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Dean Drops in on Tanzania

Department of Sociology/Anthropology News


Not only did four students travel to Tanzania this summer with Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Dr. Julian Murchison - the program, developed by Murchison, received a visit from Interim Vice President and Dean of the College Dr. David Davis.

Davis arrived in Dar es Salaam as Millsapians Erin Jordan, Paz Naccari, Lauren Porter and Alex Cocke began their journey home. Davis and Murchison traveled to Peramiho, a village in the region of Songea in southern Tanzania, where the students stayed with host families and Murchison conducts fieldwork and co-directs an NGO (Songea-Mississippi, or SOMI).

Though traveling through "strikingly beautiful terrain," the 14-hour bus ride to reach Songea was certainly rough, says Davis. However, "rugged mountain passes, the Mikumi National Park and the cool, hill-country around Njombe" made the ride worthwhile. While in Songea, Davis and Murchison discussed ways to establish a greater presence in the area. Allowing students to stay for longer periods of time would open up many more opportunities for "work in the areas of cultural education, historical preservation, and language study," Davis adds.

Upon returning to the eastern part of the nation, Davis found himself fascinated with several coastal towns. "As an historian, my favorite spots were Bagamoyo and Kilwa," says Davis. Bagamoyo, located on the mainland, "was the beginning of many of the famous and infamous treks into the interior [of Tanzania] by explorers like Sir Richard Burton, John Speke, and David Livingstone."

Kilwa, now mostly ruins, is located on a small island off the coast and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Reachable only by small boats, Davis had to sail several kilometers to get there. Several palaces are still largely intact on the island, built of coral stone during the 7th - 12th centuries. Ibn Battuta, one of North Africa's most notable explorers, encountered Kilwa in the 13th century. Amazed at what he saw, Battuta regarded Kilwa as one of the wonders of the world. Watching a "sunrise over the Indian Ocean was spectacular," Davis adds.

Known more by students as a professor than as Dean of the College, Davis specializes in African history. Having completed his own fieldwork in northern Ghana some 25 years ago, Davis "felt at home in southern Tanzania." After visiting with "wonderful and welcoming" people and recognizing the great potential the program has, Davis is eager to make it the "cornerstone of our African Studies program at Millsaps."