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Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John H. Hanson

The John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies

Associate Professor of History
Department of History
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1991
B.A., Kalamazoo College, 1979
M.A., Michigan State University, 1982
Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1989

At a time when many other highly regarded African studies centers around the country were losing major support, John Hanson assumed the leadership of Indiana University's program and led it to become arguably the most prestigious in the United States. In eight years as director of the IU African Studies Program, concluding in 2007, Hanson successfully applied for U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center funding three times. In fact, in successive grants in 2003 and 2006, IU topped all other Africa centers in terms of federal support.

"Director colleagues from our peer centers gasped when we learned during a meeting in Washington that we had received 12 academic year Foreign Language and Area Studies Awards, a number unheard of until that time," recalls Maria Grosz-Ngaté, associate director of the African Studies Program.

Hanson's grant-writing success reflected IU's large cohort of Africa experts, augmented by new faculty recruited as a result of his vision for the program and with the help of supportive deans and department chairs. Additionally, Hanson supervised the launch of an African studies M.A. degree and innovative dual M.A. degrees with IU professional schools. He also secured grants from other private and governmental funding agencies to support conferences, student research, and other activities. Also during Hanson's tenure, IU established about a dozen partnerships with prestigious African universities and research centers and became a magnet for bringing many distinguished African scholars to the Bloomington campus.

"To use an Akan saying, John was 'an excellent mother,' one who empathized with everyone," says Samuel Obeng, professor of linguistics and the program's current director. "His wisdom and managerial skills went beyond mere nursing of the program's members; they encompassed ensuring success, moving forward, openness, and inclusiveness."

"African scholars saw him as an equal partner, someone they could trust and collaborate with; no wonder the international perspective of the program flourished under his tenure," Obeng adds. "John risked his life to travel to places to negotiate on behalf of our program. If this selflessness is not admirable and worthy of recognition, then I do not know what is."

Not only do his fellow IU faculty and administrators offer praise, but so do his peers from major universities in the United States and elsewhere. "During the period of John's tenure as director . . . Indiana strengthened its position as one of the leading centers in the country," says Richard Roberts, director of the Center for African Studies at Stanford University. "John expanded Indiana's outreach to African universities and colleagues and deepened its outreach to precollegiate programs that are seeking to teach more effectively about Africa."

Babacar Fall, chair of history and geography at Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal, notes Hanson's efforts to foster a better understanding of the "changing and diverse continent" of Africa. He calls one of Hanson's efforts in this regard—the Dakar-Indiana-Oregon Study Abroad Program—"one of the most creative initiatives for raising U.S. students' global awareness."

In addition to his efforts as an administrator, Hanson remains a proficient and recognized scholar of Islam. With his colleagues, he has developed several tools and programs to promote global awareness among students, including developing the well-known CD-ROM Five Windows into Africa and contributing to the landmark text Africa. Hanson's professional activities also include service as editor of two major journals, Africa Today from 1998 to 2008 and History in Africa since 2010.

His 1996 book, Migration, Jihad, and Muslim Authority in West Africa: The Futanke Colonies in Karta, remains timely today because of its description of the political and religious tensions within militant Islamist movements. His upcoming book on transnational Islam and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement in Ghana will expand on these insights. He also has published numerous articles and essays, including a chapter on twentieth-century sub-Saharan Africa for the authoritative New Cambridge History of Islam.

Hanson was one of 33 scholars selected as a National Humanities Center Fellow for the 2009-10 academic year. His research has been supported by Rockefeller, Fulbright, and IU research grants. He also heads a team of IU colleagues funded by a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

During and after serving as director of African Studies, Hanson has also remained active as a teacher and mentor, supervising nearly a dozen Ph.D. dissertations in African history, serving on other doctoral committees, and continuing to teach, revise courses, and develop new courses for the Department of History.