By Carly Goodman (Temple University)
September 9, 2013
I was nearing the end of five months of living in Ghana when I started to get more frequent emails from Ben Talton. He had done a tremendous amount of planning from the States for the first ever Ghana Studies Association Conference. The GSA had never held a conference before, let alone held a conference at KNUST in Kumasi. It was a bit unclear at times whether we’d be able to carry this thing off. As I wrapped up my time in Ghana, I found myself running sweaty errands to guesthouses, at Ben’s request, confirming the logistics for the conference attendees.
I went down to Accra on May 22 so that early the next morning I could meet the conference participants and attendees who were traveling up to Kumasi on the conference bus. It was still bright and early when the people began to gather in front of KNUST Guesthouse (well known to most taxi drivers as being around the corner from Country Kitchen) to begin the trip Kumasi. The bus ride was long – but when we arrived at KNUST, we were welcomed warmly by Dr. Wilhelmina Donkoh.
We were a lively bunch. More than 70 scholars, from ten countries, gathered for three days of panels, cultural presentations, discussion -– even a little dancing. On Thursday afternoon, we attended one of two panel presentations, followed by a presentation by Manu Herbstein, an independent scholar who took us through the Sargenti War in pictures.
We ended the evening at the Engineering Guest House, where we had the special treat of a performance by Agya Koo Nimoh (and a little of the aforementioned dancing, especially from Ben Talton.) It was a long but satisfying day.
On Friday, we had three sessions, each of which featured two panels. Even though I was a little tired, and, yes, intimidated by the accomplished scholars in my midst, I was delighted to present my work to this group. Something about the narrow focus of the conference–-Ghana–-combined with a wide variety of perspectives, disciplines, scholarship, made this one of the most productive and enjoyable conferences I’ve ever attended. When you put historians, anthropologists, sociologists, urban planners, policy and development people, musicologists, academics and practitioners, from around the world, together in an air-conditioned room together, magic happens. At least it did at Perspectives on Ghana earlier this year.
Friday afternoon, some folks headed to Center City Kumasi (Philadelphia’s term for Adum) and the Cultural Center to check out Kumasi’s greatest sights. Saturday was another packed day – three more sessions, again universally interesting with engaged audiences eager to learn. Most of the group went, in the afternoon, to the lovely Lake Bosomtwe.
On Saturday night, May 26, I think my heart grew three sizes as our group was invited to the home of Agya Koo Nimoh for a second performance of classic highlife, and dancing and dinner. The GSA had never felt more like a community of scholars –and friends. I slept soundly that night, with highlife still dancing through my head, and the sense that for all the hurdles involved, this was a fantastic conference with people doing really exciting work. I can’t wait for the next one – even if I will be slow to volunteer my services as guesthouse liaison again.