Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa and among the most stable politically. Independent since 1963, it is home to Mount Kilimanjaro and large
portions of the Great Rift Valley and the Olduvai Gorge, where some of the earliest hominid remains have been found, Tanzania is also popular for its
Yet there continues to be a lack of comprehensive reference books on this important force in Africa. Dr. Kefa Otiso, geography, has stepped up to fill the
void. In January his book, "Culture and Customs of Tanzania" was published by Greenwood Press as part of its Cultures and Customs of Africa series. Otiso
had previously written the volume on Uganda.
"Reference material on Tanzania in English is very rare," Otiso explained. "This is in part because Tanzania's political history is unlike any other in Africa."
The country is comprised of two states that became independent at different times: the mainland Tanganyika (1961) and the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar
(1963). After their independence, the two units joined to form the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964 under the leadership of President Julius Nyerere and
adopted the new name, Tanzania.
Three years after the formation of Tanzania, Nyerere allied the country with the Eastern Bloc, notably China, and pursued an African socialistic form of
government known as Ujamaa, or familyhood, that valued self-help and respect. As part of this philosophy, Tanzania shunned the English language,
unlike its neighbor Kenya, and vigorously promoted Kiswahili as the national language. As a result, English fluency and materials declined as Kiswahili
blossomed, Otiso said.
Otiso is particularly well suited to write about Tanzania. A native of Kenya, he speaks and writes Kiswahili fluently, so is able to utilize primary
Kiswahili language sources. In addition, his field of geography is by nature interdisciplinary, bridging the natural and social sciences. "My goal was to
make the book as accessible and interdisciplinary as possible," he explained.
"As a skilled geographer, a gifted researcher, and a native to the East African region, Dr. Otiso writes with authenticity and insight into a complicated
landscape," said Dr. Bruce Edwards, a BGSU professor emeritus of English and Africana studies who has worked in Tanzania. "The value of this work to the
student of Tanzania, and to the prospective traveler, is unmatched."
"Culture and Customs of Tanzania" is designed to be used as a reference by college students and beyond.
In addition to a detailed chronology tracing the development of the region that includes Tanzania from its beginnings to the present and descriptions of
the physical characteristics and political history of the country, the book includes chapters on such topics as religion and worldview, art and
architecture, marriage and family roles, cuisine, the performing arts and traditions of a sampling of the country's 120 ethnic groups.
Although Nyerere's Ujamaa socialist experiment collapsed in 1985 and he later surrendered power, the policy succeeded in stabilizing Tanzania by
promoting more equitable distribution of resources and offering Tanzanians many basic rights. By downplaying ethnic and religious differences and rejecting
capitalism, "Nyerere was able to minimize socioeconomic cleavages" and much of the divisiveness that has plagued many other African nations, Otiso said.
Nevertheless, since Nyerere's departure, Tanzania has become increasingly capitalistic and has witnessed rapid development as well as the accompanying
challenges, he added.
"Professor Otiso's book is a superb introduction to the postcolonial history of Tanzania. In rich and lucid prose, he explains to Western readers why
Tanzania is unique in East African statecraft, and thereby fills a large gap in African scholarship," Edwards said.
Digital Cultures Institute to explore humanities realm
The University community is invited to consider the possibilities the online world offers for the humanities during an interdisciplinary institute on
campus May 13-17.
Digital Cultures in the Age of Big Data will include the arts, humanities and qualitative social sciences. Participation is free, and faculty and graduate
students are encouraged to attend, whether they are new to the concept or already experts, say organizers Drs. Ellen Berry and Jolie Sheffer.
"The digital landscape has always been weighted toward the STEM fields, and we haven't really had a university-wide conversation about what version of it
would be relevant to the humanities," said Berry, director of BGSU's Institute for the Study of Culture and Society (ICS). "The subject has opened up -
from digital art to electronic literature to scholarship and publishing - and we want to be able to think critically, evaluate the positives and the
negatives and broaden our scope."
In preparation, they and committee members Drs. Kristine Blair, English; Dena Eber, digital art; Radhika Gajjala, School of Communication Studies; Susana
Peña, director of the School of Cultural and Critical Studies, and Andrew Schocket, director of American culture studies, have planned a number of
reading groups based on the themes of the institute: digital art and new media, electronic literature, digital scholarship and publishing, digital
democracy, the Digital Divide and the politics of Big Data, the public humanities, and grant writing.
The groups are getting under way now and will meet Fridays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the East Hall Lounge. Participants can join as many as they like. To
receive the materials, email Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sheffer at email@example.com.
"The reading groups will help us make sure we're using the same language and understand some of the basic concepts and issues by the time the institute
begins," said Sheffer.
The May institute will feature a digital art exhibition plus lectures, workshops and discussions with seven scholars of digital culture and keynote
addresses by two foundational figures in the field: Dr. N. Katherine Hayles, a professor of English at Duke University; and Dr. Lev Manovich, a professor
at the CUNY Graduate Center; director of the Software Studies Initiative at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and
a visiting professor at the European Graduate School.
"We hope the institute will help sow the seeds for collaborations and new projects," said Sheffer, English and American culture studies. "It's the
beginning of a changing culture on campus."
BGSU graduate students may also receive a certificate in Digital Cultures for participating.
"This represents a long-term investment. People are hungry for more knowledge about the digital humanities," Berry said. "The University has been very
supportive in providing the funding. Mike Ogawa, vice president for research and economic development, has provided major funding. Combined with
contributions from other units on campus, this means we will be able to offer the institute free of charge."