Pro Bene Meritis 2013
The Pro Bene Meritis Award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. First granted in 1984, it is given each spring to alumni, faculty and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits or have participated in service related to the college.
Toyin Omoyeni Falola is a Nigerian historian, professor of African studies and Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria and the Nigerian Academy of Letters. He has authored or edited more than 100 books. “The African Diaspora: Migrations, Modernity and Globalization”, published in July 2013; and his second memoir, “Counting the Tiger’s Teeth”, which covers the extremely turbulent period of Nigeria’s early postcolonial history, is currently under review.
In 2011, the Ibadan Cultural Studies Group in Nigeria honored Falola by establishing The Toyin Falola International Conference on Africa and the African Diaspora (TOFAC). In addition, for the past 14 years he has convened the Africa Conference at The University of Texas at Austin to encourage an interdisciplinary dialogue about the African continent for scholars from around the world.
Full name: Oloruntoyin Omoyeni Falola (Goes by Toyin Falola). B.A. and Ph.D. History ’81, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Hometown: Ibadan, Nigeria
Define “teacher”: I think it means being an elder and a griot (a storyteller), someone who seeks knowledge of a society’s history, culture, and values, and aims to use this knowledge in ways that can aid the transition of youth and society into the next generation.
Favorite course to teach: I like to teach undergraduate courses. The new African film class has especially been effective and popular. So has the established one on the United States and Africa. I enjoy expanding students’ perspectives and increasing their awareness of and appreciation for other cultures. I like playing a role in encouraging their curiosity, excitement, and wonder and perhaps helping to engage their scholarly curiosity, particularly in those who may not have considered an academic or scholarly direction.
Life’s work: From an early stage in my career I was clear about my professional goals, which included writing history and changing how knowledge about Africa was constructed, taught and disseminated. I feel compelled and fulfilled by striving to account for the life I have lived and the history of Nigeria in particular and Africa more broadly, as well as the African diaspora in ways that honor and respect the contributions and complexity of the peoples, cultures and stories that shape histories and experiences along with their enduring legacies.
Dream job: Maybe a painter, but without angst! I think artists create stories in ways that capture and record culture and beauty. And they can stir curiosity and impact social change in ways that I very much admire.