Publication Date

December 4, 2018

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily

Post Type

Members Making News


  • United States


African American, Cultural

Ofosuwa Abiola is an assistant professor at Howard University. She lives in Washington, DC, and has been a member since 2013.

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Ofosuwa M. AbiolaAlma maters: BIS (cultural studies), Virginia State University, 2010; PhD (history), Howard University, 2016

Fields of interest: African and African diaspora dance systems, performance and identity, public history and performance, world dance

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I was a dancer by profession. Although trained in several styles of dance, African became my specialization. I founded and operated an African dance company for 15 years and choreographed African dance ballets to depict the findings of my historical research. I began to realize that I enjoyed the research process and the opportunity to share history through dance and culture. It is at that point that I decided to pursue the career path of teaching history with an Africana performance focus.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? I live in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, which is on the borderline of Washington, DC, and I work in Washington. I love being in close proximity to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, Howard University’s Moorland Spingarn Research Center, and the Smithsonian museums. I consider this area research heaven. I am also fond of the diversity in the Greater Washington area.

What projects are you currently working on? All of my current projects are the outgrowth of my conviction that rich historical narratives are embedded within African and African diaspora dance and performance. My NEH-funded grant to establish an Africana Theatre and Dance Collection will make an extensive number of uncatalogued rich primary sources, presently housed in Howard University’s Founders Library, available for students, faculty, area colleges and universities, and the community at large.

Through Howard University’s digital platform, I founded and am editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed digital journal Evoke: A Historical, Theoretical, and Cultural Analysis of Africana Dance and Theatre. The journal seeks to foster historical research, critical analysis, and vigorous discourse on Africana dance, acting, and filmmaking. The inaugural issue will be available in January 2019.

My book, History Dances: Chronicling the History of Traditional Mandinka Dance, will be published in December 2018. It argues that a wealth of information is housed within traditional Mandinka dances. Subsequently, the dances can be used as primary sources for writing African history. The book also addresses the issue of scarcity with regard to African derived primary sources and offers an alternative methodology for research on African history.

I am also working on a second book project, For Every Thought There’s a Dance: A Historical Perspective on African American Dance. The book contends that African American dances are steeped in historical narratives and they have become a global phenomenon in academia and among practitioners. Accordingly, knowledge of the history, experiences, and agency of African Americans must be at the forefront of conversations for those who research and those who practice the artform.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? My interests have expanded since graduation. In graduate school my major field was Africa, and my minor field was public history with an emphasis on African American history. The bulk of my research and papers were focused on the history of performance in the two areas. After graduation my research led me to discover significant chronicles in the dances of black people in Britain, the Caribbean, and South America. Additionally, I am now interested in the historical dances of India, Australia, and China, and other ancient world dances.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? I am always fascinated when I discover medieval-era descriptions of dance and other cultural phenomena in Africa and the global South while doing research. The non-Western world during this period is scarcely represented in historical literature in academia.

What do you value most about the history discipline? The history discipline’s ability to inform, reveal, construct, and deconstruct identity is its most valuable asset. We learn who we are today by understanding who we were in the past.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? Membership in the AHA allows me to surround myself with historians with diverse interests. Presently, I am the sole historian in a theatre arts department. Although I am honored to be in my present position, the AHA provides an outlet for like-minded intellectual engagement. It affords the opportunity to connect with fellow historians in a way that cannot be done in my department.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association