A Professor of both History and Anthropology and Director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at UCLA, Andrew Apter is noted for his interdisciplinary approach to African and African American studies in such groundbreaking monographs as Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society (1992), The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria (2005), and Beyond Words: Discourse and Critical Agency in Africa (2007), all published by the University of Chicago Press. More recently, he has edited (with Lauren Derby) and provided the introduction for Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010).
Mr. Apter received a B.A. in philosophy (magna cum laude) from Yale University in 1978, but while an undergraduate there he developed an interest in anthropology, winning a Bates traveling fellowship in 1977 to write a grammar of Yoruba talking drums. A Mellon Fellowship (1978-80) allowed him to earn a second B.A., in social anthropology, at Cambridge University, after which he returned to Yale for his doctoral studies in anthropology (Ph.D., 1987). His dissertation, entitled “Rituals of Power: The Politics of Orisa Worship in Yoruba Society,” which was supported by fellowships from Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, and the Smithsonian Institution, won Yales’s Theron Rockwell Field Prize.
He spent 1987-89 on a Kenan Fellowship awarded by the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University and as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia’s Teachers College; in those two years he not only taught courses in social theory and the rhetoric of ethnography but revised his dissertation to produce Black Critics and Kings, which received an honorable mention for the 1993 Herskovits Award. On the completion of his fellowship term, he took up an appointment as an Assistant, and later Associate, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. While there, he was instrumental in developing its African and African American studies program.
His second book grew out of many years’ work, begun during his time at Chicago and continuing into his tenure at UCLA, whose faculty he joined in 2003. With support from a Fulbright-CIES Fellowship, Mr. Apter travelled back to Nigeria for six months of fieldwork in 1993 to study its FESTAC 77, a black world’s fair made possible by the country’s then-booming oil economy and motivated by Nigeria’s effort to boost its image as a leader on the continent. An NEH grant in 2000 funded his further research on this subject in Oxford University’s archives as a senior associate member of St. Anthony’s College. Published in 2005, The Pan-African Nation received the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain’s 2007 Amaury Talbot Prize for the best book in African anthropology.
“On African Origins: Creolization and Connaissance in Haitian Vodou,” published in American Ethnologist in 2002, and “Herskovits’s Heritage: Rethinking Syncretism in the African Diaspora,” in Syncretism in Religion: A Reader, edited by A. M. Leopold and J. S. Jensen (Routledge, 2004) are but two indications that Andrew Apter’s interests and expertise extend as well to the other side of the Atlantic. Over the course of his more than twenty-year career and with support from a 2004-06 Burkle Center Global Impact Research Grant for the study of historical memory in the Black Atlantic World, a 2007-08 SSRC dissertation proposal development fellowship in Black Atlantic Studies, and a Mellon Transforming the Humanities grant for rethinking Atlantic historiography, he has been developing his “methodological framework for unlocking the hidden histories of Atlantic ritual systems” as he describes it. Having sketched it out in his introduction to Activating the Past, Andrew Apter will use his Guggenheim Fellowship term to more fully examine the social divides and religious practices of the West African diaspora as carried over and transmuted in the Americas.