Graduate Program

African American and African Diaspora Studies is a field rooted in the study of social meaning, art, and political life, produced under particular conditions and by people with both ascriptive and interior identifications with Africanness or blackness. These particular conditions take various forms, but at a foundational level consist of the encounter between the black subject and the historic juridical, economic and global political order that deems or treats her as liminal, appropriate for exploitation/subjugation and/or ancillary or supplemental to the idea of the person or human. This encounter is dialogic and dynamic and shaped by a set of aesthetic and ritual practices inherited from both West Africa and Western Europe and regularly reinterpreted to suit the particularly of the moment and the specifics of a range of sub-identities. The field of African American Studies is concerned with patterns, practices and artifacts that tend to these conditions but cannot be a closed system insofar as it does descriptive work about present and changing people. It is contingent scholarship.

– Imani Perry

The graduate certificate in African American Studies provides an opportunity for students to complement doctoral studies in their home department with coordinated interdisciplinary training in African American Studies and to participate in an intellectually stimulating community. Students entering the program may come from any department in the Humanities and Social Sciences in which interdisciplinary training in African American Studies is desired. Requirements for the certificate include an introductory readings course; two additional courses; participation in the yearlong Faculty-Graduate Seminar; and completion of a dissertation on a topic of significance to the field of African American Studies. Certificate requirements are designed to complement the course of study in students’ home departments. In addition to the certificate, the Department’s Graduate Affairs program sponsors programming and events throughout the academic year for graduate students at all stages with interests in African American Studies.

Course of Study

The graduate course of study is determined by students’ home department advisors in consultation with the curriculum committee in the Department of African American Studies. Certificate requirements include completion of AAS 500 and two other courses in the Humanities or Social Sciences: (a) whose contents are judged to be devoted primarily to race; or (b) for which they write research papers devoted to race; or (c) which are independent study topics tailored to the student’s interests in race. Additional requirements include participation for one academic year in the Faculty Graduate Seminar.

Entrance Into the Program

Students wishing to obtain a graduate certificate in African American Studies are encouraged to consult with the Director of Graduate Affairs, ideally during their first year, to plan their course of study. Formal admission to the certificate program will take place upon students’ completion of general examinations and admission to candidacy.  Interested students should complete the graduate certificate program registration form and submit it via email or campus mail to Jana Johnson at

A Keystone Seminar

AAS 500, Introduction to African-American Intellectual Tradition, is an interdisciplinary seminar introduces graduate students from many departments to the African-American intellectual tradition. The perspective concentrates on African-America and the African Diaspora, with attention to issues of class and gender as well as race. A broad set of topics, including race, racism, religion, and slavery are discussed. The course presupposes a familiarity with issues in African American Studies and it is required for all students pursuing the graduate certificate.


The dissertation is expected to center on a topic of significance in African American Studies. Typically, the principal advisor for the dissertation will be a faculty member from the home department, with at least one African American Studies faculty member serving as a reader.

At the time of the receipt of a Ph.D. diploma in his or her discipline, the chair of AAS will award the student a letter of certification.

Funding and Teaching

Students are normally supported by regular graduate fellowships from their home department. Once students are accepted into the graduate certificate program, they will be eligible to apply to the Department of African American Studies for up to $1,500 in research funds. In addition, graduate students with sufficient background and training may have the opportunity to precept in courses in the Department of African American Studies (as available) during their regular period of enrollment, and teaching may also provide additional financial support in year six and seven for DCE students. Students holding outside, non-Princeton fellowships should consult with the Graduate School about the impact of accepting additional funds for teaching from AAS.

Faculty-Graduate Seminar

Graduate students must participate in at least one year of the Faculty Graduate Seminar. The seminar combines presentations by Princeton faculty and visitors and hosts, both established and emerging scholars from institutions throughout the world. The seminar is decidedly interdisciplinary and engages scholarship from multiple fields, perspectives and methodological approaches. Each meeting lasts one hour and twenty minutes. Typically, a paper will be circulated one week prior to meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, the author of the paper will present her work for about 20 minutes. Another participant in the workshop, preferably a graduate student, then has an opportunity to respond to the paper, raising questions and directing the conversation for 10 minutes. For the remaining time, we hold an open discussion about the paper and the presentation.

If you have any questions or need any additional information, please contact our Acting Director of Graduate Affairs, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher, at (609) 258-1683 or via email at and/or see the Graduate School African American Studies Announcement.