wonderful examples of human ingenuity, particularly as it relates to intellectualism. I truly believe that a pedagogy drawn from within the Black experience has the potential to fundamentally change education systems, making them more fulfilling, compassionate and successful.’
Among those pedagogies is Pan-Africanism. As an institution the AHP sees Pan-Africanism as a central pedagogy and andragogy within the Black experience. It is one that informs all of the AHP’s choices; from who it hires to the courses it runs, all are decided with the furtherance of Pan-Africanism in mind.
Can it be that there is a Pan-African philosophy and theory of knowledge acquisition? Absolutely, holds Umolu: ‘Education, both as a social and political concept, has always been central to Pan-Africanism. For better or for worse, it is an ideology firmly steeped in intellectualism, in the realm of ideas, and in concern for the systemising of knowledge consolidation and sharing’.
Whether considering Garvey’s Black Nationalism, Du Bois’ Pan-Africanism or Nkrumaism, the idea of working towards a greater union of the global Black community has always been cast in intellectual terms. For Umolu, Pan-Africans old and new have understood that education has an important role to play in liberation, both material and psychological. Essentially, Pan-Africanism has always concerned itself with the development of knowledge acquisition systems that support the community- and institution-building necessary to develop strong notions of Pan-African citizenship.
This paper will concern itself with defining a modern Pan-African pedagogy fit for the nurturing of Pan-African Citizenship within the family and community and among educators. By surveying the literature of the past and the practices of the present, it will look at how Black communities have worked across national, ethnic and religious boundaries to shape modern Black consciousness, and by extension infused systems of learning with the compassion, diversity and adaptability that characterise Pan-African discourses on education.
Though imperfect, Umolu believes that Pan-Africanism, if its epistemological and pedagogical methods and achievements are properly codified, could provide a leading example in discourses on global citizenship about how to build identities that transcend space: ‘Global citizenship theory aims to globalise problem identification, conceptualisation and rectification but the inequality of global communities means that the communities best placed to promote initiatives in this realm are also those that benefit from the status quo,’ explains Umolu, reflecting on criticisms to the global citizenship agenda. She adds that: ‘Pan-African spaces are more “equal” than so-called global spaces, and even where there are material differences between agents in the Pan-African space, there is greater respect for the multiplicity of culture inherent in the human experience’.
For Umolu, while it is not absent, hegemony is less pronounced in Pan-African spaces, and for this reason the pedagogies developed within it not only benefit from the communitarianism of the African tradition, but also from a dearth of cultural supremacy narratives. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ say Umolu, ‘as a English speaking Nigerian of part-Yoruba heritage, with Nigeria being the world’s largest Black nation and Yoruba being the African culture with perhaps the greatest geographic reach, as well as growing up in the West, I understand my relative privilege within the Black experience, but that does not translate into a supremacy ideology, which is very important’.
This “more equal” union then may provide wonderful opportunities for codification. The AHP truly believes that is has a unique perspective to bring to conversations about systems of knowledge acquisition, esteem-building and identity nurturing that, though it may have initial applications only in the Black experience, has the potential to infuse global initiatives with a sense of compassion and communitarianism that has always defined Pan-African pedagogy.
We can’t go it alone…
According to Collins Dictionary, a conversation is ‘the interchange through speech of information and ideas’. It can be ‘an informal conference on a problem or area of interest’. A deep conversation must therefore be a deep interchange or a conference on a deep problem or a deep area of interest.
For us here at the AHP, collaboration is a deep conversation characterised by mutual contribution, vulnerability, and most importantly, with no clear destination in mind. Thus, a collaboration is an exploration, and collaboration is the bedrock of institutional growth.
In the next section we discuss the Leading Institutional Contributors that will be joining us in this exploration.