Search

The Zamani Reader

A History Blog from a History Student

Archaeological Sources on West African History in the Eighteenth Century — Case Studies from South Africa, Bostwana, Namibia, Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana

TOYIN FALOLA AND CHRISTIAN JENNINGS, EDS. Part II of Sources and Methods in African History: Spoken, Written, Unearthed. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2004. Part II is called “Archaeological Sources,” 3-104.

CHRISTOPHER R. DECORSE AND SAM SPIERS. “A Tale of Two Polities: Socio-Political Transformation on the Gold Coast in the Atlantic World,” Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 27 (2009): 29-42.

Introduction

This review paper is the first part of a two-part series about non-textual sources for studying West African history in the eighteenth century. It is based upon a reading of five essays that provide case studies for working with sources in archaeology and material culture. To begin this paper, I would like to summarize what the anthropologist James Denbow concludes about archaeological source materials in his introduction to the “Archeological Sources” part of Sources and Methods in African History. Writing in the year 2004, Denbow states that the discipline of archaeology has traditionally “served history in a ‘validationist’ role,” meaning that practitioners often took their leads from the documentary record and engaged with archaeology as a way to track and confirm stories that they found in written sources.[1] By now, however, researchers are using archaeological methods in a way that is much more expansive. Instead of a supporting role, material culture plays an equal role alongside oral traditions and written records in the process of historical inquiry. Generally, this means acknowledging the fact that archaeology, like these other two modes of inquiry, suffers from “inherent biases and limitations.” It also means recognizing that archaeology has the potential not only to validate, but to amend old theses and even to propose new ones. [2]

Archaeology and the Study of African History – Conclusions from the Case Studies

For the study of African History more specifically, the rise of material culture as an equally valid mode of historical inquiry carries special meaning. The study of archaeology allows historians to move the geographic and temporal boundaries of analysis beyond areas that were only covered by literary sources. With archaeology, so-called “non-literate” times may be used as a vantage point from which to interpret the historical events of later eras that left behind written records. This is done in Laura Mitchell’s chapter on the spatial geography of Dutch, white settler-colonialism in the Cedarberg frontier of South Africa during the eighteenth century.[3] Mitchell uses mapping techniques to literally overlay sites of Khoisan material culture that date back to the Late Stone Age—identified mostly through rock art and the presence of stone tools—with land-grant data taken from the archives of the Dutch East India Company. What Mitchell discovers is that these maps occupy the exact same spaces. Her research suggests that scholars should not understand the colonial war that Khoisan people waged against Dutch settlers in 1739 as a general confrontation over contested resources, but as an engagement over the right to access and control very “specific pieces of land” that were both environmentally strategic and spiritually sacred to the Khoisan people.[4]

In addition to expanding the geographic and temporal bounds of African History, archaeology allows historians to effectively combat lingering stereotypes about the primitive, primordial, or unchanging African society. This theme comes out in several of this week’s readings. Akinwumi Ogundiran’s piece, for example, brings a much greater definition to the precolonial history of the Yoruba-Edo region (today western Nigeria and Benin). Ogundiran uses the archaeological record to outline “six cultural historical phases” that defined the area from 500 BC to 1800 AD. The result is a “long-term chronological scheme” that historians can now use for “understanding the origins, changes, and continuities of the cultural institutions in the region over time.”[5] Ogundiran bases his historical schema off of changes that are visible in the material culture of the region. One piece of evidence, for example, that testifies to the ascendancy of a confederacy-style political structure in the region during what Ogundiran defines as the Early Formative Period (500-800 AD) is the proliferation of defensive embankments, ditches, and ramparts. To mention just one additional example, Ogundiran tracks Ile-Ife’s rise to political and cultural dominance during the Classical Period  (1000-1400 AD) through its monopolization and exportation of several new artistic traditions, like terracotta ceramics, potsherd architecture, brass casting, and glass-bead production.[6] Continue reading “Archaeological Sources on West African History in the Eighteenth Century — Case Studies from South Africa, Bostwana, Namibia, Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana”

Documentary Sources on West African History in the Eighteenth Century — Texts by and about Suleiman Diallo, Philip Quaque, and Antera Duke

TOYIN FALOLA AND CHRISTIAN JENNINGS, EDS. Part III of Sources and Methods in African History: Spoken, Written, Unearthed. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2004. Part III is called “Documentary Sources,” 169-238.

PHILIP D. CURTIN ET AL. Part I of Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967. Part I is called “African Travelers of the Eighteenth Century, 3-139, omitting the section on Olaudah Equiano, 60-98.

STEPHEN D. BEHRENDT, A.J.H. LATHAM, AND DAVID NORTHRUP. Part II of The Diary of Antera Duke: An Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Part II is called “Extracts from the Diary of Antera Duke,” 133-220.

Introduction:

The main readings for this week are documentary sources for studying West African history in the eighteenth century. Two of these sources were written by West African peoples themselves, while the third was written by a European man yet based off of his interactions with a West African. Additionally, two of the sources appear as excerpts in Africa Remembered, an edited volume compiled by the historian Philip Curtin. They come from the book’s first part, entitled “African Travelers of the Eighteenth Century.”[1] The first source is the published slave narrative of a Fulbe Muslim trader named Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1734). The second is a series of letters from a Fanti missionary, slave factory chaplain, and sharity school teacher named Philip Quaque (1766-1811). In addition, the diary of a prominent Efik chief and slave trader named Antera Duke Ephrim constitutes the third source (1785-1788). Taken together, these three documentary sources not only represent different regions of Africa but also different experiences with the slave trade and different genres of writing. Finally, chapters taken from Sources and Methods in African History, compiled by Toyin Falola and Christian Jennings, provide context for analyzing these narratives.

In his introduction to the “Documentary Sources” section of Sources and Methods in African History, Thomas Spear explains why historians of Africa have been more reluctant to critically engage with written primary sources than scholars of other fields.[2] Documentary sources for studying African history, particularly from the long eighteenth-century, are both rare and problematic. As the African philosopher V.Y. Mudimbe has demonstrated in a detailed theoretical and historiographical critique, called The Invention of Africa, these sources often reflect ‘Western epistemologies’ such as ‘discourses on African primitiveness.’ These epistemological frameworks typically fail to engage with how African peoples thought of themselves and their own societies.[3] As Spear explains, the problematic nature of documentary sources has led African historians to devote their energies to developing alternative materials for understanding he African past. These innovative departures are epitomized by scholarship like that of Jan Vansina. An historian and anthropologist of Africa, Vansina devoted much of his career to developing a guide for fieldworkers who want to employ oral traditions as a primary source for understanding both the past and present of African societies. Vansina’s work, written up in 1959 and then updated in 1985, has demonstrated that oral traditions are a complex, diverse, and necessary component of historical research in African societies. They are not just a medium to be turned to when written materials are unavailable.[4]

Inspired by the innovative methods of anthropologists like Vansina and the cogent critiques of philosophers like Mudimbe, many scholars of Africa are starting to revisit the historical potential of documentary source materials, especially when these materials are interpreted in new ways. In a series of three essays on written source materials of the nineteenth-century, Christian Jennings, Kristin Mann, and Meredith McKittrick offer case studies that suggest why “documentary sources remain vital to our historical understanding, no matter who produced them and how and why they did so.”[5] These authors reaffirm the view that, just like oral traditions, written source materials can spark historical revelations about African societies when historians approach them with thoughtful questions. For example, in revisiting early Church records from East Africa in the 1840s and 1850s, Jennings demonstrates that missionaries had a much better understanding of the cultures of Massai and Iloikop pastoralists than later historians were willing to concede. The missionaries had interpreted these Rift Valley societies through the lens of their own prejudices, like Mudimbe explains, but they also based their ethnographic work on local informants from within the communities. As a result, when their works are carefully studied, they have the potential to affect some of our most longstanding historical assumptions—in this case, about the evolution of Massai identity. It is with this view in mind that we turn to our three readings from the eighteenth century.[6]

Continue reading “Documentary Sources on West African History in the Eighteenth Century — Texts by and about Suleiman Diallo, Philip Quaque, and Antera Duke”

Syllabus for Independent Study — “West African Ethnographies and Histories of the Eighteenth Century”

Dear readers,

The 2017-2018 school year is starting this Wednesday, September 27. Even though I completed all of my graduate seminar work last spring, I will be taking one more class this fall. This class is an independent-study course (also known as a directed-readings course) in order to fulfill the requirements for my minor in African History. Getting a minor is one of the three main benchmarks for third-year students in the PhD program at Davis. (The other two benchmarks are passing the comprehensive examinations and proposing the dissertation prospectus.)

Every student in the UC Davis doctoral History program must complete a minor. To do this, students select a field of History that is different from their major field. Then, they find a professor who is willing to supervise their minor project. The student meets with that professor for a designated period of time–usually a quarter or so–and they discuss the contours of the field while they read some of its major works. Afterward, the student conceives of and writes up a syllabus for a hypothetical undergraduate course in that field, as well as a “justification paper” that explains the choices they made in creating the syllabus. He or she then submits both of these materials to their minor professor and, hopefully, the professor approves of them and grants the student their minor. (By the way, a student cannot move on to their dissertation prospectus unless he or she has successfully completed the minor, so this part of the process is kind of crucial.)

Overall, the purpose of the minor field is to make students more versatile, both in their knowledge of History as a discipline and in their prospects for a job after graduation. Studying a second field in detail gives students greater perspective on their own field of research. Also, having a syllabus in a secondary field ensures that graduating students will have another option about what they can teach once they are placed in a new job. As I am told, the syllabus is a helpful tool to have when job hunting. Obviously, universities hire new faculty with the intention of having them teach in their major-field areas; yet, a graduate might come off as a more-competitive candidate in the interview room if he or she can present and explain a syllabus of their own creation for another field of History entirely. Ideally, the university would see an added benefit in hiring a professor who feels comfortable teaching in more than one field of History.

So, what am I doing? At the end of last year, I finally came to the conclusion that I would pursue my minor in African History. I approached one of the UC Davis History professors who specializes in African History at the beginning of the summer, and I asked if they would supervise my minor project. Thankfully, they agreed, and they recommended that we take this independent-study course together to prepare. I spent the last month of the summer drafting a syllabus for this course and, after some revisions with the professor, a working version is finally complete. I have attached the syllabus to the bottom of this post for you to see. The course is called “West African Ethnographies and Histories of the Eighteenth Century.” I have removed some of the sensitive information, like the name of the professor as well as the time and dates of our meetings. Nonetheless, you will be able to see all of the good stuff: our overall vision for the course, the themes we have decided to focus on, and the works we have decided to read. I might be providing some week-to-week video updates on the course throughout the fall. We’ll see…

Thanks for reading. Best wishes,

West African Ethnographies and Histories of the Eighteenth Century — An Independent Study Proposal (TZR Version 2017)

 

Discussion of Sasha Turner’s Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica

SASHA TURNER. Contested Bodies: Pregnancy, Childrearing, and Slavery in Jamaica. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017. Pp. 316. $45.00. Hardback. ISBN: 9780812249187.

Contested Bodies with BorderNote: Please keep in mind that the purpose of my video book-discussion series is only to introduce viewers to historical works by covering their material in broad strokes and in a casual way. Works by academic historians are generally very dense, complex, nuanced, and multi-faceted. It is impossible for me to do justice to all of the interesting dimensions, sub-arguments, and components of each work that I have chosen to feature. In general, my objective is to say something meaningful about the background of the author; the geographic and temporal focus of the book; its thesis, key concepts, title, and structure; its primary source material and its historiography; and, finally, to provide a brief discussion of what I consider to be the scholar’s most-significant findings and interventions. I have decided not to offer any criticism of the works. That does not mean I believe these works are flawless, only that I want to emphasize their contributions to the field. Thanks for watching.

Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979

OGENGA OTUNNU. Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979. African Histories and Modernities. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. xv, 369. $109.00. Hardback. ISBN: 978-3-319-33155-3.

According to Ugandan native, historian of Africa, and scholar of global refugee and forced migration studies, Ogenga Otunnu, nations of the world can be classified according to four typologies of state power. They can be despotically and infrastructurally strong, despotically and infrastructurally weak, despotically strong but infrastructurally weak, and, most ideally, despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. Since its creation as a predatory, kleptocratic, despotic, and conflict-ridden state at the onset of the African colonial period, in 1890, Uganda has oscillated among the first three typologies but it has never achieved the fourth. In Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979, Otunnu explains this situation by analyzing the history of Uganda from the precolonial period to the fall of Idi Amin in 1979. He argues that Uganda suffers from a severe and persistent crisis of legitimacy or a “legitimation deficit.” This deficit is shared by the state, its institutions, its incumbents, and their challengers. It is the result of factors that are contemporary and historical as well as foreign and domestic. Most importantly, this deficit remains “the most significant factor accounting for the intense political violence” in the country today (1, 321). Addressing this crisis is vital to stemming political violence and turning Uganda into a rights-based and developed nation that is inclusive, representative, and respectful of its citizens.

The work under review here is the first installment in a two-volume series about the origins, persistence, and effects of political violence in Uganda. (Otunnu’s second book has the same title, is due out in 2017, and will take the narrative from 1979 to 2016.) The dates featured in this title—1890 to 1979—form the core of Otunnu’s chronological focus. Three eighty-page chapters explore Uganda’s colonial era (1890-1962), the Obote regime (1962-1971), and the Amin regime (1971-1979). And yet, Otunnu wisely sets the stage for these three main sections with an opening chapter that surveys the history of several polities in precolonial Uganda, from roughly 1500 to 1889. The societies analyzed here—Bunyoro-Kitara, Buganda, and Acoli—showcase the diversity of social and political structures that were inherited and/or disrupted by the British colonial regime. Otunnu traces, for instance, how a kingdom like Buganda evolved form an independent monarchy in the precolonial period to an agent or “mask” of British imperial power in the colonial period. Similarly, Otunnu demonstrates a traditional system of legitimacy that the Ugandan state has yet to successfully revive. As he argues, the many precolonial and decentralized polities of Acoli in the north fit the ideal model of a state that was despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. As such, Acoli was characterized by democratic traditions and practices, government accountability to civil society, widespread feelings of legitimacy, and a lack of both corruption and violence.

Continue reading “Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979”

Announcement: The Zamani Reader Moves in Some New Directions

My name is Devin Leigh, and  I am a graduate History student and teacher’s assistant at the University of California Davis in Yolo County, California. Occasionally, I also teach classes as an adjunct History instructor at Solano Community College (SCC) in Solano County, California. The Zamani Reader (abbreviated as TZR) is a blog that I created in 2014 to be a free and open forum for sharing my academic work in the field of History.

In the past, TZR has featured posts about History in a variety of formats, including academic book reviews and précis, personal reflections, notable quotes, news and announcements, class lectures, interviews, recommended resources, links to online materials, and feature-length articles. The featured articles have ranged from research prospectuses to bibliographical essays, historiographies, and research papers. Recently, at the start of summer, 2017, I decided to take TZR to a new level. I have explained my decision in the paragraphs below:

I first created TZR on Saturday afternoon, February 1, 2014. It evolved out of my experience writing posts for a different blog, known as The Lakefront Historian, when I was an MA student at Loyola University Chicago. During the first three-and-a-half years of running TZR, I treated the blog as a supplement to, and a release valve for, my more-formal studies in graduate school. As such, I never adhered to a very reliable or consistent posting schedule. Instead, the only way I felt that I could make a blog work with my commitments in school was to partner it with my academic course-work, adapting and posting materials as I completed them for my professors. This strategy meant that, while my posts often aligned closely with my personal research interests, they more-generally reflected the assignments that I was given by my professors at any particular moment.

Recently, I passed over a threshold in my journey towards my doctorate degree. During the 2016-2017 academic year, I started conducting research for my potential dissertation project. Since I plan to publish this research in a more formal venue some day, I chose not to post about it on TZR. Then, in the spring of 2017, I finished with my graduate course-work entirely. As a result, I am no longer being assigned and producing papers for school that I can re-post on TZR. Rather, I am focusing my time on studying for my comprehensive examinations and preparing for my dissertation prospectus, both of which, god willing, are supposed to occur in the fall of 2018 . If I successfully complete these two stages of the PhD process, then I will begin several years of intensive research and writing for my dissertation project. Like much of the work that I undertook in the 2016-2017 academic year, I will be saving these writings for publication in a forum other than TZR. This means that, in order for TZR to survive and even thrive in an organic way, it will have to be adapted to meet these new circumstances.

In order to adjust TZR to this next phase of my career and to ensure that the project is continually moving forward, I have chosen to take the blog in a couple of new directions. For the first time ever, TZR will begin accepting submissions for outside content starting in the fall of 2017. (Please see the “Submissions to the Blog” page for more information.) Hopefully, this new aspect of TZR will help the website continue featuring new material, while also making the site more dynamic by expanding the diversity of its voices and by making its production much more interactive. Second, I am planning to produce material in a couple of new forums. In particular, I am hoping to begin producing video blogs that discuss some of the books I am reading for my comprehensive examinations. For me, these new directions are a fresh reminder that TZR is a continually evolving project.

For more information about TZR, please check out some of the pages cataloged beneath this one, browse older posts in the “Search the Archives” section, or send me a message via the “Contact the Author” page. Thanks for supporting TZR, and best wishes.

Book Review Published in the Florida Historical Quarterly

Dear readers, last fall I had the privilege to publish my first book review in the Florida Historical Quarterly. The review is on Indian River Lagoon: An Environmental History. This is a recent monograph by a South Florida historian and primary/secondary school teacher named Nathaniel Osborn. Osborn received his master’s degree in History from Florida Atlantic University in 2012 and Indian River Lagoon is his first book. In the work, Osborn offers a longue durée natural and human history of what he defines as “the most biologically diverse estuarine ecosystem in the United States.” In doing so, he plots out a nuanced story that defies our stereotypical ideas of “natural environment” and “artificial degradation.” Overall, I was very impressed with the work, and I recommend all of those who are interested in either Florida history or American environmental history to read it. I have copied a PDF version of my review below for you to read at your pleasure. My thanks go out to the editorial staff at the Florida Historical Quarterly. I am particularly grateful to Assistant Editor Daniel S. Murphree, who commissioned this review. Enjoy!

Book Review of Nathaniel Osborn’s Indian River Lagoon in FHQ (2016)

 

Announcement for the Second Annual UC Davis Graduate History Conference on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 19-21

Dear readers, it is that time again! The second annual UC Davis Graduate History Conference is only eleven days away. I have attached a flier for the event to this post. The flier was created by the two principal organizers for the conference, Lawrence Abrams and Kaleb Knoblauch. These two outstanding graduate students have worked incredibly hard, and at their own expense, to follow up on their success from planning and hosting last year’s inaugural graduate student conference. The History Department at UC Davis is one of the leading institutions for the study of History in the United States, a fact which has been re-affirmed this year through a number of departmental successes, including the awarding of a Bancroft Prize to one of our professors, Andrés Reséndez, for his work on a book called The Other Slavery. The UC Davis History Department deserves to be the home of a graduate conference that will do justice to its place in academia, and we thank Abrams and Knoblauch for their work in making this ambition a reality.

In being consistent with the theme of last year’s event, this year’s conference is also called “Historians Without Borders, History Without Limits.” It is a three day event that will include eight student panels, a keynote lecture by professor Ian Campbell–called “Stories in Surprising Places: Finding and Reading Culture in Non-Literary Documents”–and a special plenary discussion about interdisciplinarity and pedagogy by the Writing Across the Curriculum program. Lunch will be provided on Friday, May 19, and both breakfast and lunch will be provided on Saturday and Sunday, May 20-21.

There is a new feature to the conference this year. The entire first day of the conference will be devoted to the work of undergraduate students from the History Department. Six students will present their research in two panels. The panels will be commented upon by the conference’s organizers. So, although the conference is nominally described as a “Graduate” History Conference, the undergraduate presenters, the special guests, and the participating professors will make it a truly department-wide affair.

As the flier states, the three-day conference will include panels on “Labour, Resources, Representation, Memory and Cognition, Modernity, Language, Music, Humour, Fashion, War, and More…” I will be presenting my HIS 203 project in a panel entitled “Say, Think, Do: Discourse and Cognition in History.” My paper is entitled “‘With How Little Regard to Truth:’ Edward Long and the Politics of “African Ethnicity” in a Slave Society, 1760-1774.” It explores the political dimensions of an often-cited discussion about African ethnicity by the eighteenth century Jamaican planter and historian, Edward Long.

If you happen to be in the area of the California Central Valley on the weekend of May 19-21, I hope that you will come out and join us for this highly anticipated event and hear about some of the great work currently being done by both students at this premier research institution, as well as by their esteemed guests from academic institutions across the country and the world. Thanks, and I hope to see you there!

Poster for the UC Davis Second Annual History Conference

All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas

In taking their cues from the extant primary-source materials, scholars have written about African “ethnic” communities in the colonial Americas since almost the moment that they began writing about the transatlantic slave trade and its origins. Researchers today are occasionally surprised to discover that even scholars of the Jim Crow-era, such as Ulrich B. Phillips, wrote about these various “ethnic” groups in the Americas. As early as 1918, Phillips gestured to a theory of ethnogenesis—the idea that distinct African identities underwent a collective transformation on American plantations. “Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, ” Phillips wrote, African people in the diaspora became “instead the American negro.” This statement was one of the earliest expressions of what the historian Michael Gomez has more-recently called the “process whereby Africans [in the Americas] moved along a continuum from ethnicity to race.”[1]

The discussion around African “ethnicities” has a long history in the literature of American slavery. Nonetheless, as a scholarly conversation, it has received an unprecedented amount of attention over just the past quarter century. Case studies by authors like David Littlefield and David Wheat (Rice and Slaves, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean), surveys by authors like Michael Gomez and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (Exchanging Our Country Marks, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas), and compilations by editors like Paul Lovejoy and David Trotman (Trans-Atlantic Dimension of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora) have all contributed to a renewed interest in studying African diasporic identities through the framework of “ethnicity.” For many of these historians, “ethnicity” serves the simple function of moving our dialogue beyond homogenous portrayals of African peoples in the diaspora. “Ethnicity” helps scholars avoid speaking in the analytically flat categories of “African,” “Black,” or “Negro.” In this sense, the conversation is both well-intentioned and necessary. However, in another sense, the language of “ethnicity” brings with it a series of assumptions that threaten to limit our ability to understand African identities. I address a couple of those limitations in this essay. In doing so, I argue that that framework of “ethnicity” is useful, provided scholars localize their studies, interrogate their sources, and emphasize the inherently creole, dynamic, fluid nature of all diasporic groups.[2] Continue reading “All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas”

To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’

“Mid-flight between Miami and Havana, in either direction, I believe I can hold both sides together. Increasingly, there is the possibility for a coherent perspective, for an imagined future that transcends the rupture without denying the pain, without compromising the ethics and principles that in the long run make a difference in history.”

– María de Los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors (200)

In the summer of 2005, the historian and scholar of human migration, Melanie Shell-Weiss, published an essay in a special, transnational issue of the regional journal Florida Historical Quarterly. The article was called “Coming North to the South: Migration, Labor and City-Building in Twentieth-Century Miami,” and it described the experiences of early-twentieth-century Bahamian migrants to South Florida in order to argue that “Miami has always been a transnational city, even if it only recently has become a global city.” In the commentaries section of this same issue, Alex Lichtenstein, an historian of race and labor in the American South, set out to respond to Shell-Weiss’ thesis that Miami was “not a new immigrant city.” He cited sociological distinctions between “internal” and “foreign-born” migrants, and he questioned the historical impact of the latter group in “the first half of the twentieth century” when compared with the second half. He dug into the city’s census records, listing out percentages of foreign and native-born migrants for each decade of Miami’s history. He then weighed the early statistics for human migration against other urban areas with substantial portions of foreign-born migrants. Afterward, he concluded that “by no stretch of the imagination could Miami be described as a city significantly shaped by foreign immigration prior to 1960.” Later, he stated bluntly that “the visible imprint of the Bahamian contribution was limited,” leaving only a “faint” impression on the urban landscape. This impression was minimal when compared to that of the Latin American and Caribbean migrants who completely “remade the face of the city” in the decades following the Cuban Revolution of 1959.[1]

These FHQ exchanges between Shell-Weiss and Lichtenstein epitomized the character of Miami historiography in the early-twenty-first century. Everything from a mutual desire to “distinguish sharply between the pre- and post-1960s eras,” an interrogation of a “foreign” Bahamian influence in reference to that of later “foreign” migrants from the Spanish and French-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America, and what some have called an often-excessive “quibble over numbers” was characteristic of where the urban history of Miami stood in the early 2000s, as well as where it had come from. All things considered, the debate over whether Miami was or was not a “new immigrant city” was essentially a trial about the city’s past. Indeed, if Miami was a “new immigrant city,” as Lichtenstein argued, then where did its pre-1960 history belong? On the contrary, if Miami had “always been” a transnational city as Shell-Weiss claimed, then how should the unique effects of its post-1960 transformation be fully appreciated?[2]

The following essay will provide background to this special historiographical moment. It will offer a cursory overview of Miami historiography from about the founding of the city in 1896 up to these 2005 exchanges. The defining factor of the essay is that its analysis is confined entirely to the provincial, urban historiography of one single city. In other words, this paper does not draw upon theoretical models applied in different urban environments, American or otherwise; it is not comparative in scope; and it does not cite broader historical contexts. Of course, there are moments when Miami’s historiographical turns are probably more indicative of larger trends—like the rise of cliometrics, new social sciences, or postcolonial narratives—than they are of any self-contained idea about the city or a single generation of writers. Nonetheless, the present author hopes only that this historiography of Miami, however insulated and self-serving in its content, will provide a detailed case study for those authors who are bold enough to make larger connections. Continue reading “To Hold Both Sides Together: Miami Historiography and the Question of the ‘New Immigrant City’”

Review of Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005. xxii + 248 pp. $27.50. Illustrations, maps, figures, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas is a short, passionate, yet far-reaching book which seeks to “challenge the still widely held belief among scholars as well as the general public that Africans were so fragmented when they arrived in the Western Hemisphere that specific African regions and ethnicities had little influence on particular regions in the Americas.” Generally, Hall is an expert on cultures in the African diaspora to the Americas. She is well-known for her case study—Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (1992)—and her tendency to conduct research in Spanish, French, English, and now Portuguese. In this book, she offers a solid if heavy handed introduction to the transfer of African ethnicities and regional cultures to the Americas over the entire early-modern period. She argues the French and Spanish were better at recording “ethnic designations” for slaves than other Europeans (viz. English and Americans); that most of what was recorded reflects self-identification by enslaved people rather than impositions by others; and that, by historicizing such records across time and place, historians can recover many different processes of creolization, especially the ways in which “specific African regions and ethnicities” gave “major contributions” to “the formation of the new cultures developing throughout the Americas.”[1]

Hall begins with a righteous preface (titled “Truth and Reconciliation”) that sets high stakes for her defense of Africans, who “have received very little recognition for their contributions and sacrifices and very few of the benefits.” Her first chapter is an historical and historiographic outline of the slave trade, reiterating her moral imperatives and critiquing various historians for “excusing and rationalizing” slavery. The next two chapters are methodological pieces that address problems related to studying ethnicities in the diaspora while arguing for their “clustering” through homogenous “cargoes” and successive “waves.” The next four chapters are case studies about broad areas of the African coast—north to south—out of which slaves were shipped. Each outlines the region’s trade and focuses on the impact one or two migrant groups had in the Americas. Respectively, they cover 1) the Bamana of “Greater Senegambia/Upper Guinea;” 2) the Mina of “Lower Guinea: Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast/Bight of Benin,” 3) the Igbo of “Lower Guinea: The Bight of Biafra,” and 4) the Kongo or Angolans of “Bantulands: West Central Africa and Mozambique.” Finally, Hall’s concludes with a short recapitulation of her study’s implications.[2]

What about Hall’s sources? One of her goals is to prove “the value of combining the study of [quantitative] data from transatlantic slave trade voyages with [qualitative] descriptions of African ethnicities in documents from various times and places in the America.” For this, she relies on three categories. The first is her own Louisiana Slave Database, 1791-1820 (2000), which has information for 104,000 Africans in colonial Louisiana. 8,842 are listed with ethnic designations, taken from baptismal records, bills of sale, plantation inventories, runaway ads, interrogation transcripts, court testimonies, and more. The second is David Eltis’ Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (1999), which has information on over 35,000 slave trading expeditions, including their initial points of “embarkation” and “disembarkation,” between 1527 and 1866. The final category consists of more-traditional manuscript collections from Louisiana, France, and Spain. In this category we can include an extensive secondary literature on the transshipment or inter-colonial slave trade, as well as regions in both Africa and the Americas that are outside of Hall’s bailiwick.[3]

Hall is an unrestrained arguer. Here, I will focus only on historiography that relates directly to ethnicity. Hall fits with scholars who support the survival of specific yet broad regional cultures through the Middle Passage, and the need to historicize “ethnic designations” in the documentary record of the American colonies as reliable expressions of those individual cultures. This includes Michael Gomez, James Sweet, Paul Lovejoy, Gabriel Debien, David Geggus, David Littlefield, John Thornton, and others. Hall’s emphasis on people uniting based on “mutually intelligible languages” or specialized skills from their home region is especially reminiscent of this work. Interestingly, one of Hall’s main historiographic predecessors is her own. She has argued, for instance, that Africans in Louisiana who identified as “Bambara” were really Bamana from Senegambia and were a dominant and troublesome group to French and Spanish colonists. Broadly, this perspective juxtaposes Hall’s work with historians of the creolization school—such as Richard Price, Sidney Mintz, and Vincent Brown—who emphasize the inherent randomization of the slave trade, the core heterogeneity of all diasporic communities, and the idea that “ethnic designations” represent either imposed “product labels” or sui generis cultures that defy traditional ethnicities.[4]

The problems with studying ethnicities in the diaspora are vast. They involve working with inconsistent, changing, and unclear terminology; nonexistent and understudied records; and persistent doubt about when to interpret designations as signifiers of self-conscious collectives; intentional or accidental misattributions; or markers of fluid communities. Accordingly, while Hall succeeds brilliantly at times—like in her historicization of the designation “Mina” across four hundred years of transatlantic history—her execution is not perfect overall. Her single-minded focus leads her to emphasize homogeneity even if the numbers suggest otherwise and de-emphasize moments when slaves appear to be developing new cultures or working across ethnic lines. Also, while Hall introduces the tools we can use to study ethnicities in the Americas, she does not fulfill her promise to show how they contributed to the formation of individual cultures. Instead, this discussion remains mostly limited to vague ideas about the perceived labor value of certain groups, like Africans from Upper Guinea as better rice cultivators, women from the Bight Biafra as better mothers, and Africans from various regions as better miners. Regardless, Hall claims her book is only “the beginning of the long, complex, challenging, but important task of restoring the severed links between Africa and the Americas.” If we judge Slavery and African Ethnicities as only the beginning of this monumental endeavor, then it is certainly a beginning worth commending.[5]

Notes:

[1] Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), xv, 38, 49.

[2] Ibid. xvi, 8, 55-56.

[3] Ibid. 168.

[4] Ibid. 9-11, 132.

[5] Ibid. 165.

Review of Rebecca Shumway’s The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Rebecca Shumway. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2011. xii + 244 pp. $90.00. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index.

In The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589, Toby Green wrote, “There was not one Atlantic slave trade, but many trades wreaking many different effects…” Indeed, Shumway’s first book and refurbished dissertation, The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, is a study of one such trade and the ethnolinguistic culture it allegedly produced. Shumway uses archives from England and Ghana, oral histories from Ghana, and secondary sources to tell the history of the coastal Fante during the long eighteenth century. Today, the Fante people constitute 2 million of Ghana’s population of 21 million, and historiography typically dates their origin to a paper government—the Fante Confederation—established in 1868 to resist British colonization. In this text, however, Shumway argues that the Confederation had a predecessor, a decentralized republic that she calls the “Coastal Coalition.” Her book uncovers the story of this coalition. Her thesis is that both the coalition and modern Fante identity cannot be understood without reference to three contexts that shaped Fanteland during the long eighteenth century: the unique legacy of the international gold trade; the imperial expansion of the Asante Kingdom in the forested interior; and the rise, peak, and fall of the transatlantic slave trade on the coast.[1]

The Fante occupied a region of southern or coastal Ghana from the Pra River to Accra. It is known today as Fanteland but was an 100-mile stretch of the central Gold Coast in the eighteenth century. Before the late-1600s, Fanteland imported slaves and exported gold, first to Western Sudan and then also to European traders. In this period, the region contained small, independent, and feuding kingships, all culturally and linguistically distinct. Then, Fanteland drastically changed its relationship to the Atlantic World by embracing slave exportation. What followed were wars in which one group—the Borbor Fante—conquered Fanteland to forge the coalition. Ostensibly, the coalition served three purposes: to help Fanteland people cope with heightened violence from the slave trade, to protect their privileges as brokers of that same trade, and to defend against conquest by the Asante, who were also their suppliers. The coalition matured by the 1750s and had a “golden age” until 1806/1807, when it was destroyed by an Asante invasion and the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade. According to Shumway, the coalition was characterized by a lack of centralized political authority, a new warlord elite and priesthood, the dominance of an urban creole merchant class at the African-controlled port of Anomabo, a dissemination of the Fante language, and a transformation of pre-existing “social and cultural institutions,” especially a religious shrine of the Nananom Mpow and the commoner militia units called asafo.[2]

What are Shumway’s main contributions? First, she restores Anomabo in Gold Coast historiography. This port has been overshadowed by Cape Coast and Elmina, which performed much less business. Also, unlike Randy Sparks’ recent book on Anomabo (Where the Negroes Are Masters), Shumway balances internal (read: African) and external (read: European) influences. Meanwhile, she adheres to the thesis of John Thornton (Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World) that Europeans shaped yet had no power to control African commerce. Second, Shumway restores non-imperial peoples as well as non-slavers to the story of the Gold Coast, Africa, and the slave trade. She writes, “the majority of people in West and West Central Africa” resembled Fanteland because they lived in “decentralized or stateless societies” that were neither subjugated nor defined solely by their roles as captors and/or captives. Nonetheless, the literature has privileged empires like Asante. Third, Shumway restores the slave trade and the 1700s to national historiography, which has emphasizes Ghana’s earlier reputation as a gold exporter and later reputation as the birthplace of Pan-Africanism and decolonization. In this sense, Shumway picks up where Ray Kea left off in Settlements, Trade and Polities in the Seventeenth-Century Gold Coast.[3]

How persuasive is Shumway’s argument? While I am convinced that Fanteland was shaped by the three contexts mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, I am less convinced Shumway has accurately described the “Coastal Coalition.” Is it a network “of dependency and mutual obligation” and a “remarkable process of cultural adaptation and community formation,” as she argues, or more of a Fantee empire of territorial expansion to contrast with that of the Asante? Of course, this latter perspective is the traditional one. Understandably, there are problems with both of Shumway’s main categories of evidence. It is hard to know if European records are accurately describing a unified “Fantee nation,” or if they are projecting the idea on a diverse area. Conversely, with the oral histories, it is hard to know whether Shumway is correct to attribute their content to the eighteenth century rather than later periods, as others have done. Regardless, perhaps the book’s biggest weakness (in the opinion of this reviewer) is that Shumway makes a regional claim by giving the most space to one group (the Borbor Fante) and one port (Anomabo). Her brief and final chapter on the broad “social and cultural changes” in the region is certainly the most speculative, but it is also the most innovative and compelling.[4]

Notes:

[1] Toby Green, The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa , 1300-1589 (Oxford: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 14; Rebecca Shumway, The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Rochester: The University of Rochester Press, 2011), 2, 11-12, 153, 157.

[2] Ibid. 53, 108, 132.

[3] Ibid. 4, 8, 43.

[4] Ibid. 12, 88, 89-90.

A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution

Images: The engraving on the left depicts the so-called “petticoat electors,” women permitted to vote in the New Jersey electorate from 1776 to 1807. The painting on the right depicts a Missouri election in the 1850s. As the historian Rosemarie Zagarri writes, the contrast between these images captures a backlash against gender in early America. Although the political process was much more inclusive in the revolutionary era, only white men were empowered by the 1850s.

Introduction: Please excuse me. This historiographical essay begins in an unorthodox way: with a personal story. This past fall, I was serving as a teacher’s assistant for the very first time at UC Davis. I was assigned to Professor John Smolenski’s course, “HIST 17A: History of the United States to 1877.” On Wednesday morning, November 2, Smolenski gave the class a particularly memorable lecture. It was about the age of former president Andrew Jackson, and the theme was “An Age of Removals.” Of course, Smolenski talked about the Trail of Tears, and the removal of the five major Southeast Indian tribes west across the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Then he talked about the ongoing work of the American Colonization Society—their continuing effort to remove free black people from the country in the same era. Last, but not least, he talked about the so-called “petticoat electors.” Now this was a subject that I had come across before, but only in passing, as I skimmed textbooks in preparation for teaching at Solano Community College. Nonetheless, I am ashamed to admit that, as a twenty-eight-year-old PhD student in History, I had never appreciated the subject until Smolenki’s lecture. As most historians of early America know, the “petticoat electors” refers to a group of property-holding women in New Jersey. These women took advantage of a new state constitution from 1776 that did not specifically prohibit women from voting. They voted in local elections from the 1790s to 1807, when new state laws removed them from the electorate.[1]

What is the purpose of discussing the “petticoat electors?” The forced removal of property-holding women from the New Jersey electorate is only one example of what historians often refer to as the “limits” or the “paradox” of the American Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the United States of America as a new nation-state. In the above example of Smolenski’s lecture, the case of these female electors serves to round out a three-dimensional introduction to such limits. The example of the Trail of Tears introduces the limits in relation to Native American peoples; the example of the American Colonization Society introduces them in relation to African-Americans; and, last, the case of the “petticoat electors” introduces them in relation to propertied women. On the one hand, the story of these women has become a standard line in history textbooks, because perhaps no other incident in early American history can so clearly demonstrate the blatant failure of revolutionary ideals—like calls for “liberty” and freedom from British “tyranny, oppression, and slavery”—to translate into increased freedoms for women. On the other hand, the example of the “petticoat electors” is also an introduction to a much larger argument about the history of gender and the founding of the United States. This argument is called the “backlash thesis.”[2]

What is the “backlash thesis?” Well, if you searched the phrase in an online journal database like JSTOR, America: History and Life, or Academic Search Complete, you would probably come away thinking that it was about Southern, white racial conservatism in reaction to the desegregation decision in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Indeed, the phrase “backlash thesis” is most commonly used in academia to refer to the postwar period of the twentieth century, especially to how the modern conservative movement arose as a direct response to gains that were made in areas such as racial equality, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. Much of this work derives from a foundational article by the Civil Rights and legal historian Michael J. Klarman. However, the phrase “backlash thesis” is also employed in the field of early American history. Here it refers to a national conservatism in reaction to gains in women’s and gender rights that accompanied the American revolution and the founding of the country. Perhaps its most vocal advocate—its Michael J. Klarman—is the historian Rosemarie Zagarri, in her 2007 monograph Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic.[3] Continue reading “A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution”

“A Presumptive Evidence?” An Introduction to the Historiography of African Provenance Labels in the Early Modern Era

Images: The engraving on the left supposedly depicts a “Coromantyn” person living in the Dutch colony of Suriname in the late-eighteenth century. The picture on the right supposedly depicts a “Congo” person living in South Carolina in the mid-nineteenth century. Both images show an interest in labeling African provenance in the early-modern era.

Epigraphs: “There is a vast difference in the…dispositions of the Negroes, according to the coasts they come from.” – B. Moreton, West India Customs and Manners, 1793[1]

“…good subjects are frequently found in cargoes of the worst reputation, and bad ones in those of the best. The country, therefore, forms only a presumptive evidence of quality, which may mislead…”- Anonymous, Practical Rules for the Management and Medical Treatment of Negro Slaves, 1803[2]

Introduction: Mandingo. Jollof. Ballum. Kissy. Temne. Coromantee. Chamba. Asante. Papaw. Nago. Dome. Igbo. Moco. Angola. Mungola. Kongo. For scholars who work on both slavery in the Americas and the Black Diaspora in what historians often define as the early-modern era (1490s-1830s), at least some of these words will be familiar. They are words that appear to a varying degree in the documentary record of the Atlantic colonies, from English-speaking New York to Dutch-speaking Suriname and Portuguese-speaking Brazil. More precisely, historians call these terms ethnic, national, or provenance labels. They are words that were used by both blacks and whites to differentiate between Africans in the Americas. As contemporary authors indicated, these labels were associated in the minds of early-modern writers with what we generally call ethnicities or nationalities, but what contemporaries more often referred to as “countries,” “nations,” and sometimes even “races.” Even more important, these labels were associated with provenance: areas of the African coast out of which slaves embarked on the Middle Passage. For example, Mandingo was used for people from Senegambia on the Upper Guinea Coast; Ibo for those from the Bight of Biafra on the Lower Guinea Coast; and Congo for those from Congo-Angola in West-Central Africa.[1]

Provenance labels are common in the documentary record of the early-modern period. As the historian Michael Mullin has written, “ordinary people identified Africans as members of particular societies more carefully than scholars have given them credit for doing.” From the engravings that were featured in travel narratives like that of John Gabriel Stedman in 1796, to the black-and-white photographs that were taken by J.T. Zealy in 1850, the evidence demonstrates that many people in the early-modern period had a desire to see beyond monolithic categories like “African,” “black,” or “negro.” Instead, they expressed an interest in representing difference among Africans in both visual and literary forms. However, as the two epigraphs featured above show, these same contemporaries often disagreed about how reliable provenance labels really were for determining the origin, culture, or behavior of an African person who was brought into American slavery.[2] Continue reading ““A Presumptive Evidence?” An Introduction to the Historiography of African Provenance Labels in the Early Modern Era”

Review of Kariann Akemi Yokota’s Unbecoming British

KARIANN AKEMI YOKOTA. Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 368. $36.95. Hardcover. ISBN: 0190217871.

In Unbecoming British, historian Kariann Akemi Yokota takes as her subject the historical process of American identity formation across the revolutionary and new national periods, or what she calls “America’s postcolonial period.” Specifically, she traces the process through which English colonists created an “American national character” out of their colonial inheritances. She does this through material, visual, and cultural history rather than political history. As Yokota observes, the transition of English subjects to American citizens was rife with “tensions and contradictions” that historians can study through both “lives of people engaged in missionary, scientific, and commercial pursuits” and “objects as varied as maps, imported and domestic artworks, and botanical prints.” Foremost among these tensions is the idea that, while elite American nationalists embraced aspects of their new identity such as their country’s raw materials, the superiority of whiteness, an increasingly democratic political structure, and a reflex for self-defensive intellectual arguments, “they could not relinquish their cultural attachments to the refined objects and courtly trappings of the British monarchy.” In short, while the political process of “unbecoming British” might have culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the cultural process was just beginning.[1] Continue reading “Review of Kariann Akemi Yokota’s Unbecoming British”

Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening

SUSAN JUSTER. Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. xi, 224. $24.95. Paperback. ISBN: 0801483883.

FRANK LAMBERT. “The First Great Awakening: Whose Interpretive Fiction?” The New England Quarterly 68 (1995): 650-659.

JON BUTLER. “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction.” The Journal of American History 69 (1982): 305-325.

The readings for this week discuss the origins and relevance of the “First Great Awakening.” This is a term used to describe a series of religious revivals that occurred to a varying degree across the British colonies of mainland North America in the mid-eighteenth century, mostly between the 1730s and 1750s. In “Enthusiasm Described and Decried,” Jon Butler argues scholars should “abandon the term” because it is both an “interpretative fiction” and anachronism that “distorts the character of eighteenth-century American religious life and misinterprets its relationship to prerevolutionary American society and politics.” Contemporaries, as he states, were not the ones who used this label. Rather, the now-popular term of “Great Awakening” was invented by a nineteenth-century historian named Joseph Tracy. He projected the religious context of his own age—what is now referred to as the “Second Great Awakening” of the early national period—back onto the colonial era. In doing so, he “homogenized” a series of local, scattered, erratic, heterogenous, “politically benign,” and largely unrelated revivals; he re-cast them as a great, general, and uniform phenomenon. As Butler laments, a diverse lineage of scholars has followed Tracy’s lead since “the last half of the nineteenth century,” thereby furthering all sorts of gross mischaracterizations. Foremost among the distortions is a “fiction” that “the Great Awakening” undermined traditional structures of authority and paved the way for the democratic ideals of the American Revolution. [1] Continue reading “Historical Fictions: Readings on the Origins and Relevance of the First Great Awakening”

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: