Michelle Commander, assistant professor of English and Africana Studies, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to spend the 2012-13 academic year in Ghana. As part of her responsibilities, she will teach classes in the Department of English at the University of Ghana, serve on dissertation committees, and participate on departmental and university communities. Commander will also conduct research and lecture on the subject of her current book project, which examines the longing for origins that motivates “roots tourism” (the industry through which black Americans visit West African locales) and emigration.
Drawing upon anthropology, sociology, history, and literary and film analysis, Commander looks at the function of Africa in the black American imagination and the cultural practices that have emerged to engage the longing for origins. Her research on this project involves field work in sites critical to the tourism industry, chiefly Ghana and the Brazilian port of Bahia, and she has amassed and analyzed considerable material through interviews and participation-observations in these sites and here at home. At the same time, she brings her considerable skills as a literary scholar to the examination of narratives and films that address the experiences of roots tourists and expatriates.
Her research promises to transform and deepen our understanding of the cultural exchanges that take place between Africa and the Americas and to provide hitherto unavailable insight into the psychological dynamics linking Africans with those in the African diaspora.