Black Atlantic Studies builds on important interdisciplinary research on Africa's impact in Europe and the Americas and signals an emerging paradigm shift in African Diaspora studies. Inspired, but by no means defined, by Paul Gilroy's innovative work in black cultural studies, the shift can be described as one from "roots" to "routes," recasting Africa from a "baseline" to a process, predicated on ethnic mixing and hybrid forms from the very beginning of the triangle trade. If European ports and capitals, Caribbean plantations, American shipyards and African cities become co-equal sites in an emerging trans-Atlantic field, so trade-union politics, plural societies, Pan-African movements and expressive musical and ritual hybrids have developed as hallmarks of a distinctive "counter-modernity." Black Atlantic Studies does not disavow the African Diaspora, but incorporates it within a triangulated field of "tranverse dynamics" and coextensive horizons.

As an interdisciplinary research field, Black Atlantic Studies combines analytic and interpretive methods ranging from demographic approaches to new slave trade databases to performance-centered phenomenological approaches to gender, race and memory. Ideologies of blackness and Africanity can be pursued in literary texts and historical archives, musical genres and modes of cultural production, and in a variety of political and nationalist projects. Multimedia documents that combine audiovisual clips and spatial dynamics will be encouraged, both as methods of collecting and organizing data and as innovative forms of scholarly presentation. If some projects involve intensive fieldwork on festival complexes and performance genres in bounded sites, others will track the circulation of expressive cultural forms between coasts and hinterlands, within Atlantic regions, and across socially differentiated regimes of value. The challenges of linking the localities of "place" to the translocal dimensions of Black Atlantic history and culture will establish a unifying methodological theme.


  • Akissi M. Britton

    City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center, Anthropology

    From Brooklyn to Brazil: Race, Place, and Religion in the Mapping of Diasporic Blackness
    My proposed research is a comparison of two communities of Yoruba religious practitioners in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil and Brooklyn, New York that have maintained a relationship for the past thirty years. This project will focus on issues of Blackness; the construction of oppositional identities; and the transnational exchanges that inform these constructions. My research will contextualize how Blackness and the practicing of Yoruba-derived religions are related. Moreover, I will examine the different socio-historical trajectories of the development of Yoruba religion in Bahia as opposed to its development in the United States. For the Brooklyn group, the Black Nationalist Movement of the 1960's and 70's was integral to its formation. In practicing the Orisa tradition, this community of African-descended practitioners found an "authentic African" spiritual system that was consistent with the ideology of Black Nationalism. Given this history, I would like to explore the underlying political motivations of the religious practices of each group. Within the African Diasporic framework, my project seeks to determine whether the manifestation of Yoruba religion occurred in the same politicized manner in Bahia as it does in New York. Answers to these questions may reveal why and how the Brooklyn-Bahia alliance has been maintained.
  • Jamie N. Davidson

    University of California / Los Angeles, World Arts & Cultures

    Embodied Knowledge in the Tambor de Mina of Maranhão
    My dissertation will explore embodied ritual practices among the Mina-Jeje peoples in northeastern Brazil. The term Mina-Jeje describes the Afro-Brazilian descendents of the vodun-worshipping peoples identified with the Allada town and kingdom of present-day Benin. In the 17th and 18th centuries European travelers and slave traders called these people "Mina" after the slave Fort of Elmina or São Jorge da Mina. In Cuba these people would come to be called Arará, and in Haiti, Rada, names identified with Allada. The "Mina" who arrived in northeastern Brazil (specifically, the states of Bahia, Pará and Maranhão) would be renamed "Jeje" in the mid-18th century but their religious practices would retain the name, "Tambor de Mina." My work explores the ritual practices of the Tambor de Mina in Maranhão state. I will address the following questions in my research: What stories are being (re)enacted through these dances? How are ritual and political power manifested, distributed, renegotiated and reiterated during danced rituals? And how does today’s dancing body function as an archive for understanding the history of the Black Atlantic?
  • Nandini Dhar

    University of Texas / Austin, Comparative Literature

    Problematizing the Archive, Re-Writing Agency: “Neo-Slave” Aesthetics in Museums and Historical Novels of the African Diaspora
    My proposed study will examine representations of the history of slavery at three British historic sites: the Bristol Slave Trade Walk, the Breaking the Chains exhibit to be opened 23 April, 2007 at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, and the International Slavery Museum to be opened August 23, 2007, Slavery Remembrance Day. This study is part of a larger dissertation project which places colonial-capitalist slavery within a transnational context and “reads” contemporary North American and British history museums in conjunction with African diasporic historical novels on slavery (so-called “neo-slave narratives”). Following British cultural historians Michael Bommes and Patrick Wright, I argue that museums function as important “public historical spheres,” within which authoritative historical narratives on slavery and slave subjects are formulated, institutionalized and contested. Scholars of slavery have long maintained that the history of slavery has not been adequately represented within British public culture. The opening of the International Slavery Museum makes Britain one of the first Western nations to acknowledge the traumatic impact of slavery at a national-institutional level. However, the question remains as to how these historic sites refashion the existing archive on slavery. Do such representations enable us to de-familiarize the existing archives which seek to represent the enslaved as the “mute subaltern” or the happy complacent “Sambo” figure incapable of any meaningful resistance? Can we at all contend that these representations are giving birth to alternative modes of history-writing? By providing answers to such questions,this project aims to analyze how racial-colonial trauma is remembered and performed within the civic life of a nation whose present has been shaped significantly by its imperial past.
  • Joshua I. Jelly-Schapiro

    University of California / Berkeley, Geography

    Of Youth and Revolucion: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation in Contemporary Cuba
    Any discussion of the fate of the Cuban Revolution must begin with the generation now reaching political maturity: a generation which not only hasn’t known any government but the current one, but was raised in the material deprivation and relative political uncertainty of the “Special Period” following the 1989 dissolution of the Soviet Union. My research will center around these young Cubans’ approach to two key concepts, revólucion and cubanidad (Cubanness), and it will assess the extent to which either of these concepts matter and/or are seen by the younger generation to reside in the current state. Research will examine the cultural policy of the government from the late 1990s to today. Examining the specific case-history of the Cuban state’s 1998 decision to declare hip-hop music—theretofore regarded as an imperialist corrupter of delinquent youth—an “authentic example of cubanidad,” the project will examine the political rationale for, and results of, that policy. It will explore the ways in which said policy has impacted on nationalist discourse and “race thinking” in contemporary Cuba, and will produce data the extent to which young Cubans view government decisions in this arena as responsive to their cultural affinities, political ideals, and life aspirations.
  • Sharon Freda Kivenko

    Harvard University, Anthropology

    Dancing Through "Performance-scapes:" Reflections on Transnationalism, Embodiment and West African Performance
    How do transnational processes influence embodied practices? Can transnational social networks be traced through global flows of embodied performances? Migrant artists mobilized by changing socio-political and socio-economic climates offer insights into the effects of transnationalism on processes of the body. Post-colonial nationalisms, African diasporic imaginings, and international consumerist demands for “world beat” performance genres offer motivations and vehicles by which West African artists and their embodied forms enter into international performance spaces. These are the spaces in which “African dance” communities are imagined, and the places from whence global networks of “African dance” culture are launched. Through an investigation of the roles that Bamana performing arts play in the construction of transnational dance communities, this project will speak to the ways in which cultural flows of music and dance embodied by West African migrant artists and their foreign protégés contribute to trans-local discourses of race, gender, social class, diaspora, and post-colonial nationalisms. In so doing, scholarly discourses on transnationalism will be broadened to include questions of embodiment and performance.
  • Chelsey Louise Kivland

    University of Chicago, Anthropology

    Masking Change, Performing Order: The Ritual Histories and Political Arts of Haitian Carnival
    My dissertation research is concerned with how the ritual of Haitian Carnival is employed to reinforce, modify, and challenge particular social identities and exclusive communities. Through ethnographic investigation of the production and performance of Haitian Carnival, my study examines the social construction of ritual histories as political arts. Viewed as administrative, historical, and dramatic practice, ritual, I hypothesize, is an organizing and generative practice of culture. To understand how ritual is generative is to recognize it as a political process whereby cultural representations presuppose and entail an ever-changing field of social relations. For Haitian Carnival, this process is composed of a set of practices, including the selection, ordering, and placing of performers, performances, and audience, that circumscribe the content and form of the ritual, as it is presented, recorded, and exchanged. My study hinges on the articulation of how these practices influence and are influenced by ideologies that structure the experience and perception of social identity and difference, both locally and globally. By investigating the complex intersection of politics and poetics that inheres in the use of ritual as an ideological object, I will advance understanding of the role public performance plays in shaping and intensifying distinct nationalisms within Haiti and elsewhere in the world.
  • Xelaju Korda

    Tulane University, Stone Center for Latin American Studies

    Sex Tourism in the Brazilian Northeast: Gender Performances Within a Sexualized World Market
    My dissertation explores the interpersonal and macro-level effects of sex tourism in Brazil’s northeast, an area known for extreme poverty and inequality, and a popular destination for foreign men on holiday. Studies of sex tourism in Brazil are rare, even though it is an acknowledged problem. While there are some similarities between Brazil and other sites of sex tourism in the world – particularly the Caribbean – Brazil also presents unique patterns and problems. This dissertation provides an ethnographic study of one town, Canoa Quebrada (Canoa) using the voices of a traditionally excluded population: Brazilian women of low economic means. Canoa is located one hundred miles south of Fortaleza (Ceará state), and is ideal for a study of sex tourism because it has been a popular destination for sex tourists for at least two decades. My main questions ask how the complex relationships that develop between Brazilian women and foreign men a) are both sanctioned and censured by social norms; b) consist of carefully staged identity and gender “performances”; c) contribute to a number of informal economic activities in the region; d) affect the health outcomes of those Brazilians who participate; and e) form part of transnational immigration networks.
  • Jessica Anne Krug

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, History

    Fugitive Nations: Maroon Societies in Kisama, Angola, São Tomé, and Brazil, 1500-1700
    My doctoral dissertation will investigate the intellectual history of the political ideology and strategies of identification in Maroon communities, or quilombos, in Angola, São Tomé, and Brazil from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The recent proliferation of studies of the “ethnic” Black Atlantic ignores the primacy of political, rather than ethno-linguistic, identities for many Africans beginning in the sixteenth century. Forming multi-ethnic political identities was a highly effective strategy of resistance and social reformation in the context of the violence and chaos of the slave trade. After detailing the development of the political identity in the Kisama Maroon communities of Angola, I will turn to São Tomé, where quilombos also emerged by the early sixteenth century. As no historical study of the Angolar Maroons of São Tomé has yet been written, I will compare these quilombos with those of the Kisama in Angola. Since many enslaved on São Tomé came from Angola, I will also explore possible continuities between these communities. Finally, I will cross the Atlantic to Brazil, where I will study the sixteenth- to eighteenth-century quilombos in the modern states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais in the context of Maroon identity throughout the Black Atlantic.
  • Jamila M. Moore-Pewu

    University of California / Davis, Cultural Studies

    Digitally Mapping The Black Atlantic: Spatial Imagination and the Poltics of Re-Appropriation Between Africa and the Americas
    In 1822 free people of color from the U.S. were sent to the west coast of Africa to settle what is now the Republic of Liberia. In 1918 developers in Cape Town South Africa began to construct the University of Cape Town [UCT] and designed Jameson Memorial Hall in the image of Thomas Jefferson’s famous Rotunda at the University of Virginia. In both cases, the idea of the site, including who would occupy it, and how it would be used vastly preceded its reality or date of construction. This project raises important questions about the spatial legacies of slavery and colonialism by exploring architectural and ideological border crossings between Africa and North America. By examining these distinct time/space events, I argue that Liberia and UCT (South Africa) are both sites that occupied and re-appropriated imaginary ideas of space in hopes of creating utopian environments governed around the strategic absence of black bodies. However, in neglecting the reality of their situations, they allowed a residue of dystopia to ferment, which continues to haunt historical memory at both sites. It is this forgotten residue of dystopia that I seek to bring to the forefront of contemporary occupations and ruminations about these sites.
  • Matthew A. Norton

    Yale University, Sociology

    Ashanti to Gold Coast to Ghana: A genealogy of the experience of documentary rule
    The 19th century in what is now Ghana was a period of deep political, social, and cultural contestation. During this period, the Ashanti Confederacy and British colonial administrators engaged in a struggle over forms and systems of authority, and the systems of meaning that made rule possible. A critical but overlooked element of that struggle was the gradual establishment of documents as objects and symbols of authority. This project has two goals: reconstructing a genealogy of documentary forms of rule as they intersected with elements of Ashanti bureaucracy and British colonial administrative practice; and developing an ethnographic understanding of the cultural and experiential dimensions of documentary rule in contemporary Ghana. I hypothesize that documents became authoritative through a process of colonial authority construction that transformed and replaced structures of Ashanti rule. This suggests that the cultural and experiential dimensions of Ghanaian documentary regimes should be understood as historically contingent rather than generically modern artefacts of bureaucratic rationalization. Structures of authority formed through processes of colonial resistance and domination cannot be simply understood as ‘modern’, in a normatively European sense, but rather pose a strong challenge to a simplified and reified understanding of the modern state itself.
  • Petra R. Rivera-Rideau

    University of California / Berkeley, African Diaspora Studies

    What is Afro-Boricua?: The Impact of Migration and Popular Culture on Understandings of Blackness in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Diaspora
    My dissertation centers on Puerto Rican popular culture, especially music, to discuss the similarities and differences between understandings of blackness in Puerto Rico and the United States. In particular, I am interested in the ways that transnational movement of popular culture via migration and mass media influences conceptualizations of racialized identities in different places. Puerto Rico is an optimal site for the study of race, popular culture, and transnational movement because of the large diaspora in the United States, especially New York City, and the continued movement between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Puerto Rico is also an important site for African Diaspora Studies because of its physical and cultural proximity to many Latin American and Caribbean societies in addition to the United States. My research will focus specifically on reggaetón as a cultural practice that has distinctly African diasporic roots and global commercial success. The project incorporates a variety of methods and sources, including interviews with artists and fans, ethnographies of performances, and analysis of mass media. In general, my dissertation contributes to broader conversations regarding the impact of transnational movements of people and popular culture on individuals’ understandings of racialized identities in different places.
  • Carmen P. Thompson

    University of Illinois / Urbana-Champaign, History

    “Black Womanhood and Slavery: Survival Strategies in the New World and in West Africa, 1655-1863.”
    In 1655 in the colony of Virginia, Elizabeth Key, an African-Anglo woman born in 1630 to a free English man and an enslaved African woman, sued for her freedom, and after lengthy legal proceedings, on July 21, 1659 she prevailed. The significance of the circumstances that surrounded the Key case was in the legal tactics she employed. Key’s strategy hinged on her claim of English ancestry and Christianity; tactics that I contend were part of a larger strategy of survival employed by many “enslaved” women in West Africa. And the techniques for surviving enslavement as utilized by Key in her suit and other women in the diaspora provide a unique framework for understanding what it meant to be a black woman in the seventeenth century. For me, survival strategies are a means for understanding how black women negotiated the oppressive intersections of race, class, and gender as they were developing within the polity of the New World. Equally, survival strategies are a source for tracing the arc of blackness and black womanhood as it was unfolding at a particular historical moment when slavery and blackness were not yet inextricably linked.