Jesse Shipley named The John D. Willard Professor in African and African American Studies

Eight members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have begun fall term with new appointments to endowed professorships. Three others have been reappointed to the chairs they already hold. The honors, given each year for multi-year terms, recognize outstanding research and teaching across a wide swath of the College curriculum.

Professor Shipley reflects on the honor of this position:  It is a great honor to be named the John D. Willard Professor of African and African American Studies and Oratory. This position, with its focus on oratory in relation to African and African American Studies, highlights the relationship between the Word and its performance. It also points to the idea that power is embedded in all types of expressive culture events—whether they are word-based, musical, theatrical, political, technologically mediated, or all of the above. The endowed chair will help me focus on my new project on the aesthetics of politics. In particular, I am interested in the global significance of 1970s West African intellectual and artistic movements. 

I trace the socio-historical emergence of a national, urban public culture in Ghana by examining the changing aesthetics of leadership. I am concerned with the indeterminate and uncertain nature of national rituals and ceremonies and how marginalized people contest public space and political participation. While charismatic leaders in spectacular displays of power often appear as decisive historical actors and agents of transformation/revolution, they, in fact, provoke indeterminacy and often lead to tragedy and melancholia. This ethnographic-historical case study has broader implications for understanding the complex dynamics between authoritarian charismatic political leadership and liberal economic development across Africa and around the world.