In October 1986, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the African Studies Association, a series of panels was convened to commemorate the founding of the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin twenty-five years previously. By many criteria this had been a successful program in promoting African studies as an academic field in the United States, in part because from the earliest years the program had looked to the future development of the discipline. It was fitting, therefore, that this “commemoration” not simply be an exercise in recalling the “glorious past” but instead be given to reviewing the development of the field over that period, and to looking ahead to likely trends in the academic understanding of Africa in the coming years.
The articles included in this symposium were first presented at panels organized as part of this commemoration. As befitting the occasion, they were intended to be reflective rather than critical, exploratory rather than definitive, ranging freely over the themes and features that have characterized the study of African history at the University of Wisconsin over that period. But it was also felt that despite the occasion that engendered them, these papers all had the potential of a wider audience, in part because they addressed issues characteristic of African historical studies in this country in general, with both their strengths and drawbacks.
These papers were presented at two panels of very different orientation, and that organization has been maintained here. One category, consisting of articles by Ewald, Spear, and Harms, dealt with “The Craft of the Historian.” These papers examined three related dimensions to historical inquiry in Africa: historians' relations to their sources, the analytic skills needed to assess the data, and the conceptual issues involved in historical understanding. Another panel dealt with the theme “Future Trends and Perspectives in African History.” This set of papers addressed the recent development of certain fields of inquiry and projected the likely trends of such studies over the coming years.