University of Michigan academics and African Studies Center (ASC) associates, Henrike Florusbosch and Christine Feak were interviewed at the final episode of Citing Africa, a podcast and blog series based at the London School of Economics. Focusing on how Africa-based scholars are historically under-represented in both the publication of academic work and subsequent citations of their publications, the final episode explored the issues of global construction of and imbalances in knowledge production, taking a critical look at the wider context affecting the African continent. Florusbosch and Feak spoke about ASC’s U-M African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) program and its impact to its alumni and their institutions. Felix Mukwiza Ndahinda from University of Rwanda was also in the discussion and together, the three speakers addressed the problem of what declining acceptance rates for Africa-based academics in international journals mean for African scholars and scholarship, as well as what (more) can be done to reverse this trend.
Feak is a lecturer at the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan, and has facilitated the writing workshop that has been an integral part of the UMAPS program since its inception. These workshops are aimed at assisting scholars in conceiving, structuring, and improving their academic writing and specifically designed to help support scholars’ ability to publish in leading academic journals. The writing workshops contribute to the broader goals of the UMAPS by addressing uneven practices of global knowledge production and the skewed geography of academic citations. In the podcast, Feak notes that scholars benefit from the writing workshops in varying was based on their prior experience with academic publishing--but everyone benefits from them, as “Academic English is no one's first language.”
Florusbosch is the program coordinator for the African Studies Center, which administers the UMAPS program. Speaking to how the UMAPS program attempts to address issues of representation, citation, and Africa-based scholarship, she notes that former participants have noted three elements to be particularly useful in this regard, namely the writing workshop, access to library resources, and being paired with a UM faculty member. Ongoing monitoring and evaluating efforts, which are in the initial stages of data collection, show that the UMAPS program has successfully facilitated alumni publications in leading journals, showcasing their original research and building on the time, resources, and expertise gained in collaboration with the University of Michigan during the program.
In addition to being a senior lecturer at Rwanda University’s Law School, Ndahinda also serves as the director for the Aegis Trust’s Research, Policy and Higher Education (RPHE) program. During the podcast, he raises the issue of African representation in the production of knowledge. He argues that Southern authors are interested in publishing their work internationally to talk to a global audience, and also for the credibility and visibility that publishing in top global journals afford. However, the ability to do so is often made more difficult by structural or academic norms and realities.
It is these norms and realities that the UMAPS programs have been, and continue to address. The African Studies Center will welcome the next cohort of UMAPS scholars to Ann Arbor in August 2020, to continue its mission of increasing the voices of African-based scholars on campus as well as more broadly, in global academic conversations and international publications.