Faculty and Student Research

Our faculty are research specialists in African languages, and the literatures and cultures expressed in those languages. Our students train in literary studies, critical applied linguistics, and cultural studies. Below are examples of what we’ve been working on during the most recently completed academic year. Find past reports here.

2019-20 Faculty Research News

(jump down to student research news)


cover of The Beautiful Skin by Vlad Dima

Vlad Dima’s second book, The Beautiful Skin: Football, Fantasy, and Cinematic Bodies in African Film, is forthcoming from Michigan State University Press in September 2020. By relying on the metaphor of skin, the project investigates how football and cinema express individual and collective fantasies in Africa, and highlights where the two—football and cinema—converge and diverge with regard to neocolonial fantasies. Part 1, “The Beautiful Fantasy,” looks at fantasy as a type of skin; Part 2, “The Beautiful Game,” considers the possibility of football jerseys as another sort of skin; finally, Part 3, “The Beautiful Skin,” splits the body in three—as visual, aural, and haptic—in order to posit that film itself has a skin.

Vlad is currently working on his third book, tentatively titled Meaning-Less-Ness, a theoretical study of the African moving image and its various connections with African literature, negritude, rhythm, death, and love. The main goals are to explore the meaning(s) of and in the African moving image (“meaning”), the importance of the figure of the undead in African film (“less”), and, finally, the narrative role played by sound as an add-on to the image (“ness”) in postcolonial French films.


Luis MadureiraLuís Madureira shared, “During my 2020-21 sabbatical year, I hope to bring two projects to completion: (1) a monograph on Lusophone African drama, and (2) a translation of the early 16th-century Correspondence of Afonso I Mvemba a Nzinga, King of Kongo (under contract by Hackett Publishing Company). In addition, I plan to advance significantly on a third project, an analysis of a corpus of Luso-African historical novels (from Angola and Mozambique), in which I seek to understand how recent Luso-African fiction—against the grain of a broad commitment to the radical project of “imagining the nation” in the wake of independence—has begun to reconsider pre-colonial forms of knowledge, cultural values, and practices as a possible way out of contemporary cultural and political predicaments.


Reginold Royston headshotIn his current book project, “Reassembling Ghana,” Reginold Royston asserts the ambivalence of technology, development theories, and national identity, amid techno-optimism, afropessimism, and the enduring Pan African ethos of NGO efforts in the region. Royston also works in the area of Sound Studies, currently writing about the impact of African viral/video dance-music. This research includes fieldwork in Chicago with dancers and producers in Footwork, a subgenre of Chicago House music, and Ghanaian Azonto/Afrobeats dancers in Chicago, Ghana, and online. Recent and forthcoming publications in 2020 include “Configuring Diaspora: The Disjunctive Nature of Digital Diasporas” in African Diaspora; and “Podcasts and New Orality in the African Mediascape” in New Media & Society. Prof. Royston was most recently an invited speaker at Toronto’s CIFAR AI & Society think tank.


Department Chair Katrina Daly Thompson used the second year of her two-year Vilas Associates Award to continue work on her third book project, a multi-sited ethnography of nonconformist Muslims. She presented preliminary findings at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Vancouver in November. She published an article based on this work, “Becoming Muslims with a ‘Queer Voice’: Indexical Disjuncture in the Talk of LGBT Members of the Progressive Muslim Community,” in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. A public scholarship version,  “Voicing Queer Adjustments in a Progressive Muslim Community,” also appeared in The Maydan. She won a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support her writing this summer and will spend two months developing a book proposal about this project. She has two more articles about this work forthcoming in American Anthropologist and Language & Communication.


2019-20 Student Research News

Kathryn MaraPh.D. candidate Kathryn Mara finished her fieldwork with the Rwandan community of Toronto in summer 2019, with the help of a Graduate School International Research Travel Award.

Kathryn’s paper “Jenoside, Génocide, Genocide: Socialization into Naming the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi” won both the African Studies Program’s A.C. Jordan Prize and an honorable mention for the Bennetta Jules-Rosette Graduate Essay Award by the Association for Africanist Anthropology.

Kathryn presented her paper “(Re)membering the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi: Commemoration as Socialization” at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. At the 2019 annual meeting of the African Studies Association, she presented “Naming Jenoside, Génocide, Genocide: Socialization through Terming the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi,” as well as a co-authored paper, “Autoethnography,” with Dr. Katrina Daly Thompson as part of a panel on African Studies Keywords sponsored by the African Studies Review. Kathryn also presented “’We are All Rwandans’: Identifying and Indexing the People Formerly Known as Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa” at the African Studies Program’s Africa at Noon lecture series in January 2020. Kathryn prepared to give a similar presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, but the organizers postponed the conference until September 2020. She expects to present her paper, “Writing for an Audience, Writing for Yourself: Reclamation in Research,” at the International Conference of Autoethnography in July 2020.

Kathryn published an article, “The Remains of Humanity: An Autoethnographic Account of a Misery Tourist in Rwanda,” in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Autoethnography in 2020, along with two book reviews, on Susan Thomson’s Rwanda: From Genocide to Precarious Peace and Andrew Cowell’s Naming the World: Language and Power Among the Northern Arapaho in Africa Today and Language in Society, respectively.

Kathryn has made good progress on her dissertation, thanks to a Graduate School Fellowship during the 2019-2020 academic year. She has also won a Mellon-Wisconsin Graduate Fellowship for summer 2020 to support her writing, and she expects to defend her dissertation later in 2020.