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Penn's dashing 'History Detective' has hat, will travel

UNIVERSITY of Pennsylvania sociology and Africana studies professor Tukufu Zuberi, who is also the school's Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, has a 55-page resume.

UNIVERSITY of Pennsylvania sociology and Africana studies professor Tukufu Zuberi, who is also the school's Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, has a 55-page resume.

This year alone he's curated a show at the Independence Seaport Museum called Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River and another at the Penn Museum on Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster.

On top of that, he's marking his 11th year on PBS's "History Detectives," and he's winning accolades for his new documentary film, "African Independence," which will be shown on Oct. 17 at the Penn Museum.

He's the most intersting man in the room unless Indiana Jones is already in the room, though, as Zuberi notes, "I wear better fedoras than he does."

Zuberi recently spoke with Daily News reporter Stephanie Farr over Skype while conducting research for his next project in Peru.

Q You've taught in Uganda and Tanzania and have traveled all over the world.

How many countries have you visited?

In the month of August alone I visited five countries. I started out in Guyana and ended up in Peru. Nothing rewards our research more than travel. When you interact with other people in the world it helps you get a perspective of where you are.

You never want to be living in a fishbowl. Travel outside of the United States also enhances our ability to understand what is going on in the United States.

Q As one of the detectives on PBS's "History Detectives" you've investigated the authenticity of everything from Beatles autographs to a birth control box. What has been your favorite investigation?

My favorite story was brought to us by a wonderful woman by the name of Joan Maynard. Her story was about a dummy which she believed was made by the same person who made Charlie McCarthy, the most famous ventriloquist dummy ever.

Her father had been an exceptional ventriloquist. He could throw his voice to 11 dummies simultaneously. We did a genealogy of his dummy. We came back to tell her what we found, that this was indeed a dummy made by the same person who made Charlie McCarthy and this was a very valuable object.

As part of the revelation we played a recording we'd heard of her father. I was listening to it and laughing and I looked over and she was in tears.

I thought "What have we done?"

She said, "I want to thank all of you. I have not heard my father's voice since the '60s. I would have never known there was a recording of his voice without you."

Q What was your goal in making the movie "African Independence?"

The only thing you know about Africa is there is disease, poverty, war and corruption, but this is not the only thing going on in Africa.

I took a movement which I contend is the most important political thing to happen on the African continent in the 20th century, that is the independence movement that spans from World War II to 1994 with the political independence in South Africa. In that time Africans assumed control of politics in the African continent.

There is enough pessimism about Africa. Pessimism is not something you can build on. The only thing you can build on is finding something positive to grab on to and adding more positive on to that.

Q You were born Antonio McDaniel in Oakland, Calif., and changed your name to Tukufu Zuberi in the 1970s. What do you believe is in a name and why did you change yours?

I'm one of these people who was born too late to participate in the Civil Rights or Black Power movements, but I was a recipient of everything they did to make this a better world.

I changed my name to show I had sympathy with that movement of the past and that I still have sympathy with the potential for us to redefine it better and to redefine citizenship, what it means to be a human and what democracy can be.

Q You list wine tasting as one of your interests. What is the best wine you've ever had?

OK now let's get serious for a moment. You know wine is something you have to be very careful about because life is short and you want to experience beauty, love and happiness in every way that you can and one of the things wine can do is it can make your tongue happy, but it has to be the right wine. And I'm going to tell you what the right wine is.

The wine that you want to have is the Brunello Di Montalcino. It's a delicious wine. You want to get a nice one, have it at the right temperature, decant it so that the taste is velvety smooth and make sure that you have the right meal to go along with it.

Don't be drinking that alcohol by yourself either. You want to drink it with the right person, and you'll know who that person is.