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How does the AP African American Studies curriculum compare to courses at Princeton’s AAS Department?

<h5>Morrison Hall /Abby de Riel&nbsp;</h5>
Morrison Hall /Abby de Riel 

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a mainstay of the resumes of incoming Princeton students. Coming into Princeton, 86.3 percent of first-year students have taken at least one AP class, and over 80 percent of incoming students have taken three or more AP courses, according to The Daily Princetonian’s 2022 Frosh survey

Since the Class of 2023 graduated high school, the College Board has rebranded AP World History as AP World History: Modern and added AP Japanese Language and Culture and AP Precalculus as new offerings. AP African American Studies is currently being piloted in select U.S. high schools through 2024. The new AP class is an “interdisciplinary course” designed to “explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.” 


In January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration blocked local high schools in the state from offering the pilot AP African American Studies course (AAS), a move that has elicited some criticism. According to an Associated Press report, a Jan. 12 letter sent to the College Board from the state education department called the program “inexplicably contrary to Florida law.”

Jennifer Jennings ’00, a Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs who teaches a course called SPI 387: Education Policy in the United States, noted that she was apprehensive about colleges potentially accepting credit for the AP course, which she views as diluted. A comparison of the curricula of AP African American Studies and African American Studies offerings at Princeton reveals the two curriculums are similar in terms of major themes covered. 

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ she described the impacts of the recent revisions, which excluded major AAS scholars like Ta-Nehisi Coates. “I have major reservations about awarding college credit for an African-American Studies course that bears weak resemblance to what is taught in universities,” Jennings wrote.

“Exposing students to an idea is distinct from indoctrination or endorsement. Students are free to develop their own perspectives. Omitting topics like reparations or incarceration is to erase critical conversations in the study of Black experiences and lives,” she added.

Jennings is referring to the updated course curriculum, released after Florida’s ban, which has no mention of Coates. Topics on reparations and incarceration are included in the Sample Project Topics section but are not requirements of the course. This is in opposition to the original version of the course in which Coates’s text was included and reparations and incarceration were both topics within a unit of the course.

At Princeton, the Department of African American Studies describes itself as curating “a curriculum that reflects the complex interplay between the political, economic, and cultural forces that shape our understanding of the historic achievements and struggles of African-descended people in this country and around the world.” Incarceration and reparations are tackled within the AAS department in classes such as AAS 209: Race, Racism, and Racial Justice.


Based on available course information, the ‘Prince’ went unit by unit, comparing the subject matter of the pilot AP African American Studies curriculum and African American Studies offerings at Princeton. An analysis shows that the two curriculums match relatively closely, at least in topics.

AP curriculum unit one covers the histories of the continent of Africa. Princeton courses focused on African history are centered in the African Studies program and include AFS 250: The Mother and Father Continent: A Global History of Africa and AFS 316: Colonial and Post-colonial Africa.

Unit two of the AP AAS curriculum covers freedom, resistance, and enslavement. Much of the unit focuses on the history of American slavery, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the War for Freedom. The Princeton AAS core courses engage this material through classes such as AAS 366: African American History to 1863 (pre-20th century). There are also courses in the history department, such as HIS 373: Democracy and Slavery in the New Nation, that touch on slavery and the lead-up to the Civil War. Post-Civil War African American history is covered in AAS 367: African American History Since Emancipation.

Subtopics in unit two include “Music, Art, and Creativity in African Diasporic Cultures,” “Black Pride, Identity, and the Question of Naming,” “Radical Resistance,” “Race to the Promised Land: Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad,” and “Gender and Resistance in Slave Narratives.” The Princeton AAS junior seminar AAS 300: Research and Writing in African American Studies tackles similar themes in required readings, such as “Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive” and “The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics.” These books strive to include narratives of women, queer people, and intersectional subjects within African American history.

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Unit three of the AP AAS curriculum covers the practice of freedom. Subtopics include “The New Negro Movement and the Harlem Renaissance,” “Photography and Social Change Images,” and “Envisioning Africa in Harlem Renaissance Poetry.” Princeton core AAS courses similarly emphasize African American artistic accomplishments and goals, such as AAS 245: Introduction to 20th-Century African American Art, AAS 353: African American Literature: Origins to 1910 (pre-20th century), and AAS 359: African American Literature: Harlem Renaissance to Present.

Other unit three AP subtopics include “The Birth of Black History” and “Genealogy of the Field of African American Studies.” Princeton’s AAS required junior seminar AAS 300: Research and Writing in African American Studies, which introduces students to methods of research design in African American Studies, touches on similar threads in the history and practice of studying AAS. 

Unit four of the AP curriculum covers movements and debates. These subtopics include “The Black Power Movement,” “The Black Panther Party,” “Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century, “Overlapping Dimensions of Black Life,” “The Growth of the Black Middle Class: charts on the Black middle class,” “Black Political Gains,” “Demographic and Religious Diversity in Contemporary Black Communities,” “The Evolution of African American Music,” “Black Achievements in Science, Medicine, and Technology,” and “Black Studies, Black Futures, and Afrofuturism.” Contemporary movements and cultural development subjects in African American Studies are also included in Princeton’s AAS junior seminar reading list, reflected in titles such as “The Black Revolution on Campus” and “White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology.” 

Criticism of the DeSantis administrations decision on campus

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Collin Riggins ’24, an AAS concentrator, expressed his disagreement with the DeSantis administration’s decision.

“Whether [AAS] is comfortable for everyone to acknowledge or not is a different story, but it cannot be the thing that holds institutions back from fulfilling their responsibilities to develop critical thinkers,” Riggins wrote.

AAS concentrator Storm Stokes ’24 expressed a similar sentiment in an email to the ‘Prince.’

“It is necessary for students to receive [AAS] education to understand how blackness was constructed — at least implicitly, certainly explicitly — through policy and government in order to make holistic decisions about policy agendas moving forward,” Stokes wrote. 

Professor Douglas S. Massey GS ’78, who teaches the AAS course Race and Public Policy, suggested that DeSantis may be obstructing the AAS course for political purposes. “DeSantis is using [prison abolition and queer theory] terms because they are buzzwords that resonate with his conservative base,” he wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “[I doubt] that Afro-Am AP courses contain much on these topics.”

“To capture the potential of Black legacy in a narrative which amplifies the surface level challenge of white privilege and power provides a controversy perfect for winning elections and appealing to the white American,” Stokes added.

For many, what DeSantis will do next may set a precedent for other political leaders when creating accessibility to Black scholars in education at the high school level.

“By targeting African American Studies, you attack the souls and restrict the futures of Black students around the country,” AAS concentrator Kennedy Primus ’24 wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’

“It is critical for students to understand how [Black] visionaries [abolitionists, artists, and architects] paved this path for them,” Primus said. 

Justus Wilhoit is an assistant news editor for the ‘Prince.’

Abby Leibowitz is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

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