Interdisciplinary Introduction to African Urban Studies

In light of the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis and worldwide travel restrictions, which are expected to remain in place for an indefinite period of time, Stanford University is suspending all BOSP Summer Quarter 2019-20 programs (see full announcement).

Seminar Quick Facts

Location: Accra, Ghana

Faculty Leader: Ato Quayson, English

Arrival date in Accra, GhanaJune 21, 2020

Departure date from Accra, Ghana: July 13, 2020

Information Session: January 13 (10:30am-11:30am) in the Terrace Room, Margaret Jacks Hall (Building 460)

Program Cost: $600 program fee. Fee covers room and board, transportation and course activities during the program. Fee excludes airfare to/from the program location. Financial assistance towards the program fee and cost of travel may be available. Please visit the Overseas Seminar Overview webpage for complete information.

Academic Prerequisites
N/A. A series of induction sessions will be arranged with accepted and waitlisted students.

Additional Program Requirements
1) Vaden Travel Health Orientation
1x1 Appointment with Vaden Travel Clinic
Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location.

Activity Level
Light/Moderate: Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits as well as an occasional physical activity such as snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to Ghana

US State Department Country Information: Ghana

Visa Information: Consulate General of Ghana

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars Overview page

Application Deadline: January 26, 2020 at 11:59pm (applications will open in December 2019). Please visit BOSP's Application Process page for more information.

Questions? Schedule an appointment with a BOSP staff member.

General Description

The main idea for this course will be to use Accra as a way to illuminate cities of the students' own choice.  This means that the course will be inherently comparative and features of Accra will be used to ignite students’ understanding of details of the urban in general.  Features of other African cities such as Cairo, Lagos, Kinshasa, and Johannesburg will be introduced primarily through literary, anthropological, and other humanistic texts. And spatial concepts such as spatial morphology, spatial traversal and the means of locomotion, space-time anamorphism (for science fiction), topoanalysis (from phenomenology), and chronotopes (from Bakhtin) will be progressively introduced and applied to different urban features.  The course will be a combination of classroom discussions and various fieldwork walking and bus tours of Accra.  These will help to further ground the spatial concepts they will have been introduced to in class.  There will also be trips to the Elmina and Cape Coast Castles, old seats of the European trading presence on the Gold Coast/Ghana and sites of the slave trade. 


Accra, Ghana, but with additional trips to Cape Coast and Elmina, sites of some of the most famous castles on the coast of West Africa.  The name Accra is a corruption of the word “nkrang”, which means “ants” in Akan. Legend has it that the Ga people emerged liked ants from the east of what is now Accra and were thought to have come from today’s Yoruba in Nigeria.  Certain linguistic features and words are shared between the Ga and the Yoruba but the links are too ancient and vague to be properly corroborated. What is more pertinent to the history of Accra, however, is events that took place in the mid-17th century.  Dutch merchants procured land on the coast and built a fort in today’s Usshertown in 1649; the English built Fort James a canon’s shot away from Usshertown (1 canon shot = 300 feet) and built James Fort, while the Danes, also very significant European merchants on the coast, built Christiansborg Fort (later Castle) in 1659.  But the real historical significance of these dates is that following conflicts between the Ga Kingdom at Ayawaso, which was located some 11 from the coast, and the warlike Akan tribe of Akwamu, the Ga Kingdom was defeated and the people there fled to the coast to seek protection under the shadows of the three European establishment.  What seems like a straightforward story of war refugees however conceals other complex social realities, and it is these complexities that later own provided the seeds for what by the late 19th and early 20th centuries became the bustling city of Accra. In the 21st century Accra has been recognized as a buzzing transnational and African metropolis that boasts cosmopolitan features but amply leavened with traditional details.  While some of these features and contradictions are specific to Accra, they are not entirely exclusive to the city. Through them we can get a really good sense of the evolution of other African cities that were formed through the crucible of British and French colonialism such as Lagos, Nairobi, Dakar, Kinshasa, and Johannesburg, among others.

Living and Travel Conditions

Students will be be placed two to a room at the Roots Apartments Hotel at Osu, which is walking distance to Oxford Street, many eating places, and some of the most interesting nightlife spots in the city.  It is also well connected through all modes of transport to the city centre and other parts of the city. All classes will be held at the Roots Apartments Hotel.  A bus will convey the class to Cape Coast and Elmina for a weekend site visit to the castles. The group will be resident at Coconut Grove Hotel at Elmina, a lovely beach resort right by the ocean.


Professor Ato Quayson is a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2019 was elected Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. He is Professor of English at Stanford.

He studied for his undergraduate degree at the University of Ghana and took his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge after which he held a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford before returning to Cambridge to become Reader in Commonwealth and Postcolonial Literature in the Faculty of English from 1995-2005. He was also Director of the Centre for African Studies and a Fellow of Pembroke College while at Cambridge.  Prior to Stanford he was Professor of African and Postcolonial Literature at New York University (2017-2019) and Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto (2005-2017). In 2016 he was appointed University Professor at the University of Toronto, the highest distinction that the university can bestow.

Professor Quayson has published widely on African and postcolonial literature, disability studies, diaspora and transnational studies, and urban studies, among others.  His book Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism(2014) was co-winner of the Urban History Association's 2015 Best Book Prize (non-North America) and was named in The Guardian as one of the 10 Best Books on Cities in 2014. He also wrote a new Introduction and Notes to Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom(2003). He is currently completing Tragedy and Postcolonial Literaturefor Cambridge University Press and also working with Grace Tolequé on Accra Chic: A Locational History of Fashion in Accrafor Intellect Books and Chicago University Press. 

Professor Quayson is currently Vice-President, African Studies Association, and will become President of the ASA in November of 2019.

Prerequisites and Expectations

Students will be expected to immerse themselves fully in the experience of this new city and to use this as a means by which to re-think their understandings of other cities they are familiar with.  Even though the focus of the course is mainly on Accra and other African cities, the objective of the course is to use these as conduits and portals for understanding various aspects of city spaces in a nuanced and engaged interdisciplinary manner.

Application Process

The maximum number of participants is 15. Decisions will be based on the application materials. There will be no interviews.

Grading Basis

Letter Grade. Grading will be based on 3-4 fieldwork reports from walking and bus tours of Accra, Cape Coast, and Elmina, along with one research  proposal at the end of the program. Marks will also be given for active participation in class. Letter grades will form the basis of the final overall  assessment, with some marks being given for familiarity with reading material and active participation in class discussions.

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of Ghana. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT
VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Ghana. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

Students must review the U. S. State Department’s Country Information for complete information on safety and security in Ghana.

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in the country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the Program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, unavailability of facilities or personnel, or compliance with the University travel policy at