John H. Hanson


John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies (2011)
Indiana University Bloomington
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of History
Fulbright Award (2004)
Fulbright Hays Faculty Award
Location: Ghana
Fulbright Award (1995)
Fulbright Award
Location: Ghana


At a time when many other highly regarded African studies centers around the country were losing major support, John Hanson assumed the leadership of Indiana University's program and led it to become, arguably, the most prestigious program in the United States.

In eight years as director of the IU Bloomington African Studies Program, concluding in 2007, Hanson successfully applied for U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center funding three times. In fact, in successive grants in 2003 and 2006, IU topped all other Africa centers in terms of federal support.

"Director colleagues from our peer centers gasped when we learned during a meeting in Washington that we had received 12 academic-year Foreign Language and Area Studies Awards, a number unheard of until that time," said Maria Grosz-Ngaté, associate director of the African Studies Program.

Hanson's grant-writing success reflected IU's large cohort of Africa experts, augmented by new faculty recruited as a result of his vision for the program and with the help of supportive deans and department chairs. Additionally, Hanson supervised the launch of an African studies M.A. degree and innovative dual M.A. degrees with IU professional schools. He also secured grants from other private and governmental funding agencies to support conferences, student research and other activities.

Also during Hanson's tenure, IU established about a dozen partnerships with prestigious African universities and research centers, and became a magnet for bringing many distinguished African scholars to the Bloomington campus.

"To use an Akan saying, John was 'an excellent mother,' one who empathized with everyone," said Samuel Obeng, professor of linguistics and the program's current director. "His wisdom and managerial skills went beyond mere nursing of the program's members; they encompassed ensuring success, moving forward, openness and inclusiveness."

His peers from other major universities around the world echo the sentiment.

In addition to Hanson's efforts as an administrator, he remains a proficient and recognized scholar of Islam. With his colleagues, the history professor has developed several tools and programs to promote global awareness among students, including developing the CD-ROM Five Windows into Africa and contributing to the landmark text, Africa.

Hanson's professional activities also include service as editor of two major journals, Africa Today from 1998 to 2008 and History in Africa from 2010.

His 1996 book, Migration, Jihad, and Muslim Authority in West Africa: The Futanke Colonies in Karta, remains timely because of its description of the political and religious tensions within militant Islamist movements. His upcoming book on transnational Islam and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement in Ghana will expand on these insights. He also has published numerous articles and essays, including a chapter on 20th-century sub-Saharan Africa for the authoritative New Cambridge History of Islam.

Hanson was one of 33 scholars selected as a National Humanities Center Fellow for the 2009-2010 academic year. His research has been supported by Rockefeller, Fulbright and IU research grants, and he heads a team of IU colleagues funded by a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

During and after serving as director of African Studies, Hanson has remained active as a teacher and mentor, supervising nearly a dozen Ph.D. dissertations in African history, serving on other doctoral committees and continuing to teach, revise courses and develop new courses for the IU Bloomington Department of History.

Obeng said African scholars saw Hanson as a trustworthy, equal partner with whom they could collaborate. "John risked his life to travel to places to negotiate on behalf of our program."