Students with an interest in African affairs can choose from a wide and expanding roster of courses offered by the various departments and disciplines across Columbia, as well as shared course initiatives with Cornell and Yale universities.

All official course offerings should be confirmed on course bulletins and with academic advisors. For questions about academic programs, please contact Dr Jinny Prais, [email protected]

If you have suggestions for future course offerings on Africa, we want to hear from you! Please email us with your recommendations.

The African Studies major is no longer administered by the Institute of African Studies. As of fall 2013, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) is administering the African Studies major. For students interested in the program, please visit the MESAAS Website for more information. Current and prospective majors should contact Prof. Kai Kresse ([email protected]) for advising. 

The African Language Program include training in Wolof, Pulaar, Swahili, and Arabic at Columbia, and Zulu and Yoruba through the Shared Course Initiative with Cornell and Yale universities.

The philosophy behind the African Language Program is that any serious understanding of Africa begins with language study. African language courses are designed to help students work toward both communicative and cultural competence. The overall aim of the program is to help students gain the linguistic skills necessary to function in all areas of practical need, and prepare them for advanced study of history, culture, and literature. Regular classroom instruction is offered in several languages: Swahili, Wolof, Pulaar, and Arabic. Zulu and Yoruba are taught at the Language Resource Center (LRC) at Columbia through the Shared Course Initiative with Cornell and Yale universities. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply for FLAS fellowship that provides both summer and academic year support for language training.

Swahili: Spoken principally in Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili also serves as a regional lingua franca throughout Eastern and Central Africa.

Wolof: The main lingua franca of Senegal and The Gambia, it is spoken as a first or second language by the majority of populations in those two countries in most social contexts. It is also spoken by a significant minority in Mauritania.

Zulu: The dominant language in KwaZulu-Natal, the largest province in South Africa, Zulu is the language with the largest number of speakers in the country, and is also spoken in Malawi, southern Swaziland, and Lesotho.

 The most geographically widespread language of Africa, Pulaar is spoken in various areas from the westernmost point of the African continent (Senegal) southward to Sierra Leone, and eastward across Mali to Sudan. The prominent role played by Pulaar people in West African history is reflected through their rich written and recorded heritage.

Yoruba: The Yoruba language (natively èdè Yorùbá) is a Niger–Congo language spoken in West Africa. The number of speakers of Yoruba was estimated at around 20 million in the 1990s. The native tongue of the Yoruba people, is spoken, among other languages, in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo and in communities in other parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Arabic: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is spoken by the media, used in most printed material, and understood widely across the Middle East and North Africa. It is derived from Classical Arabic, especially that from the pre-Islamic to the Abbasid period. Modern Standard Arabic serves as a sort of lingua franca across the Middle East and North Africa, as various national, regional, and local dialects can vary widely.

Courses & Levels:

Elementary I, II: These elementary language level courses offer an integrative approach to the four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Students learn to recognize all contrastive sounds and distinguish question and answer intonation, express basic feelings and needs, as well as ask and answer questions related to these needs and feelings. At the completion of the second semester students will be able to communicate using basic structures, express basic courtesy, correctly spell, read, and interpret written text in areas of practical need, and begin to develop cultural insight.

Intermediate I, II: These courses focus on further developing students’ awareness and understanding of the languages and cultures, as well as improving mastery of grammar, writing skills, and oral skills. Course materials incorporate various types of text including tales and cartoons, as well multimedia such of films, videos, and audio recordings. Students will be able to understand, and interpret both written and spoken language in a variety of situations, elaborate on descriptions, and discuss likes and dislikes, comprehend speech on familiar topics, discuss opinions, and cultural differences, recognize various types of spoken and written language, and expand cultural knowledge.

Advanced I, II: These courses focus on further developing students’ linguistic competence in a wide variety of social contexts, and in written texts. Students will be able to create detailed descriptions using complex sentence structures, narrate events, understand, and interpret complex culturally charged language such as that found in tales and historical narratives. Students will acquire the necessary skills to present an analysis of authentic oral or written text to an audience, respond spontaneously to questions, and formulate and defend a position, and gain further knowledge into the histories, politics, and social settings of the speakers of the language of concern.

To learn more about African language opportunities please contact Mariame Sy.

Mariame Sy, African Language Coordinator, [email protected]

(212) 851-2439, 310 Knox Hall

The graduate certificate in African Studies may be pursued by graduate students enrolled in any advanced degree program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or any of the professional schools at Columbia University. The Certificate demonstrates specialised knowledge of African languages, history, culture, and politics. It is especially helpful for graduate students seeking to deepen their understanding of African studies while working on advanced degrees in the social sciences, humanities, sciences, and professional fields. Both master and doctoral students are encouraged to complete the certificate. 


For the African studies certificate, students must take a total of eight (8) Africa courses (24 credits).


Only courses with 50% or higher Africa content are accepted for credit. At least two of these courses must be seminars for colloquia above the 6000 level (6 points). One course must be taken from each of the following disciplines: Anthropology (3 points); History (3 points); Political Science (3 points). Five (5) additional courses must be selected from approved courses in the various disciplines (15 points). 


Candidates must submit an essay for approval by the Institute. The essay must be an extended paper written for one of the certificate courses and reviewed by the IAS assistant director.


No more than six points of language courses may be counted toward the certificate (24 credits) and only indigenous African languages at the intermediate level or above are eligible. With the exception of language courses, credit toward the certificate is not given for undergraduate courses. Certificate candidates must pass a proficiency examination, both written and oral, in one of the following: French, Arabic, Portuguese or an African language. With special permission of the IAS assistant director, a language other than those mentioned above may be offered, provided it is relevant to the student's research and there is a substantial body of research literature available. A student's first language cannot be used to fulfill the language requirement. 

To learn more about the Graduate Certificate in African Studies please contact Dr Jinny Prais, [email protected]

The specialization in African Studies as part of the Master of International Affairs and Master of Public Administration degree programs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). It indicates that a student has received training in the political, social, cultural and economic issues that impact African countries and societies. The specialization requires nine credits (three courses) of Africa-focused courses. View the course list for classes that meet the specialization requirement. There is no language requirement for the specialization.


Three graduate courses on Africa from the approved list of courses (see current classes) 

Courses eligible for credit must contain 50% or more Africa-related content. However, if a course includes at least 25% content on Africa, it may still be considered for credit. To do so, present the course details to Dr Jinny Prais for approval, especially if it features substantial Africa-focused content and the student undertakes a final project centered on Africa. Please note that such courses require pre-approval. Should you wish to propose a class not currently on the approved list, contact the Africa Specialisation advisor, Dr Jinny Prais, [email protected]for further assistance. 

Eligible Courses for Spring 2024



Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies: 


Art History and Archaeology:


Climate School: 

Institute for the Study of Human Rights: