By Tiffany L. Williams
Peter Limb, MSU Africana Bibliographer and Adjunct Associate Professor of History, came to MSU in 2001. With MSU having one of the largest Africana collections in the U.S., it was a perfect fit for Limb. He also admired MSU for being trailblazers in African Studies and digitization, and in new kinds of online communication in the field, such as the H-Net African Studies networks, on which he had been an editor since 1995. He had also met the late MSU professor of African History, Harold Marcus, at the African Studies Association (ASA) meeting in San Francisco in 1996.
Since coming to MSU, Limb has helped further enhance the Africana collection, greatly expanding the holdings of African films, professorial papers and other archives, and specialized materials to support the research of professors and graduate students. As well, he has created a highly visible “public face” for the Africana unit in the MSU libraries. Recently this has included initiating new Africana rooms for meetings and visitors.
But Limb does not take full credit for increasing the library’s visibility and services on Africa. He readily recognizes his colleagues, especially Africana Librarian Joseph Lauer, maintaining that “collaboration and teamwork,” are the most effective ways to get things done. “You can’t do anything without teamwork,” he said. His professional life is not the only place where Limb feels collaboration is key. He credits his wife, Nicole, partner of 19 years, as being there to help and support him personally and professionally.
Use of hi-tech has been another way to promote the Africana collections and reference services and the wider African Studies presence. Limb has constantly encouraged MSU Libraries to widen access to online resources for the study and teaching of Africa, and it now provides the top products in the field, including several in which he has been involved in an advisory capacity, such as the 400,000 page Africa section of the World Newspaper Archive. He has been involved with digitization and publishing ventures with the African Studies Center, Matrix and the MSU Press. Cooperation with MSU Sociology Professor and previous African Studies Center director David Wiley led to the outstanding (print and online) African Activist Archive, which continues to grow. In 2008, Limb and Department of History colleague Peter Alegi launched the podcast series Africa Past and Present that features interviews with eminent and rising African scholars in the fields of history, culture and politics, and which has become a popular benchmark for new communications in the field.
In Limb’s line of work, traveling and attending conferences is common. He has traveled abroad many times for his professional and scholarly duties. He has helped build MSU strategic partnerships in several African countries, and in June this year will visit the University of Malawi for a USAID capacitization project that includes assisting Malawians improve access to scholarly materials.
Writing numerous articles and books, serving on various committees and boards, and teaching also consume Limb’s time. To date, Limb has written or edited many articles, book chapters, and ten books, which include The ANC's Early Years, which was recently announced as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title, and Nelson Mandela: A Biography. The Autobiography and Selected Works of A. B. Xuma will be launched in June this year in the Sophiatown, Johannesburg ex-residence of Dr. Xuma, a prominent black South African medical doctor and leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1940s, who was educated in the U.S. Another new edited book, The People’s Paper: A Centenary History & Anthology of Abantu-Batho (the ANCs first newspaper) will be published by Wits University Press in Johannesburg in September.
Like many involved in African Studies, Limb came to the field by a circuitous route. As a boy in 1963, he had met some top Kenyan athletes, then performing in the Commonwealth Games in Western Australia, and who had been befriended by his sisters. However, his first active involvement in things African came in 1971, where in his first year at university he joined vigorous national demonstrations against apartheid. Influenced by the rising tide of protests inside South Africa, he later switched the direction of his studies from Asian to African Studies. “It was an exciting era to be involved with because you could see change happening,” Limb said.
Around this time he also received his graduate diploma in Library and Information Science. The African connection was cemented further by his first marriage, to the Zimbabwean Sandra Dambaza, and his doctoral fieldwork took him to Zimbabwe and Zambia among other countries. He finished his Ph.D in African history at the University of West Australia in 1996, studying under the noted South Africanist and historian of African missions, Norman Etherington. He later helped establish the first African Studies Center in Western Australia.
In 2008, he became an elected member of the MSU African Studies Center Faculty Advisory Committee. He has also held national positions in the Africana Librarians Council and Cooperative Africana Materials Project, and sits on the editorial advisory boards of several African Studies, history, and library science journals and international publishing ventures. Currently, he is a member of the ASA Publications Committee, and serves on the doctoral committees of several MSU graduate students.
Earlier this year, Dr Limb received the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award, which honors those who have demonstrated outstanding service to the University.