The Africa Past & Present podcast is likely the preeminent scholarly podcast on African Studies. Hosted by two professors of African History at Michigan State University, Dr. Peter Limb and Dr. Peter Alegi, the podcast uses a discussion and interview format to bring out the best of recent scholarship in African history, culture, and politics. Michigan State University has one of the most prestigious African Studies programs in the country, thereby lending the weight of its reputation to the series.
Africa Past & Present currently spans 128 episodes that generally range from 25-40 minutes in length. The discussion is academic in nature as the guests are normally historians, anthropologists, or sociologists of Africa who discuss their recent scholarship with one of the hosts. The speakers’ vocabulary tends toward erudite and assumes a general to advanced mastery of academic terminology in general and knowledge of Africa in particular. The Q&A interview structure enlivens the episodes as the back-and-forth between two voices is essential to maintain listener interest. This is not a podcast for the general interest listener, but rather for the undergraduate or graduate student with an interest in African Studies or a professor who wants to stay up-to-date on recent scholarship while on a 30 minute commute to work.
The episodes run through a fascinating spectrum of topics within the field of African Studies, ranging from Mozambican dams to African hip-hop and from Swahili poetry to refugees. Each episode has a different guest discussing his or her area of expertise. The podcast gives the sense of developing a digital/audio version of an academic journal in that the content is rich, the language is complex, and the topics are highly specific. It gives the scholars an opportunity to showcase their research. The main differences between Africa Past & Present and an academic journal, of course, is the audio medium and the interview format.
Africa Past & Present is academic podcasting at its best; it brings alive the conversation and scholarship that is at the heart of higher education. As such, its audience and use in the classroom ought to be in the college and graduate school. The podcast could serve as a useful tool for Africa experts to stay up-to-date on scholarship, for professors in other areas to broaden their knowledge of Africa and establish relevant connections, and for students to engage in analysis of “texts” beyond the written word. Very few secondary school teachers (or students) or general interest listeners will have the stamina to make it through more than a few episodes.