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Exploring historical ties between CMU and the University of Ghana

A conversation with visiting scholar, alumnus Nana Yaw Sapong

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

There was more to Nana Yaw Sapong's visit to Central Michigan University than presenting at the International Graduate Historical Studies Conference last weekend and serving as a guest lecturer for an honors class this week.

It was a homecoming of sorts for the University of Ghana history professor and researcher who received his graduate degree in history from CMU in 2004.

Sapong took some time away from his role as a visiting scholar to answer questions about the conference, his experiences and why students should care about the histories of countries worldwide.

Why is it important for students to study the histories of different countries?

Our world is ever-shrinking because of science and technology. In the real world, we interact with people from every part of planet Earth. If you intend to work in academia, for a multinational business or with the federal government, knowing the histories of countries is crucial. At the least, it will help you navigate the cultural pitfalls that befall the ignorant.

What did you present to the CMU honors students, and what do you hope they take away from your presentation?

As part of the honors program, some of the students will be going abroad to study. My lecture dwelled on the challenges and rewards of immersing yourself in a different culture and knowing its people. I drew specific instances from Ghana and tried to answer questions pertaining to living and studying in that country. The hope was to help them make a more informed decision concerning studying abroad.

What are the similarities and differences in the way studying history is approached in the U.S. and Ghana?

The study of history as a discipline was late in coming to Ghana. Ghana's first university and history department were founded in 1948 while most United State universities and history departments were founded in the 19th century or earlier. Having said that, universities in Ghana — especially the University of Ghana — are keeping up with the best practices in higher education. This has been made easier by an influx of U.S. and United Kingdom trained historians in the last decade. Like U.S. universities, the University of Ghana requires history faculty members to be actively engaged in research and transfer the teachable moments to the classroom.

How did studying history at CMU prepare you for your career as an educator?

I really have fond memories of CMU because this is where I really started my career as an academic in fall 2002. I remember taking my first colloquia and seminars in U.S. history, Nazi Germany, the enlightenment and historiography. These courses looked daunting but several professors gave me a close faculty-student interaction that not only kept me engaged, but also influenced the way I think, write, teach and relate with my students. Thanks to them and other mentors, I am currently the coordinator for the history project of the University of Ghana.

Why is an international graduate conference such as the one at CMU important for history students and educators?

International conferences are the mainstay of our profession. This is where participants clean up their papers and sharpen their arguments for publication or to complete their thesis/dissertation. They also are able to establish a network of mentors and fellow educators, as well as potential employers.

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