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Jan Vansina: The Iroko Has Fallen

This is to inform all that Jan Vansina, the MacArthur Fellow and Vilas Research Professor Emeritus in History and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has passed away. Jan died this week after a protracted battle with cancer. He was just 87.

Jan was born in Antwerp, Belgium on September 14, 1929 to Dirk and Suzanne Vansina. Caught up in the uncertainty of the Second World War, Jan and his parents migrated to Bruges and later to Leuven where Jan enrolled at the Catholic University of Leuven to earn a degree in medicine. His experiences both in Bruges and Leuven were captured in his memoir: Through the Day, Through the Night: A Flemish Belgian Boyhood and World War II (2014). Jan dumped medicine and transferred to the Law program, while taking History, as a minor at Catholic University of Leuven. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Law.

After completing his graduate studies in Medieval History in 1952, Jan accepted a job with the Institute for Research for Central Africa (IRSAC) where, in conjunction with the University College, London, he trained, as a Research Anthropologist. This position not only changed his life, but also changed the trajectory of his career. He was assigned to Central Africa with the Bakuba. This was at the dying days of European colonial rule in (Central) Africa. Jan watched helplessly as European scholars, administrators and Christian missionaries denied the existence of an Africa history. Having used medieval dirges as raw historical material in his law program, Jan recognized oral traditions everywhere he turned in Africa. Convinced of the possibility of using oral traditions as sources of dependable historical information, he began collecting them, as materials for his doctoral research, which he completed in 1957.

Jan’s main contribution to African Studies lies in the use of oral tradition to historiography and methodologies of African Studies. His works straddled not just Anthropology and History, but also Sociology, Literature, and a broad spectrum of disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences. It was also in the course of his fieldwork in Central Africa that he met his wife, Claudine Herman, a Rwandan.

Phillip Curtin invited Jan to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960 to build a program in Comparative Tropical History. He remained at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the rest of his academic career. At Wisconsin-Madison, Jan established himself as an academic authority on the full range of central African history, publishing a total of 15 books and 160 articles. Among his most distinguished works are Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (1965); Oral Tradition as History (1985); Living With Africa (1994); Kingdoms of the Savannah (1966), Paths in the Rainforests (1990); Antecedents to Modern Rwanda (2004); Being Colonized: The Kuba Experience in Rural Congo, 1880-1960 (2010); and Through the Day, Through the Night: A Flemish Belgian Boyhood and World War II (2014).

In 1981, Jan was appointed as a central member of the editorial committee of the 8 volume UNESCO General History of Africa. He served in this position between 1981 and 1993. The African Studies Association awarded Jan the Distinguished Africanist Award in 1986. The American Historical Association awarded him the Award for Scholarly Distinction in 2000 and the the American Philosophical Society elected him as a member for his over 50 years’ work in the Social Sciences.

Jan Vansina who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994 as a MacArthur Fellow and Vilas Research Professor in History and Anthropology was survived by Claudine, his wife, and Bruno, his son.


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Department Saddened by the Passing of Professor Bert Helm








After receiving his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Tulane University, Bert Helm came to Missouri State University in 1966. Although the Political Science and Philosophy departments separated in the late 1980s, Bert had a tremendous impact on our majors over the course of his forty-year career.

Reflecting on Emerson and education in 1992, Bert wrote that “we shall find nothing very much like the quiet and deliberate Sage of Concord.” A fitting epitaph for our long-time colleague, Professor Bertrand P. Helm.

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Religious Studies Professor Awarded Fulbright Grant

Austra-250x300Congratulations to Dr. Austra Reinis, Professor of History of Christianity in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University, on being awarded a Fulbright Teaching and Research grant!

Her sabbatical year, Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, will take her to Germany where she will teach a course at the University of Leipzig on “The Correspondence Network of Princess Margarethe of Anhalt (1473-1530)” and continue research on the same topic in Dessau.

Congratulations, Austra!

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Congratulations to Aida Hass on the publication of “Criminology Connecting Theory, Research and Practice”


14233232_1839920482696964_2641538398763127837_nConnections among theory, research, and practice are the heart and soul of criminology. This book offers a comprehensive and balanced introduction to criminology, demonstrating the value of understanding the relationships between criminological theory, research, and practice in the study of crime and criminal behavior. Utilizing a range of case studies and thought-provoking features, it encourages students to think critically and provides a foundation for understanding criminology as a systematic, theoretically grounded science.

This is the second Edition and is available from Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

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Students Participate in Unique Study Away Opportunity

Melvi, Alana and juanPolitical science majors Macon Allen, Melvi Cifuentes, Alana Collins, and political science minor Juan Narvaez, spent a couple of weeks at the beginning of January of this year volunteering at Raíces, and NGO in San Antonio Texas. Raíces provides legal assistance and political advocacy to women, children and family fleeing gang and political violence from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua (https://www.raicestexas.org/). Macon, Melvi, Alana and Juan observed and assisted the Ngo’s work with refugees at the Karnes Detention Center. They performed interviews, observed court proceedings, and helped gather and organize evidence for legal procedures.

Juan Narvaez and Alana Collins
Juan Narvaez and Alana Collins
Macon Allen and Melvi Cifuentes
Macon Allen and Melvi Cifuentes


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