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Ivor Wilks (1928 – 2014)

The African Studies Association mourns the loss of long-time member, Professor Ivor Wilks.

Emeritus Professor Ivor Wilks first joined the Department of History at Northwestern University in the fall of 1967, but resigned a year later to take up a position in Church College, Cambridge. Within a short time, he realized that Northwestern offered a better opportunity for serious research in African history and decided to accept an offer to return in January 1971 and remained until his retirement in 1993. During that time he was adviser to twenty-eight students who completed PhDs in African history and served on the dissertation committees of another thirty-five in non-African fields. In 1984, Wilks was appointed Melville J. Herskovits Professor of African Studies.

Professor Wilks belonged to the generation of pathbreaking Africanist scholars on the continent and abroad who reoriented the focus of research to African issues and concerns. His interest in Ghanaian history developed during the period 1953 to 1966 when he served in a number of capacities in the nascent University College of the Gold Coast (later the University of Ghana). From 1961 to 1966, he was Research Professor in African History at the University of Ghana. His main interests were Akan history, especially Asante, and West African Islam. His influential publication, Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order (1975), was based on wide-ranging oral history fieldwork. It was awarded the African Studies Association Herskovits Award in 1976. Other major works were Chronicles from Gonja: A Tradition of West African Muslim Historiography (1986), coauthored with Nehemia Levtzion and Bruce Haight  and Wa and the Wala: Islam and Polity in Northwestern Ghana (1989). Many of his articles were republished in a collection entitled Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante (1993).

After “retirement”, Wilks continued writing and research. Among his several projects were a study of colonial Asante, an Asante biographical dictionary, and a life of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq of Timbuktu. In 1995, he gave the Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial Lectures at the University of Ghana, a week-long series that was published as Ghana Past and Present: One Nation, Many Histories. His academic interests ranged beyond Africa to national resistance in Wales and Palestine. In the 1980s he published a study of Welsh resistance, South Wales and the Rising of 1839: Class Struggle as Armed Struggle (1984), which received the Welsh Arts Council Prize for Non-Fiction in 1985. More recently, he published Palestine: A Once and Past Love: Palestine 1947, Israel 1948: A Memoir, an account of his experience as a young officer in the British colonial army. It can be accessed at: http://www.northwestern.edu/african-studies/publications/WILKS%20PAPER-8-3-11.pdf.

He is survived by his wife Nancy Lawler, four children, and his grandchildren. 

(First published on the Northwestern University website