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Harris, Joseph E., 1929-



  • Existence: 1929-


Joseph Earl Harris (born July 2, 1929, North Carolina) is an eminent scholar of the history of Africa and the African diaspora. He is a pioneer in the study of the African diaspora to Asia, and championed the recognition of the African diaspora as a global phenomenon. Harris’ university studies were conducted at Howard University (B.A., 1952; M.A., 1956) and Northwestern University (Ph.D., 1965). Dr. Harris served as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1952-1954. During his studies, Harris taught at Howard University, Morgan State College, and Loch Haven State College, and was a contract teacher in Guinea.

Dr. Harris began his professional teaching career at the State University of New York at New Paltz (1965-1969), moved from there to Williams College (1969-1975), and found his final university home at Howard University, where he began as Professor of history, and was later named Distinguished Professor. At Howard, he served as Chairman of the Department of History (1975 to 1981), and as the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (1986 to 1991). Harris led and participated in many University and Departmental committees and task groups; among them are work toward the foundation of the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center (as it is now called) and several of Howard’s strategic planning initiatives. Harris was visiting professor (Rockefeller Foundation Fellow) at the University of Nairobi (1972-1973); a Smithsonian Institution Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1981-1982); a Fellow at the National Humanities Center (1985); a visiting scholar at Williams College (1989); the Reynolds Research Scholar at the University of North Carolina (1990), and the Howard University Scholar in Residence in Cape Town, South Africa (1997).

Harris organized the first and second African Diaspora Studies Institutes (1979, Howard University; 1981, Nairobi, Kenya), which resulted in the publication Global dimensions of the African diaspora. These conferences were important in the recognition of the African diaspora as a Pan-African phenomenon. He also organized the International Seminar, Research and Teaching in Afro-South American Studies (1986, Bogota, Colombia). Dr. Harris was the founder of the West African Research Association (which spawned the West African Research Center, in Senegal). The Association later moved from Howard University to the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and is currently based at Boston University. He also founded the African diaspora studies newsletter, and the South African Research and Archival Project.

Harris participated in the activities of many organizations other than universities and professional associations, such as the Unesco Slave Route project, the World Foundation for the Gorée Memorial, the Peace Corps, the National Parks Service, and various components of the Smithsonian Institution.

Book publications not mentioned above include The African presence in Asia: consequences of the East African slave trade (1971), based on information Harris gathered in India, Iran, and elsewhere; Africans and their history (1972 with later revisions); Repatriates and refugees in a colonial society: the case of Kenya (1987), based in part on research conducted while he was teaching in Kenya; and African American reactions to war in Ethiopia, 1936-1941 (1994). Harris edited the two volumes of The William Leo Hansberry African history notebook (Pillars in African History (1974) and Africa and Africans as seen by classical writers (1977)), and The recollections of James Juma Mbotela (1977).

Dr. Harris received the Journal of Negro History Award (Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, 1975); the James Aggrey Medal (Phelps-Stokes Fund, 1994); the Troyer Steele Anderson Prize (American Historical Association, 1995); the Edward Blyden Award (African Heritage Studies Association, 1996); a lifetime achievement award from the National Museum of American History (1999), the New York African Studies Award from the New York African Studies Association (2003), an Alumni Achievement Award from Howard Unviersity (2006); the Carter Godwin Woodson Scholars Medallion (Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 2007); was retrospectively inducted into Phi Beta Kappa (2007); received an award for scholarly distinction from the American Historical Association (2009), and a certificate of appreciation at the International Conference: Pan-Africanism and Negritude: Dialogues Between Africa and the African Diaspora (Past, Present, Future) (2015). He was named Distinguished Africanist by the African Studies Association (2003).

Dr. Harris retired from his professorship at Howard University in 2003, but continues to work on various projects, including the South African Research and Archives Project.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Joseph E. Harris papers

Identifier: 032
Abstract Joseph Earl Harris (born July 2, 1929, North Carolina), an eminent scholar of the history of Africa and the African diaspora. A pioneer in the study of the African diaspora to Asia, he championed the recognition of the African diaspora as a global phenomenon. The Joseph E. Harris papers contain materials from all periods of Dr. Harris' career. They reflect the full scope of his participation in the work of the universities at which he taught, and the organizations and conferences in which he...
Dates: 1929 - 2016