‘Ọmọ Nàìjá Ni Mí!’

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Introducing Dr Maria Martin, Visiting Fulbright Scholar

Visiting Fulbright Scholar at IAS-UI, Dr Maria Martin, is actually no visitor to Nigeria. She has been here on several visits and has done extensive fieldwork on indigenous forms of feminist thought and activism in south-western Nigeria.

2017 11 dr maria martin 2A Black Studies Africanist historian, Dr Martin studied History of the Ancient Near East and Anthropology (BA) and Greek and Roman History (MA) at the University of Toledo, Ohio. For her MA, she wrote a thesis on African contributions to the founding of the Roman Empire. She took her PhD in African American and African Studies at Michigan State University. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of African History at the University of California, Merced.

Dr Martin’s study of ancient history is anchored on her interest in researching how peoples and cultures interacted in the past before the emergence of racial bias. She believes that understanding the non-racist past is crucial for dealing with the problem of racism in contemporary societies, especially in the United States, her home country. Dr Martin takes the politics of race in academia very seriously, having herself confronted racist bigotry in the course of her education, an experience which has made her even more alert and committed to championing the rights of people of colour, especially women and Blacks. She is critical of the dichotomy in US academia whereby ‘most Africanists are white and most Black Studies people are African American and they do not come together.’ She wants a more prominent position to be given to African and Black Studies because these fields ‘help to produce new methods, theories, and perspectives with which to understand how national or global society functions or how that society is dysfunctional’. She believes that studying Africa and the African diaspora has ‘diversified theory and pedagogy in various disciplines in the west’, and she notes that scholars are increasingly becoming cognizant of Africa’s strategic importance in international relations and the global market economy.

Her fieldwork in Nigeria gave her access to the homes and documents of many female activists in the country, including direct access to the archives of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, an experience she recalls with pride. Called Kemi by some Nigerian friends, Dr Martin admires the accommodating spirit of Nigerians, and the fortitude and sense of responsibility of the many women she has interacted with in Nigerian society. Citing examples on the role of African women in politics, business and the professions, she has promised to ‘write an article on how Africa is more feminist than the US or the west’.

Dr Martin confesses to enjoying an absolute sense of belonging in Nigeria, where she says her skin colour does not play a role in how she is received and treated by people. The result of her African Ancestry DNA test (85% African and 65% Nigerian) is empirical proof of her citizenship, and she expressed her joy over this in Yoruba: ‘Inú mi dùn gan láti mọ èyí.’

While here at IAS-UI as a Visiting Fulbright Scholar, Dr Martin plans to create a mentoring programme in our Gender Studies unit, organize an international conference for the unit, work on book projects on African Women and Gender, and give seminars on grant writing. Declaring ‘Ọmọ Nàìjá ni mí!’, she wants to start bringing tour groups of other Black American people to Nigeria.

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