Matthew Countryman is an Associate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies, History and American Culture He has been teaching at the University of Michigan since 1995 and has  served as the Chair of DAAS since 2018. Professor Countryman is the author of Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia, winner of the Liberty Legacy Foundation award for the best book in civil rights history. As he returns from his one-year sabbatical, DAAS Editorial Assistant, Lola Yang, sat down with Professor Countryman to discuss his plan for the department as well as his personal projects. 

You took a one-year sabbatical from teaching so welcome back to DAAS! How was your summer and what were you up to?
I had a great summer! I got to go on two short vacations, one on Long Island in New York, the other on Washington Island in Northern Wisconsin. It was new for us; we’ve done the Michigan side of Lake Michigan but have  never been to the Wisconsin side. The big personal news is that my daughter got engaged! Everybody in both families are super excited.
Can you give a brief self-introduction for students who may not be super familiar with you or your work?
I’ve been at the University of Michigan for 27 years. I’m an historian of African American social and political movements. My book, “Up South”, is about civil rights and Black power movements in Philadelphia. I teach classes on the civil rights movement, on race and politics  in the 20th century . I’ve been the Chair at DAAS for four years. Of all the positions I’ve held at the University of Michigan, this has been my favorite and, I believe, most important role. 
What are your plans for the coming semester? Can you tell us about the academic work that you will be partaking in and community initiatives that DAAS will be a part of?
At DAAS, we have our two annual speaker series: the African Studies Workshop and Diasporic Dialogues which focuses on scholars and research on Black people in the US, Caribbean, Latin American and etc.. We are also planning our annual Zora Neale Hurston lecture, which is really the highlight of our year, along with our annual MLK Holiday lecture which we co-sponsor with the history department. 
Personally, I’m teaching a Freshman seminar in the fall on the controversy over the 1619 Project, so I’m really excited for the class and getting to know the students. We are also continuing our public history research project on racial segregation and Black communities in the Washetnaw County, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in particular. We are looking to recover this local history in order to inform conversations about affordable housing in the city and are always looking for people interested in gaining research experience on these issues. Anyone interested should be in touch! (If you are a student interested in assisting with this research project, please reach out to Professor Countryman at
In this current political climate, with surges of increasingly radical and progressive student activism on campus, how do you think an understanding of African and African-American Studies is important?
Race is at the center of the American story and the global modern story. What I can say as a scholar is that Black history is US history; Black history is the history of the modern world. To tell those stories honestly, not just the heroic ones but also the horrific ones of our past, we cannot avoid the central questions of racial oppression and racial superiority, which are at the very core of world history. Honesty about and engagement with these histories doesn’t dictate specific political positions, but it is essential to understanding  the world we live in today. I believe that this is what the DAAS curriculum offers students, an opportunity to better understand how we got to where we are. All of us have a responsibility to draw from these lessons and contribute in our own way to efforts to move to a more just and equitable world.  That’s what we try to do in DAAS - not only in terms of the knowledge but also helping students develop into being better citizens and to build their own careers. 
What do you think is a University/DAAS resource that has been underutilized by students?
Too often I think students get the message — from all kinds of sources — that they should be prudent and focus on majors that will get them a job. That’s totally understandable! But our message is, whether through double majoring or taking a DAAS minor or just enrolling in one DAAS course, you can build a skillset around research, communication, critical analysis of public policy and culture that will help you as you move into the world. You can still use the skills and insights that you draw from DAAS classes towards building your career and doing so in a way that aligns with your values…Everything we do, from public events to classes to our annual Kwanzaa celebration, everything we do is designed for undergraduate participation. We encourage everyone to come check us out!
What advice do you have for returning and incoming students?
We have been and are continuing to go through very difficult times, in terms of public health, political conflicts and very real concerns about the future of our planet. As faculty members, we understand these are stressful times and people can feel quite reasonably hopeless about the world they live in. Our commitment is to be honest, sympathetic and concerned about the world we live in and to help each other be our best selves in this difficult period. 
What is your favorite food joint/small business in Ann Arbor that you would recommend to students?
Tmaz Taqueria on Packard! It’s the go-to place in my household for tacos!