American University Professor of Anthropology Chapurukha "Chap" Kusimba has been elected as a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), the prestigious honorary society of world leaders, innovators, artists, and academics. He will be inducted on Saturday, October 6, at the House of the Academy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Other inductees this year include President Barack Obama, actor Tom Hanks, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Kusimba is the academy's 2018 archaeology fellow. He was elected by his peers.
"This is a true milestone. Recognition by the AAAS of Chap's research and place in the profession of archaeology speaks volumes to the importance of his international work - for the many years he was at the Chicago Field Museum, and for his impressive work since joining us at AU," said Dan Sayers, chair of AU's Department of Anthropology. "Having an AAAS fellow among our faculty makes us proud and represents our collective commitment to doing anthropological research that matters and that is relevant to the field today."
Africa's Role in Global History
Kusimba is an expert on the origins of the Swahili people of the east African coast. Through meticulous archeological, linguistic, ethnographic, and ancient DNA research, he has demonstrated the strong influence of inland peoples in the emergence of Swahili culture. The roots of this Bantu-speaking Muslim culture began at least two millennia ago. Kusimba tracks the historical patterns in which the emerging African elite adopted Islam and highlights the role of global trade and urbanism in his research. This process includes iron working, maritime exchange, the establishment of inter-ethnic alliances, and the promotion of global relationships.
One core area of Kusimba's work is the archaeology of ancient Kenya, with a focus on the emergence of social complexities and inequalities. He connects Kenya and its surrounding region to the rise of circuits of international trade, human migration, and wealth-flows, especially as they relate to China and India.
"As a public archaeologist, Chap works in many ways to make this archaeology and history relevant to people today. For example, he focuses on issues of racism, ethnocentrism, and bias in professional interpretations of Kenya's and Africa's histories," said Sayers.
Kusimba joined the College of Arts and Sciences in 2013 after working for nearly 20 years as a curator of African archaeology and ethnology at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History and as an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is a former research scientist at the National Museums of Kenya, where his mentor was famed anthropologist Richard Leakey.
Kusimba says this recognition by his peers is humbling. "It vindicates the efforts we have made over the last three decades to bring to light the contributions of many anonymous individuals and communities from the global south, to global history," he said. "This fellowship also restores my faith in the view that there is still a place in data-driven, problem-oriented research that integrates the best practices and approaches in science and the humanities, and in the collective pursuit to uncover and make sense of past human experiences."
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The mission of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is to serve the nation as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue, and useful knowledge. As one of the country's oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, it convenes leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.
The Academy's membership of 4,900 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members includes many of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners worldwide. The academy sponsors meetings, lectures, panel discussions, and informal gatherings around the country. Topics are drawn from academy projects and studies, as well as the research and writings of academy members.