North American Scholar

AFRICA, Thomas Wilson

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1927-12-24
  • Born City: Portland
  • Born State/Country: OR
  • Parents: Charles Edward & Leah M. Wilson A.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2016-03-06
  • Death City: Estes Park
  • Death State/Country: CO
  • Married: Ursula Helga Jung, 12 January 1952; Sandra J. Peacock, 26 December 1988
  • Education:

    A.B. UCLA, 1956; M.A. 1957; Ph.D., 1959

  • Professional Experience:

    Staff member, U. of California, Santa Barbara, 1959-60; LSU, 1960-1; U. of Southern California, 1961-7; prof. history, 1967-9; prof. history, SUNY Binghamton (now Binghamton University), 1969-95.  

  • Dissertation:

    "Phylarchus of Athens: A Study in Tragic History" (UCLA, 1959).

  • Notes:

    Thomas W. Africa was a well-respected historian of ancient Rome and an inspiring teacher. His education was interrupted by seven years’ service in the Army in Korea and Germany, during which time he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant. When he arrived at Binghamton, he was the first faculty member in the field of ancient history. His most notable works are his study of Brutus, The Mark of an Assassin, and one-volume survey of Roman history, The Immense Majesty, which Mason Hammond called “readable, balanced, and scholarly,” showed his proclivity for intellectual over political history. His textbook, The Ancient World covers the Sumerians to the fall of Rome and called by Glen Bowersock “well proportioned, judicious, and up-to-date.” With statues of two black crows on either side of his seminar table, he cajoled, lectured, and inspired students with his deep knowledge and rich humor. One of his students, Tracy Mitrano, wrote, “He was an excellent teacher…not so much in charismatic performance per se…but in conveying to students how to read deeply by the probing analyses in which he instructed us to think.”  He tended to concentrate in class and in his work on the role of distinctive personalities rather than the flow of events. Indeed his Rome of the Caesars, in a series devoted to great cities at crucial times in their histories, devotes 11 of its 12 chapters to biographical sketches of individuals. He was a progressive chair of his department and encouraged women’s studies as well as other new approaches to history. In class, in his publications, or in his conversation, the depth and breadth of his learning was apparent. In the words of his colleague Gerald Kadish, Africa was “one of the strongest intellects the history department has ever had.”

  • Sources:

    WhAmEast (1974-5) 7; DAS 10:1, 4; Tracy Mitrano, "Thomas W. Africa: A Professor Who Shapes Lives," Inside Higher Education (March 6, 2016).

  • Author: Ward Briggs