African Diaspora Archaeology Network title image

world map

March 2007 Newsletter

ISSN: 1933-8651

In this issue we present the following articles, news, announcements, and reviews:

Articles, Essays, and Reports News and Announcements Conferences and Calls for Papers Book Reviews

From Cambay in India to Barbados in the Caribbean:
Two Unique Beads from a Plantation Slave Cemetery

By Jerome S. Handler [1]

In the early 1970s, archaeological investigations at Newton plantation in Barbados recovered the skeletal remains of 104 individuals, interred from approximately 1660 to around 1820. Twelve of the burials were associated with close to 900 beads. These beads represented a variety of types, including two distinctive large reddish-orange carnelian beads (Handler and Lange 1978: 144-150; Handler et al. 1979; Handler 1997).[2] Despite the excavation of additional burials at Newton in the late 1990s which also recovered some beads associated with several burials,[3] and considerable archaeological work since the early 1970s in African diasporic sites in the Caribbean and North America (including the massive "African Burial Ground" in New York City [General Services Administration 2006]), as far as I can ascertain the two Newton specimens are still the only examples of their kind from New World sites. They remain unusual and unique material legacies of the transatlantic slave trade to Britain's American colonies.

The two undisturbed burials (designated Burials 63 and 72) associated with the beads were roughly contemporaneous, dating to approximately the late 17th or early 18th century, and were buried in different sections of the cemetery. Burial 72 was a male; the sex of Burial 63 could not be determined. Both were adults buried in extended supine positions and lacking coffins. Both had associated grave goods, including various types of beads. In both burials, the carnelian beads had been part of necklaces that contained a variety of other beads, virtually all of European origin (Handler et al. 1979; see Fig. 1). The carnelian beads were the only items common to both necklaces. The stringing patterns of the necklaces could only be partially reconstructed and the actual positions of the carnelian beads could not be ascertained, but they were probably the centerpieces of the necklaces.[4]

figure 1
Figure 1. Burial 63, area of lower jaw, showing the carnelian bead in situ and some of the associated translucent turquoise glass beads. Over 50 glass beads, representing about 10 types, formed this burial’s necklace; the carnelian bead was, presumably, its centerpiece.

The carnelian beads are remarkably similar in several characteristics: the type of agate module from which they were derived; their general reddish-orange color with embedded milky narrow, concentric bands; their tapered and cylindrical shapes; their comparable lengths (42.2 mm for Burial 72 and 44.0 mm for Burial 63); and an approximately 2.0 mm diameter perforation bored from both ends through the length of each. Moreover, each bead has 8 longitudinal facets and 4 beveled facets at both ends. The facets were apparently first chipped or ground and then polished to smooth surfaces. The only significant difference between the two beads is in thickness: the Burial 72 bead is approximately 11.7 mm at its thickest point, while the Burial 63 bead is about 14.7 mm. Generally, then, the Burial 63 carnelian bead is slightly longer and somewhat thicker than its Burial 72 counterpart (Figs. 2 and 3). The relatively minor differences between these two beads are clearly the results of a non-machine manufacturing process where variations in the products could be expected.

figure 2
Figure 2. Carnelian beads found with Burials 63 (left) and 72 (right); the former is 44.0 mm long, the latter, 42.2 mm.

Carnelian does not occur naturally in Barbados. Comparative study and the help of specialists who I contacted indicate that the Newton beads were almost certainly the hand-crafted products of an industry that existed in Cambay, the local name for Khambhat, a large town or city in Gujarat, Western India. The possibility of a Cambay origin was first suggested to me in 1978 by Robert K. Liu, at the time editor of Ornament (formerly, The Bead Journal), a recognized authority on the cross-cultural study of beads.

figure 3
Figure 3. Two perspectives of the Burial 72 bead (the color shown here is closer to the true color of the same bead shown on the right in Fig. 2).

A. J. Arkell gave a detailed account of the Cambay industry in a 1936 publication. Modern scholars frequently cite this major early study. The average dimensions of some Cambay carnelian beads are roughly comparable to those found in Barbados, but more importantly their longitudinal and bevel end facets, high surface polish and tapered, cylindrical shapes were characteristic of the "date-shaped" beads produced in Cambay. Arkell notes that after being heated, the carnelian stones were roughly shaped into beads with a saw-like instrument; next they were chiseled into final form with a horn-headed hammer; finally they were carefully polished to brilliancy with emery powder (Arkell 1936). According to Liu, who examined the Newton beads, their facets and surface polish were the result of the process described by Arkell. Moreover, the color of individual carnelian was often enhanced or made more pronounced in Cambay by exposing the beads to sun or fire; the reddish-orange color of the Newton beads was probably derived from some form of heat treatment.[5]

figure 4
Figure 4. Necklace components associated with Burial 72. The carnelian bead was probably the centerpiece. Other beads in the necklace were canine teeth, cowrie shells, fish vertebrae, and glass beads of European origin.

Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, an archaeologist at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and a specialist in this area later solidified the case for a Cambay origin. Kenoyer's personal examination of the Burial 72 bead led him to conclude that, among other diagnostic characteristics, "the polish on the surface is characteristic of high luster tumbling which was done extensively in Cambay . . . the drilling was done after the bead had been polished and the type of drill used is the double diamond drill that was unique to Cambay and western India." Kenoyer also ventured to speculate that the "whitening on the surface is a result of salt penetration either during post deposition or it can occasionally result from the heating processes used to make the carnelian redder" (pers. comm. 26 June 1995, 26 Sept. 2006; cf. Insoll et al. 2004; Karanth 1992; Kenoyer et al. 1994).

Cambay had a well-known stone bead industry of considerable antiquity, and for about 2,000 years its beads were widely traded. The trade network reached its greatest volume between around 1300 and 1800 and linked Cambay with the Arabian and Red Sea areas and the east coast or Horn of Africa. From the East African coast, Cambay carnelian beads and other items generally moved through the overland Sahara and Sahel trade to West Africa, where they were present in the first millennium AD. Carnelian beads from India were one of several bead types that were relatively expensive and considered especially valuable in many areas of West Africa (Arkell 1936; Carey 1991: 8, 26; Kenoyer et al. 1994; Curtin 1975 (1): 314, 319; Jones 1984: 13, 31; Opper and Opper 1989: 7, 9, 14, 15; cf. DeCorse et al. 2003).[6]

However likely it is that the beads were originally manufactured in India, it cannot be demonstrated how they came to Barbados. (It is also impossible to determine if the necklaces of which they were a part were brought intact to Barbados or constructed on the island from different components that arrived through diverse routes and with different human agents.) It is reasonable to assume they arrived indirectly through Africa since a trade network linked Cambay with the Red Sea and the east coast of Africa as early as the 16th century. Moreover, they probably came aboard slaving vessels, perhaps directly from Western Africa, the regional source of most slaves to the British West Indies during the period of the Newton cemetery. It is possible, however, that the beads were brought directly from southeast Africa. Since Cambay beads were traded along the East African coast some may have found their way along the southeast African coast or even to Madagascar. From the 1670s until 1698 and then from 1716 to 1721, British slavers acquired large numbers of slaves from Madagascar and southeast Africa (Curtin 1969:125; Platt 1969: 548). During these years some slaves were brought directly from this area to Barbados. Although the Madagascar-southeast Africa trade was small in relation to that from Western Africa, at certain periods -- particularly in the late seventeenth century -- slaves from the former areas were numerically significant in Barbados and sometimes constituted a consequential percentage of enslaved Africans brought to the island (Handler and Lange 1978: 293-94).[7]

By whatever routes they traveled, it will never be known if the beads came across the Atlantic separately or together. Nor can it be known if they arrived with the persons with whom they were ultimately interred. It is highly unlikely, and I have encountered no documentary evidence to the contrary, that the Carnelian beads, because of their rarity and value, were used by Europeans as trade goods on the West African coast. And although in most cases enslaved Africans were probably divested of personal jewelry before they boarded the slave ships, it is possible that these beads were smuggled aboard by their owners or their owners were otherwise permitted to retain them either by their African captors or European purchasers (cf. Handler 2006). By whatever means these beads came to Barbados, they had clearly traveled over a vast distance from their point of manufacture in India to their final resting place in the Newton graveyard.[8] They are dramatic archaeological illustrations of the global reaches of the Atlantic slave trade.


[1]. The author is a Senior Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville. Thanks to Jonathan Kenoyer, Timothy Insoll, Christopher De Corse, Adria LaViolette, Charles Orser, and Neil Norman for their help and advice on various issues. Jama Coartney of the University of Virginia Library's Digital Media Lab diligently made the best of old and often not very good slides to produce the illustrations shown here.

[2]. These beads were initially excavated by Crawford Blakeman and Robert Riordan, at the time doctoral students in anthropology at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. The excavations took place under the general supervision of Frederick W. Lange and the author. Today, the beads are housed in the Barbados Museum (St. Michael, Barbados).

[3]. In separate excavations conducted in 1997 and 1998 by Kristrina Shuler and Ray Pasquariello, respectively, about 30 new burials were recovered. Pasquariello excavated 14 individuals, and although Shuler excavated a total of 34, some of these were possibly reinterments that had been excavated in the early 1970s. No carnelian beads were found with any of these burials (Pasquariello, pers. comm. 23 July 2004; Shuler, pers. comm. 2 Oct. 2006; cf. Shuler 2005).

[4]. One of beads was found with Burial 72, the richest burial in the cemetery in terms of its associated artifacts -- all of which were intentionally placed grave goods. This burial still apparently represents the most distinctive example of African influences on grave goods in a North American or Caribbean site. The bead was part of an elaborate necklace with obvious African-like characteristics and was composed of seven money cowry shells, five drilled vertebrae from a large bony fish (possibly shark), 21 drilled canine teeth (from an unidentified dog), and 14 European-manufactured glass beads representing four or five types (Handler 1997; Handler et al. 1997; Fig. 4). Among some Gold Coast peoples, the distinctive bead necklaces worn by priests occasionally contained one long red carnelian bead (Ellis1996). Although carnelian beads are not specifically mentioned, Joshua Carnes, visiting West African coastal areas in the earlier part of the 19th century, reported on the ubiquity of "fetishes" or protective amulets worn by people throughout the region, including the Gold Coast. These amulets were "formed of different things" and were "attached or suspended in some way or other from the person . . . [as] . . . a string of coral, or common glass beads, the claw of a tiger, or a leopard [or dog], or part of the back-bone of a fish . . . ." (Carnes 1970: 407).

[5]. Karanth (1992) gives a detailed description of the technical procedures used in the manufacture of beads in Cambay; these procedures have remained essentially the same for many centuries.

[6]. Carnelian beads of likely or possible Cambay origin have been found in early historic sites on the East African coast and in Western Africa as well, but none reported appear to be as large as the Newton ones or have the same shapes (e.g., Chittick 1974; 1: 236-37; 2:482; DeCorse et al. 2003; Insoll et al. 2004; Ogundiran 2002; Connah 1996-1997; Roy 2000:102-05; cf. T. Insoll, pers. comm. 2 Oct. 2006; DeCorse, pers. comm. 19 Oct. 2006). Carnelian beads of Cambay origin were apparently also used as trade goods by the Dutch in West Africa in the seventeenth century; they were considered "expensive" (A. Jones 1995: 45, 316).

[7]. In fact, David Eltis and his colleagues now estimate that 5,266 slaves disembarked at Barbados from Southeast Africa before 1722. One cannot be certain, however, how many of these enslaved Africans were actually sold on the island and were not transshipped elsewhere (David Eltis, pers. comm. 27 Sept. 2006).

[8]. Measured by Google Earth, the distance between Gujarat and Barbados is over 8,000 miles as the crow flies (M. Tuite, pers. comm. 2 Oct. 2006).

References Cited

Arkell, A. J. 1936.
Cambay and the Bead Trade. Antiquity 10: 292-305.

Carey, M. 1991.
Beads and Beadwork of West and Central Africa. Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications.

Carnes, J. A. 1970.
Journal of a Voyage from Boston to the West Coast of Africa. New York: Johnson Reprint (first published 1852).

Chittick, H. N. 1974.
Kilwa: An Islamic Trading City on the East African Coast. Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa.

Connah, G. 1996-1997.
A hoard of stone beads near Lake Chad, Nigeria. Beads: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers 8-9: 35-43.

Curtin, P. D. 1969.
The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press).

Curtin, P. D. 1975.
Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade. 2 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

DeCorse, C. R., F. G. Richard, and I. Thiaw. 2003.
Toward a systematic bead description system: a view from the Lower Falemme, Senegal. Journal of African Archaeology 1: 77-109.

Ellis, A. B. 1966.
The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa. Reprint of the 1887 edition, Oosterhout, Netherlands: Anthropological Publications.

General Services Administration. 2006.
African Burial Ground Final Reports, Archaeology Report. On-line publication

Handler, J. S. 1997.
An African-type healer/diviner and his grave goods: a burial from a plantation slave cemetery in Barbados, West Indies. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 1: 91-130.

Handler, J. S. 2006.
On the Transportation of Material Goods by Enslaved Africans During the Middle Passage: Preliminary Findings from Documentary Sources. African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter. December.

Handler, J. S. and F. W. Lange. 1978.
Plantation Slavery in Barbados: An Archaeological and Historical Investigation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Handler, J. S., F. W. Lange, and C. E. Orser. 1979.
Carnelian beads in necklaces from a slave cemetery in Barbados, West Indies. Ornament: A Quarterly of Jewelry & Personal Adornment 4: 15-18.

Insoll, T., D. A. Polya, K. Bhan, D. Irving, and K. Jarvis. 2004.
Towards an understanding of the carnelian bead trade from Western India to sub-Saharan Africa: the application of UV-LA-ICP-MS to carnelian from Gujarat, India, and West Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1161-1173.

Jones, A. ed. and trans. 1995.
West Africa in the mid-seventeenth century: an anonymous Dutch manuscript. Atlanta: African Studies Association Press.

Jones, G. I. 1984.
The Art of Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karanth, R. V. 1992.
The ancient gem industry in Cambay. Man & Environment 17: 61-70.

Kenoyer, J. M., M. Vidale, and K. K. Bhan. 1994.
Carnelian bead production in Khambhat, India: An ethnoarchaeological study. In B. Allchin (ed.), Living Traditions: Studies in the Ethnoarchaeology of South Asia. New Delhi: Oxford and IBH.

Ogundiran, A. 2002.
Of Small Things Remembered: Beads, Cowries, and the Cultural Translations of the Atlantic Experience in Yorubaland. International Journal of African Historical Studies 35: 427-457.

Opper, M. J. and H. Opper. 1989.
Diakhité: a study of the beads from an 18th-19th century burial site in Senegal, West Africa. Beads: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers 1: 5-20.

Platt, V. 1969.
The East India Company and the Madagascar Slave Trade. William & Mary Quarterly 26: 548-577.

Roy, B. 2000.
Chapter 6: The Beads. In T. Insoll, Urbanism, Archaeology, and Trade: Further Observations on the Gao Region (Mali) . Oxford: BAR International Series 829: 98-107.

Shuler, K. A. 2005.
Health, History, and Sugar: A Bioarchaeological Study of Enslaved Africans from Newton Plantation, Barbados, West Indies. PhD Dissertation, Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

[Return to
table of contents]

A River of Doubt: Marked Colonoware,
Underwater Sampling, and Questions of Inference

By Christopher Espenshade[1]

In this essay, I argue that marked Colonoware bowl fragments recovered from rivers in coastal South Carolina do not support an inference that African Americans engaged in waterside spiritual ceremonies in those locations during the eighteenth century. At the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in January 2007, I heard several scholars of African American archaeology repeating the fallacy that Leland Ferguson (1999) had conclusively demonstrated the association of marked Colonoware bowls with a riverside ritual in eighteenth-century South Carolina. Ferguson (1999) raised the intriguing proposition that a small sample of such artifacts could have been associated with such riverside ceremonies, and that those activities could have entailed developing beliefs that related to the Bakongo culture of West Central Africa. However, he did not prove this, and historical archaeologists should refrain from characterizing his proposal as a proven conclusion. This essay presents an updated analysis of related issues in sampling and inferences of significance that I raised in an earlier paper at the 2003 Southeastern Archaeological Conference (Espenshade 2003).

Examples of over-reaching, definitive statements from which archaologists should refrain in this debate include:

"the statistical association of the vessels with rivers" (DeCorse 1999:140);

"the fact that most of these vessels were recovered from underwater contexts, a finding that suggests bowls were purposefully placed in the water as part of rituals" (Singleton 1999:11);

"Most of the marked colonoware bowls were found in the waters of rivers and streams, confirming their roles in rituals involving the waters that separate the living from the dead" (diZerega Wall 2000); and

"all these factors point to repeated and intentional practice -- again, most likely ritualistic" (Delgado De Torres 2006:7).
There are five problems with the waterside ritual argument:

1.  The argument is based overwhelmingly on materials from sports divers.

2.  The argument ignores that sports divers collect a whole range of domestic refuse from the rivers, not just marked bowls.

3.  The argument is overly broad in considering any crossed line design similar to a cosmogram.

4.  The argument generally ignores well-dated, marked bowls from terrestrial contexts.

5.  Most of the vessels considered in the argument lack solid chronological control.

1.  Sports Divers

Of the 27 marked bowls considered in Ferguson's (1999) article, 16 were culled from artifacts collected by sports divers. Sports divers only dive in water, not on dry land. Any supposed statistical association of marked bowls with rivers is meaningless; the sample is clearly biased because the entire archaeological universe of coastal South Carolina was not sampled, only the wet bits. President Bush would get better approval ratings if only the Republicans were polled, but those numbers would not be representative of all Americans. All we know from Ferguson's biased sample is that some marked bowls are present in rivers.

2.  Refuse Disposal in Rivers

In the antebellum period, there was much dumping of domestic refuse in the rivers. As well, shoreline middens have eroded into rivers. The same sports divers who found marked Colonoware pots also found unmarked Colonoware pots, European ceramics, glass, brick, mortar, oyster shell, metal items, and faunal bone. Anything that one might typically expect in a plantation kitchen midden or a slave house midden also ended up in the river. Ferguson does not argue that bricks, for example, were part of a riverside ritual. There is no evidence to suggest that the marked bowls in the river are any different from the other refuse in the river.

3.  Oversimplified Design Classes

The classification of marks made by a number of individual potters, in diverse social and temporal contexts, is a challenge. It is the opinion of this researcher that Ferguson erred toward claiming too many designs related to cosmograms. In fact, only three of his marked sherds have crosses within enclosures. One of these three is a cross within a square or diamond, rather than within a round enclosure.

Beyond these three examples, Ferguson seems to be over-reaching to slot designs as related to the cosmogram. Any crossed lines become part of an X, which in turn becomes the heart of a cosmogram. Any arc becomes part of the enclosure. By this approach, it becomes hard to imagine any design (especially partial designs from sherds) that could not be somehow assigned as a cosmogram.

It is my position that Ferguson hoped to reduce a great amount of variability (despite his small sample size) into a few easily explained classes. My position is bolstered by his treatment of one of my favorite bowls (Vessel 1, Site 38BU791). Ferguson discusses only the basal X on this nineteenth-century bowl from the Bonny Shore slave community, yet makes no effort to address the grid design (much like a tic-tac-toe grid) on the vessel interior or the two, opposing, ladder designs on the exterior vessel walls. There is a lot of information displayed on this Spring Island bowl, but Ferguson simplified it to a bowl with a basal X, and ignored the design elements that could not easily be translated into a cosmogram.

figure 1
Vessel 1 profile, 38BU791, Spring Island.

figure 2
Interior (left) and exterior (right) incisions on Vessel 1, 38BU791, Spring Island.

For most of his cosmograms to work, Ferguson must invoke the rim or the ring-base as the enclosure of the cosmogram. However, there are ring-base bowls without any markings, and his argument becomes bogged down. If the ring-bases or rims were not necessarily meant as elements of a cosmogram, then we simply have slaves putting Xs (rather than cosmograms) on bowls. An alternative explanation for such behavior is offered below after the dating is discussed.

4.  Terrestrial Bowls

By 1999, when Ferguson's study was published, there were a number of reports available on marked bowls from terrestrial sites, but these were not all included in his study (it is recognized that his original paper was written in 1989, but Ferguson had opportunity to edit his paper as late as 1994). At the Colleton River slave street, four of the 22 minimum vessels of Colonoware were marked (Kennedy et al. 1994; Espenshade and Kennedy 2002). Across the river at the Bonny Shore slave settlement, three of the 18 minimum vessels of Colonoware were marked (Eubanks et al. 1994; Espenshade and Kennedy 2002). Also on Spring Island, at the Pinckney Landing slave community, one of the 18 minimum vessels of Colonoware had a possible mark (Pietak et al. 1998; Espenshade and Kennedy 2002). The highly active sports divers program covered untold miles of river bottom, and derived only 16 marked bowls, yet just three excavations, which I happened to supervise, yielded eight marked bowls. How then are marked bowls related to a riverside ritual? If the terrestrial bowls had not been downplayed, Ferguson may have recognized the sports divers' bowls as simple refuse. A sample of what was in use in slave communities was dumped or eroded into the river.

figure 3
Marked Colonoware Sherds from 38BU647, Colleton River Slave Community (yellow indicates incised lines) (images not to scale).

5.  Lack of Temporal Control

There is no good temporal control on the 16 marked bowls recovered from river contexts. The plantations near which they were recovered continued to be active through the Civil War, and Ferguson cannot use the river material to claim that these bowls were an eighteenth-century phenomenon.

The dating of the marked bowls from terrestrial sites is also not convincingly nineteenth century. Indeed, three of Ferguson's 11 marked bowls from terrestrial contexts are from a site that was not established until the nineteenth century (Ferguson 1999:Table 6.1; Eubanks et al. 1994). Two other, purely nineteenth-century, slave communities in Beaufort County have also yielded marked bowls (Pietak et al. 1998; Kennedy et al. 1994; Espenshade and Kennedy 2002).

This lack of temporal control is important. What if the crosses did not become common until the nineteenth century? Indeed, it has been argued that use contexts of Colonoware changed through time, and that by the early nineteenth century, jar forms were rare and that bowls became the prevalent form (Espenshade 1998). The possible nineteenth-century origin of many of the marked bowls causes problems in the cosmogram argument, because there would have been a significant temporal gap when enslaved African Americans in South Carolina were making bowls but were not marking bowls. A nineteenth-century florescence in marked bowls would also raise the possibility that bowl-marking was a response to the increased Christianization of the slave force in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (consider the use of crosses and biblical verses by Dave -- an enslaved, African American, potter -- on Edgefield stoneware in the early to mid-nineteenth century). After all, as Carl Steen once reminded me, the cross is also a magic sign for Christians. Perhaps the cross was reborn and recontextualized in Gullah Christianity, rather than having a direct continuity with African cosmograms. This might explain why the supposed cosmograms on Colonoware are most commonly simple crosses.


Leland Ferguson (1992; 1999) opened our eyes to slave-made pottery and many other aspects of African American archaeology, and he has rightfully been applauded for his leadership. Unfortunately, some of his arguments require revision in the light of broader data.

This is the case for the marked Colonoware bowls from coastal South Carolina. Although most current researchers in South Carolina recognize the tenuousness of the waterside ritual argument – because they are familiar with the data to the contrary – we still see scholars of African Diaspora archaeology claiming that Ferguson (1999) proved this ritual existed. Part of this can be blamed on the myth of the gray literature, that only books published by major presses can possibly inform our discipline, and the other stuff (the grey literature) can be downplayed or ignored (for an eye-opening exercise, try to find the three CRM reports among the 39 pages of references cited in Singleton's 1999 volume). In actuality, by far the lion's share of studies of African American sites in South Carolina have been done in the realm of cultural resource management. You may not be able to buy these reports on, but any serious researcher can easily access these reports at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Although many of us are attracted to the noble image of an enslaved African Americans demonstrating their resistance by participating in an African-derived riverside ceremony using bowls with African-derived designs, the evidence is not there. Instead, the most parsimonious explanation for marked bowls in South Carolina rivers is that they were dumped or eroded there with other domestic refuse. These marked bowls are simple refuse, just like the unmarked Colonoware, the prehistoric pottery vessels, the glass bottles, the oyster shells, the bricks, the imported ceramics, the nails and spikes, and the tobacco pipes.

As to the possible link of the markings to Bakongo cosmograms, data are rapidly being accumulated on the dating of terrestrial examples to allow the issue to be further explored. In the meantime, scholars of African American archaeology are strongly encouraged to stop saying Ferguson has proven the association of marked Colonoware bowls with a riverside ritual. Scholars are further encouraged to be very careful in assigning an eighteenth-century date to the marked bowls of coastal South Carolina.


[1]. The author, Chris Espenshade, is an archaeologist and principal investigator with New South Associates, Inc., 415-A South Edgeworth Street, Greensboro, North Carolina 27401; his email address is


DeCorse, C. R. 1999.
Oceans Apart: Africanist Perspectives on Diaspora Archaeology. In "I, Too, Am America": Archaeological Studies of African-American Life, edited by T. A. Singleton, pp. 132-158. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Delgado De Torres, L. 2006.
Marked Bowls, Cross Symbols & Petit-Maroons: A Pan-African Archaeology of Black Radicalism in the Atlantic World. Proud Flesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness 4:1-26.

diZerega Wall, D. 2000.
Twenty Years After: Re-examining Archaeological Collections for Evidence of New York City's Colonial African Past. African-American Archaeology: Newsletter of the African-American Archaeology Network 28.

Espenshade, C. T. 1998.
The Changing Use Contexts of Slave-Made Pottery on the South Carolina Coast. In African Impact on the Material Culture of the Americas. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Espenshade, C. T. 2003.
Colonoware Myths: The Truth Revealed. Paper presented at the 60th Annual Meetings of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Espenshade, C. T., and L. Kennedy. 2002.
Recognizing Individual Potters in Nineteenth Century Colonoware. North American Archaeologist 23(3):209-240.

Eubanks, E. I., C. T. Espenshade, L. Kennedy, and M. Roberts. 1994.
Data Recovery of the 38BU791, Bonny Shore Slave Row, Spring Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Brockington and Associates, Atlanta.

Ferguson, L. G. 1992.
Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Ferguson, L. G. 1999.
"The Cross is a Magic Sign": Marks on Eighteenth-Century Bowls from South Carolina. In "I, Too, Am America": Archaeological Studies of African-American Life, edited by T. A. Singleton, pp. 116-131. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Kennedy, L., M. D. Roberts, and C. T. Espenshade. 1994.
Archaeological Data Recovery at Colleton River Plantation (38BU647): A Study of a Nineteenth Century Slave Settlement, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Brockington and Associates, Atlanta.

Pietak, L., C. Espenshade, J. Holland, and L. Kennedy. 1998.
Slave Lifeways on Spring Island: Data Recovery at 38BU5, Beaufort County, South Carolina. TRC Garrow Associates, Atlanta.

Singleton, T. A. 1999.
An Introduction to African-American Archaeology. In "I, Too, Am America": Archaeological Studies of African-American Life, edited by T. A. Singleton, pp. 1-20. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

[Return to
table of contents]

Comments on Espenshade's A River of Doubt: Marked Colonoware,
Underwater Sampling, and Questions of Inference

By Leland Ferguson

I agree with Christopher Espenshade: I did not prove "an association of marked Colonoware bowls with riverside ritual in 18th century South Carolina;" that is, unless your requirements for proof are low. I did, however, strongly suggest that to have been the case. In "The Cross is a Magic Sign" (1999), I presented the data on marked vessels I had available in the late 1980s and early 90s, and in Uncommon Ground (1992), I wrote a fictional account of a low country African throwing a marked bowl into a river.

An archaeological association of marked and ring-based bowls with South Carolina low country rivers is definite -- the artifacts have been found along river bottoms. Nevertheless, my tentative interpretation of the ritual use of these is an hypothesis: It was based on a small sample of archaeological data, and my reading of history and ethnography, from both the Americas and West Africa. I believe it has strong merit, and I encourage other archaeologists to more rigorously test this hypothesis and to expand our knowledge of early African-American history and culture.

Logical scholarship -- social science in our case -- has harsh rules. We must first use our observations and imaginations to create likely stories. Then, we must employ those same observations and add more data in our best attempts to prove those favored stories wrong! Our method requires that we frequently drop anchor in Espenshade's river of doubt, testing and retesting the validity of our hypotheses. Those we can't prove wrong, we accept as true, tentatively.[1]

Both imagination and doubt are essential components of the process. Espenshade finds my work, and especially interpretations of that work, heavy on imagination and light on doubt. He makes a legitimate, though arguable, point. In turn, I find Espenshade's critique excessively weighted toward doubt and lacking imagination. His firmly stated conclusion that "these marked bowls are simple refuse" (emphasis added) seems unnecessarily negative and founded, itself, on no more than untested, casual observation. There is no wiggle room: he says the marked bowls are rubbish and offers nothing more. Of course, here, I think Espenshade, like those of us he criticizes, overstates himself. I trust he would agree that some of the marked vessels could have been used in ritual, at the riverside or elsewhere. How could anyone say otherwise? The question is how much? Based on methodological parsimony, his hypothesis is not very many, perhaps none.

I too have used parsimony in interpretation of colonoware, with surprising results. In Uncommon Ground, I suggested that the vast majority of colonoware was probably used for preparing West African-style meals -- jars for cooking and bowls for serving. This was an interpretation that I considered parsimonious. But, what is parsimonious from one cultural perspective may not be from another. Later, when I showed pictures of the material to West Africans in Sierra Leone, most responded that the vessels looked to them like "medicine pots" rather than cooking and serving vessels; another West African suggestion was that the small vessels were used for ablution, including feminine hygiene. I certainly don't know if this is the case, but what I do know from these informants is that what I considered parsimonious was an ethnocentric notion.[2]

Below, I respond point-by-point to Espenshade's problems with the waterside ritual argument:

1.   The argument is based overwhelmingly on materials from sports divers.

The term "sports divers" is Espenshade's, not mine. I wrote that the collections were donated by "nonprofessional archaeological divers." This was a carefully conceived, if rhetorically awkward, term intended to include professional treasure hunters as well as sports or hobby divers. The terminology has a slight relevance to the issue as explained in my next response.

2.  The argument ignores that sports divers collect a whole range of domestic refuse from the rivers, not just marked bowls.

I was well aware of the variety of materials coming from underwater, but I did not ignore this variety to bolster my argument. At the time of my writing historical archaeologists had found tens of thousands of sherds of colonoware on terrestrial sites -- excavations at Yaughan and Curriboo alone produced more than 18,000 thousand sherds, one of which was marked. Relatively, the amount of material coming from the rivers was quite small, and there was no indication that divers were intentionally biasing their collections (Ferguson 1999: 128). Also, more vessels with ring bases were coming from the rivers than from sites on land. Thus, it appeared that there was a significant association between marked vessels, bowls with ring bases, and waterways. As Espenshade states, the rivers were so dark that divers usually picked up items by feel, then culled above water. At the time, there was no relic market for colonoware, so treasure hunters had little interest these plain bowls and jars. Hobby divers seemed more interested in fancy-looking artifacts plain colonoware, marked or not. Divers were recovering far fewer artifacts than terrestrial archaeologists, yet they were recovering a much larger proportion of marked bowls.

True, I did not include all of the other material in my discussion. It was obvious that in the rivers adjacent to plantations, ferries, and bridges that there was a great variety of items to be found in the rivers. It is possible that many, or most, of the marked pieces found their way beneath the water from erosion or intentional dumping of trash in the river. As Espenshade argues, the issue clearly calls for a careful study of site formation processes, as well as spatial and temporal variation.

Bakongo ritual involving the cosmogram is not limited to bodies of water. Because most of the marked vessels at the time I was writing came from underwater, and because historians and ethnographers had emphasized water, I placed emphasis on the water side aspect of ritual. However, the vertical line in the cosmogram represents the pathway from the living world to the world of the dead, underground. Most all underground is moist and watery. Thus, although passing through a body of water is considered the quickest way to connect with the underworld, connections can be made through almost any opening in the earth. Thus, if a vessel were used in a related ritual it might be put in a trash pit, down a well, beneath tree roots, in a privy, or any other hole, as well as through water. Or, it may not have been necessary to put the marked artifact in any of these kinds of places to have the magic work.

3.   The argument is overly broad in considering any crossed line design similar to a cosmogram.

The pattern we perceived in the late 1970s and early 1980s was one of marks in the center of colonoware vessels, either on the inside or outside and put on the vessel either before or after firing. I say "we perceived," because many people were looking over the collections in those days at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and most were commenting on the marked vessels. Occasionally, other scratches and lines were observed, but they were not perceived as a pattern. Of course, this does not mean that there is not another pattern, just that we didn't recognize another regularity.

Espenshade is wrong in his assertion that I considered any crossed line design to be part of the pattern. Category I of the three categories I described in the 1999 paper were not included in the analysis, because I believed they were not part of the pattern. This category included four marked pieces, two with initials and two with painted crossed lines that appeared to be part of a larger floral design.

4.   The argument generally ignores well-dated, marked bowls from terrestrial contexts.

When I originally wrote "The Cross is a Magic Sign," I did not ignore any well-dated vessels, or those from terrestrial contexts. Had I known of any such vessels I certainly would have used them. Some later data from the Bonny Shore site was included, and I thanked Espenshade for providing that information (1999: 127). Nevertheless, he appropriately calls me on not updating the paper.

My paper was written and submitted for publication in 1989. I anticipated that it would be published within a couple of years, and that it would be the basis for a section on marked vessels in Uncommon Ground, published in 1992. However, Uncommon Ground was written after the 1989 meeting and published seven years before I Too, Am America (1999). In the middle of the 1990s, I requested that my paper be withdrawn from the volume because I knew that more data had been recovered. However, I was assured that the volume was moving along. By that time I was involved with other matters, and I let the paper go to press as it was -- a mistake.[3]

Concerning publication and dissemination, I believe Espenshade again exaggerates when he describes the "myth of the gray literature" as belief "that only books published by major presses can possibly inform our discipline" (emphasis added). I'm familiar with complaints that the gray literature is not easily accessible, but I don't know anyone who subscribes to Espenshade's extreme position. Surely, Espenshade, himself, would consider this hyperbole. Nevertheless, I do believe we have a problem with publication.

For the most part, the gray literature serves as a kind of localized primary source, not a means of wide-spread dissemination. On the other hand, edited volumes in trade and university presses don't do such a good job with dissemination either. They come out no faster than the slowest person involved, and the final decision for publication is not in the hands of archaeologists. Without question, our professional journals are the best means for timely dissemination, controlled and refereed by archaeologists. Neither Espenshade nor I have taken appropriate advantage of this valuable venue in publishing on colonoware. Of course, the online African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is another valuable means of distributing information to other archaeologists.

Espenshade's complaint that cultural resource management reports were not utilized in Singleton's (1999) volume appears unfounded. Throughout the bibliography are various management reports and manuscripts listed as "on file" at various institutions. William Kelso and associates, alone, account for five of these. If by CRM, Espenshade means only reports by contract archaeologists, there are fewer. However, there are several references to published articles by contract archaeologists based on their management reports; articles by Ronald Anthony, Patrick Garrow and Thomas Wheaton are examples.

5.  Most of the vessels considered in the argument lack solid chronological control.

This is true. Most of the vessels used in my analysis came from underwater contexts and were not well dated. Twenty to thirty years ago, excavations were being conducted on a number of 18th and early 19th century plantation sites, and archaeologists were recovering an astonishing amount of colonoware. It appeared from what we saw at the time that the material was most popular in colonial and early post-colonial times and that it diminished in the 19th century. The marked vessels in my sample may well have come from the early 19th century, or even the second quarter of that century.[4] But, it appeared more likely that they were earlier.

In considering a later dating for the marked vessels, Espenshade writes that "perhaps the cross was reborn and recontextualized in Gullah Christianity, rather than having direct continuity with African cosmograms." This could be. I would never underestimate how complicated the history of southern America might be, especially the history of enslaved African-Americans. In the 1999 paper (p. 124) I wrote that "In addition to Bakongo and other African beliefs, plantation people must have known, in varying degrees, of American Indian cosmology, Islam, and Christianity."

In his conclusion, Espenshade writes kind words about my contribution to the archaeology of early African-Americans; I appreciate this sentiment but would emphasize that I was not alone. Subsequently, he says that "unfortunately, some of [Ferguson's] arguments require revision in light of broader data." I do not view this as unfortunate at all. In fact, I am disappointed that more of my early work, and that of others, has not been revised and expanded with new, imaginative and well-tested interpretations of early African-American lifeways; and I am pleased Espenshade has refocused attention on these intriguing marked artifacts. He and I both know of data on marked vessels that is not readily available to students and other professionals. Perhaps we can find a way to make all this data more readily available to others. Then, more scholars could join the hunt for the meanings scratched on these vessels.


[1]. Einstein demonstrated Newton's elegant laws did not always hold true, then, recently, Einstein's constant speed of light has been clocked as low as 38 m.p.h.! After the slow-down, Harvard researchers actually stopped the light, transformed it to matter, and later regenerated the light from the matter. As the Apostle Paul observed, we "see through a glass darkly."

[2]. Soon, I will submit my most recent paper on medicine and colonoware to the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter for publication.

[3]. There is an accounting error in my 1999 paper. On page 121, I state that I have recorded 28 marked vessels or vessel fragments from South Carolina collections, referring to Table 6.1. But, there are only 27 listed in the table.

[4]. I know of unsubstantiated reports that it was being made in the 20th century.

References Cited

Ferguson, L. G. 1992.
Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Ferguson, L. G. 1999.
"The Cross is a Magic Sign": Marks on Eighteenth-Century Bowls from South Carolina. In "I, Too, Am America": Archaeological Studies of African-American Life, edited by T. A. Singleton, pp. 116-131. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Singleton, T. A. 1999, editor.
"I, Too, Am America": Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

[Return to
table of contents]

Autonomous, but Shackled: A Community
Model of Slave Life and its Archaeological Testing

By Amy C. Kowal

Abstract: Kowal's dissertation, entitled The Affinities and Disparities within: Community and Status of the African American Slave Population at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina (Department of Anthropology, Florida State University) investigates how patterns of consumption reflect internal patterns of social hierarchy among the enslaved plantation community and what were the degrees of resistance and accommodation of those enslaved and their structure in relation to white plantation owners.  Family, community, customs and practices, religion, and settlement patterns are the factors used to interpret the African American presence at Charles Pinckney’s Snee Farm in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina and to perform a regional comparison with similar plantations of the period.  This study utilizes ethnological, archaeological, historical, and physical resources to determine status differences within this slave community.  Its strength is the use of a holistic and interdisciplinary approach along with the integration of anthropological and archaeological theories of agency and consumption.  To determine how enslaved Africans defined their community and daily lives utilizing a comprehensive, multidisciplinary method is necessary.  Analysis of consumption patterns through archaeological evidence reveals interactions between slaves and other peoples defining the ranges and boundaries of the enslaved community and its elements of resistance.  Agency and consumer theories provide an explanation of how individuals possess the ownership of choice and the ability of anthropologists to characterize populations in terms of their own community through the factors deemed most important by the members’ own standards in the face of outside pressures.

figure 1
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (Courtesy of National Park Service).

This research provides the ability to compare this community with others in the United States aiding in the development of a theory of modern African American ethnicity formation.  Ultimately, this study will contribute to African Diaspora research as more investigations are undertaken with Atlantic populations and large cultural patterns of the African Diaspora are described.

This paper is derived from that larger study. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Archeological Perspectives of Palmares:
A Maroon Settlement in 17th century Brazil

By Aline Vieira de Carvalho

Abstract: The goal of the current paper is to analyze several interpretations made by analysts with the human sciences, especially by historical archeologist, about the Palmares Quilombo, a maroon settlement in 17th century Brazil. Presented with a multiplicity of views of this quilombo, one can conclude that there is no consensus in historical studies of this past community and culture, and, most importantly, that choosing and celebrating one of the historical accounts over others entails certain political positions.

Image of Zumbi of Palmares, painted by Antonio Parreiras in the 19th century
Introducing the Object of the Research: The Constitution of the Palmares Quilombo

In order to understand the constitution of the Palmares Quilombo, a maroon settlement in 17th century Brazil, it is necessary to consider the period of the maritime expansion undertaken by Portugal in order to search for new routes to the Indies in the 15th century. In 1415, the Portuguese overtook the island of Ceuta and initiated a process of colonial expansion into Africa. In the following decades, they expanded their control across South Atlantic and arrived at the land that is known today as the country of Brazil. During the second half of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century, when the commerce with the Indies proved to be unprofitable to the Europeans, the Portuguese implemented a new type of commodity production in the newly discovered lands: sugar cane.

Many sugar mills that used the labor of enslaved Africans and local Indians were set up in the Brazilian coast of Bahia and Pernambuco. The sugar production resulted in profits not only for Portugal but also Dutch commercial interests based in Holland, the latter of which were responsible for refining the sugar. While the Portuguese dedicated themselves to the implementation of the sugar mills, they also started to see increasing incidents of enslaved African and Indian laborers escaping from their control. Together these escaped slaves started the Palmares Quilombo. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Agriculture and Slavery in Prince George’s County, Maryland

By Christopher I. Sperling

map image by C. Sperling

Abstract: As modern construction claims previously undeveloped lands, planners seek methods to identify and preserve those cultural resources deemed critical to understanding the past. The past in Prince George's County, Maryland centered on agriculture, in particular the cultivation of tobacco. No other crop defined the historic development and culture of the Middle Atlantic region as much as tobacco; no institution defined tobacco culture more than slavery. As one step toward a better understanding of how generations of enslaved Prince Georgians lived and contributed to the cultural fabric of the county, the Prince George's County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission contracted The Ottery Group in 2006 to create an Antebellum Plantation Research Guide for Prince George's County. The research guide will provide Prince George’s County researchers a valuable tool from which to initiate site-specific archeological and historical investigations.


When founded in 1696, Prince George's County's sparse population consisted predominately of Britons, both indentured servants and their masters, and a small number of enslaved persons of African descent. One and a half centuries later, by the coming of the Civil War, more slaves lived in Prince George's than in any other Maryland county; only Charles County possessed a greater proportion of slaves to free whites (Fields 1985:13). Over the generations, enslaved Prince Georgians developed intricate family networks. Slave families created communities alongside the prominent white masters whom they served. Descendents of the formerly enslaved represent one component of what today has become a black majority; a social, economic, and political force within Maryland, and the most affluent African American community in the United States.

Modern development now threatens to destroy the physical remains of slavery in Prince George's County. Bordering Washington D.C., Prince George's County has experienced unprecedented growth over the last few decades, transforming large tracts of the rural, agricultural landscape into sprawling suburbs. Housing subdivisions replace the vast agricultural fields of the county’s past. The backhoes and bulldozers that serve the demands of a growing population also threaten those archeological deposits laden with some of the best, last, and only clues regarding the everyday lives of enslaved Prince Georgians. As intensive development spreads into the heart of what was the county's prime tobacco growing and greatest slaveholding regions, the Prince George's County Planning Board and the County Council recognized the potential loss of significant cultural resources and enacted legislation in 2004 to require developers to evaluate the archeological potential properties, in particular focusing on the history of slaves and slavery in Prince George's County. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Caribs, Maroons, Jacobins, Brigands, and Sugar Barons:
The Last Stand of the Black Caribs on St. Vincent

By James L. Sweeney

The Black Caribs surrender to the British at the end of the First Carib War; painting by Brunias.

Perhaps the one of the most important historic events in Eastern Caribbean history and also one of the most fascinating was the defeat and exile of the last independent indigenous group in those islands, the Black Caribs, by the British in the Second Carib War, 1795-1796. This war was part of a regional conflict between the French islanders and their allies against the British, called the War of the Brigands. This regional war was in turn a part of the larger conflict between the British and Revolutionary France.

For France the conflict in the Eastern Caribbean was a sideshow that helped divert British power from the main conflict in Europe. For the French settlers and Caribs on St. Vincent, who sought to expel the British from their island, it was a fight for survival. For the British Empire the goal of the conflict was to expand and secure British power in the Caribbean, defeat their French rivals for empire, and counter the values of the French Revolution. The more parochial goals of the English planters on St. Vincent were to defend their plantations and the capital of Kingstown from marauding French and Carib attackers, who were seeking to push them off the island, and to then defeat them and expel the Black Caribs from the prime sugar cane growing lands that they still held.

The general outline of Vincentian history is consistent with the history of the Western Hemisphere and much of the rest of the world that was controlled by European colonial powers. It follows with a succession of indigenous groups, colonization and conquest by Europeans, the introduction of new population, indigenous resistance, removal, extermination, or depopulation of the indigenous groups, conflict between rival colonial powers, and eventual control by one power. After long tenure the greatly altered society is then granted autonomy and independence in the late 20th century, but the lasting effects of colonialization linger. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Misterios: The Making of a Documentary as a
Way of Exploring One’s Own Faith

By Giovanni Savino

Petro Altar, Haina, Dominican Republic

Misterios is a journey in the complex and mysterious world of Vudu worshipping and spiritual possessions. Guided by the very voice of the "Servidores de Misterio," we open a door into their faith, their ancient rituals and their supernatural experiences. The "Servidores de Misterios," "Los Caballos" (the horses) are the priests, the intermediaries between the spirits of the Loas and ordinary people. The spirits descend into their bodies sometimes after being invoked, especially during the intense drumming of a Fiesta de Palos. They are the "Horses" who temporarily carry the spirit in their own body while in a state of trance. They are the people I followed and asked questions to, who permitted me to film the ceremonies and places of worship portrayed in this video. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Oral Tradition and the Slave Trade
in Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin

By Alaba Simpson

Simpson book cover

Within the framework of the "Slave Route" project, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization ("UNESCO") has undertaken a large compilation of oral traditions and memorable testimonies of the legacies entailed in the history of this tragic institution. This living memory, engraved in the lives of families and communities, constitutes a priceless, intangible cultural heritage that is becoming more fragile as older generations are replaced by younger ones. These memories must be preserved at all costs.

After the publication of works entitled "Tradition orale et archives de la traite négrière" in 2001, "Les sources orales en Guinée et en Sénégambie" and "Tradition orale liée à la traite négrière et à l'esclavage en Afrique centrale" in 2003, UNESCO continues the collection and diffusion of data of the oral traditions relating to the Slave Trade. This time, it places at the disposal of researchers, the international community, and the general public information which was collected in Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin by Dr. Alaba Simpson of the University of Lagos. Dr. Simpson is now with the Department of Sociology, Covenant University, Ogun State in Nigeria.

The data collected make it possible to better know the conditions of the first contact between Europeans and these societies and inform us on how enslaved laborers were captured, treated, sold, and transported. Certain testimonies reveal, with many details, the role of the intermediaries and local trade partners within the Tran-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in these countries. The heritage within the descendant families of those formerly enslaved preserves this information, which was transmitted from generation to generation mostly through oral histories. For example, in the Dahomey (current-day Benin) oral history accounts made it possible for archaeologists to locate and discover the remains of captive laborers interred in a common grave along the slave route.

This study involves historical research that informs us of the roots of current-day antagonisms between various ethnic groups and lineages within Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin. Such modern-day conflicts are often the result of the continuing impacts of the social disruptions created in the past by the operations of the slave trade and the institution of slavery. This study in oral traditions is also especially concerned with the essential process remembrance, which must take place so that the memory of this tragedy should not be lost, and that new and insidious forms of slavery never reappear.

This report and the related study were commissioned by the Slave Route Project of UNESCO, through the UNESCO office in Abuja, Nigeria. UNESCO's interest in the Slave Route Project in Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana has gained pre-eminence in recent times. Such research documentation of oral traditions relating to slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the histories of these nations provides an important step towards realization of the Slave Route project in this region. The main objective of the research was to look into the oral tradition relating to slavery and slave trade in Nigeria, Benin, and Ghana. More specifically, the research aimed at the following: to consider the ways in which the idea of slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is perceived in the mindset of the people that were studied; and to determine the extent, if at all, to which the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has affected the social relationships that presently exist within these societies. Given the nature of the research, a method of in-depth interviews was adopted, with supplementary use of archival information from museums and monument sites, as well as other relevant materials on related subjects. The fieldwork for this study was conducted in the period of July 2 and September 19, 2001. The author is grateful for the assistance of the National Commission for UNESCO, which was utilized to advance the cause of the research.

This report is available through UNESCO's internet site for the Slave Route Project, and a copy is available here from Dr. Simpson. [Read this report here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

Teaching Martin R. Delany's
Blake or the Huts of America

By Traore Moussa

Delany book cover

The aim of this paper is to design a course of readings around the teaching of Martin R. Delany's Blake or the Huts of America (1970). In doing so, I analyze aspects of anti-slavery struggles and the identity issues raised in Martin R. Delany's Blake or the Huts of America, which constitutes my primary source. I will also refer to C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins; Toussaint L'ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1963), which locates slave trade in a more global context by pointing out the world political, economic and social factors that initiated, sustained and influenced slave trade. Joseph Roach's Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (1996) provides the main framework within which I analyze the identity component of the paper. In Cities of the Dead, Joseph Roach views slave trade in a broader and more complex manner, by resorting to the notion of "circum-Atlantic" trade, instead of the limiting concept of trans-Atlantic trade. Roach's use of the term "circum-Atlantic" helps reveal the full dimension of the slave trade, by pointing out the role that Europe, America and Africa played in the molding of a new identity, as a corollary of slave trade.

Robert S. Levine's Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass and the Politics of Representative Identity (1997) allows me to locate Delany's Blake or the Huts of America within the context of the anti-slavery American novel. I use Kenneth S. Greenberg's The Confessions of Nat Turner and Related Documents (1996) in order to bring in other instances of slave revolts, and to see how those other rebellions help us to arrive at a better understanding of Delany's Blake. [Read this full article here in Adobe .pdf format >>>].

[Return to table of contents]

2007 Archaeological Fieldschools
Addressing African Diaspora Subjects

Compiled By Christopher Fennell

The following fieldschool list includes announcements sent to me by the fieldschool directors and others listed on various directories. The fieldschool announcements that follow are presented below in alphabetic order by location, starting with those in North America, then one in the Caribbean, and two in Africa.

Carrie Christman, Dana Blount, and Cecilia Ayala excavating at New Philadelphia

North America

University of Florida Historical Archaeological Field School. Summer Session A: May 14-June 22, 2007. Kingsley Plantation (1792-Circa 1900) and the Spanish Mission San Juan Del Puerto (1587-1702), Ft. George Island. Timucuan Ecological And Historic Preserve National Park (Jacksonville, Florida). Kingsley Plantation: Zephaniah Kingsley was a slave trader and ship’s captain who took as a wife Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, an enslaved girl from Senegal. African-American archaeology began here in 1968, when Dr. Fairbanks (UF professor) conducted the first-ever excavation of a slave cabin.  Building on our 2006 work, we will excavate the interiors of slave Cabins W-12, W-13, and W-15, as well in the public areas at both the slave quarters and main house/kitchen. San Juan del Puerto: This Spanish mission and Timucuan Indian Village site was established in 1587 and saw continuous occupation until it was destroyed by the English in 1702.  Our work will center in the mission core, including the church, cemetery, and associated aboriginal village, to gain a better understanding of the relationships between the Native Americans and Spanish. Deadline for Application materials is March 31, 2007. Contact: Dr. James M. Davidson, Department of Anthropology. Phone: 352-392-2253 ext. 256. Email: Web:

Nicodemus, Kansas. The Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Anthropological Association announce the 2007 Kansas Archeology Training Program field school, June 2-17, 2007, at Nicodemus, Graham County, northwestern Kansas. Partners in this project are the National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, Nicodemus Historical Society, and Washburn University. Dr. Flordeliz T. Bugarin, Assistant Professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., is the Principal Investigator. Nicodemus is the first and the only remaining western town established by and for African Americans at the end of the Reconstruction Period, following the Civil War. It is the only National Park Service unit that illustrates how African Americans were involved in the westward migration and settlement of the Great Plains. Participants will excavate at the Thomas Johnson/Henry Williams Dugout site (14GH102) and possibly another early settlement period dugout structure. A field laboratory will operate throughout the project. In addition, four formal classes are offered that can be taken for college credit through Emporia State University. Although field and laboratory activities continue without stopping for the 16-day period, volunteers may participate for a single day or the entire time. Participants must be at least 10 years of age, and a legally responsible adult must accompany participants younger than 18 years of age. Participants are responsible for their own transportation, lodging, and food expenses. The full announcement is posted at A registration packet will be available around March 1, 2007, on the website or by contacting Virginia A. Wulfkuhle, Public Archeologist, Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 SW 6th Ave., Topeka, KS 66615-1099, or

University of Maryland College Park, Field School in Historical Archaeology. Anth 496/696 (6 cr.) Summer Session I: June 4-July 13, 2007. Director - Mark P. Leone; Associate Director - Jennifer Babiarz; Laboratory Director - Amelia Chisholm. The University of Maryland announces the 26th season of excavation with Archaeology in Annapolis, a summer program of onsite archaeological excavation and research. This is a six week, 40 hours a week program. Excavations within the city will take place in Parole, the site of a Civil War prison camp, and a 19th and 20th century African American neighborhood. Excavations began in the summer of 2006 at Mt. Olive AME, and will continue throughout the community for multiple seasons. This year excavations will also be conducted outside of the city, at the former plantation of Edward Lloyd on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This site is where Frederick Douglass was enslaved as a boy, and is described in his autobiography My Bondage, My Freedom. Intensive excavations at this site began last summer, and focused on the household and work areas of those who were enslaved on the plantation. Field work in 2007 will continue these excavations. This course offers training in archaeological field techniques and related concepts, and students will be evaluated according to the skill and understanding that they acquire the quality of their work and their contribution to the research. Students are responsible for reporting to the site each day and contributing to the fieldwork, lab work and ensuing discussion as each progress. Students will complete weekly reading assignments that address the methods and theories of recent historical archaeological research. For further information, contact: Jenn Babiarz ( or Amelia Chisholm ( We can also be reached at 301-405-1429. The field school website is at To register for this course and other UMCP Summer 2007 courses contact Summer Programs, on the web: or e-mail to Summer programs also posts up-to-date tuition information online.

Slavery and Freedom in Early New York. What did freedom mean during the time of slavery? Can enslaved Africans who lived 200 hundred years ago tell us what they thought about slavery and freedom? The 2007 Hofstra Archaeology field school will seek answers to these questions by excavating the remains of an 18th century slave quarter structure at the Joseph Lloyd Manor site in Lloyd Harbor, New York. Joseph Lloyd Manor is well-known as the residence of the poet Jupiter Hammon, one of the first published African Americans, whose writings drew on Christian theology to challenge the injustices of slavery. The archaeology at Lloyd Manor will provide a comparison between the remains of everyday life at the slave quarter and the poetry of Jupiter Hammon. This interdisciplinary study will offer a unique insight on the diversity of experiences and perspectives within the enslaved African community on Long Island. The Joseph Lloyd Manor site is owned by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities. The still standing Joseph Lloyd Manor house was constructed in 1767, and it is operated as a historic house museum. To participate, students should enroll in Anthropology 33: Archaeological Field Methods (6 s.h.). This course offers an intensive hands-on introduction to the archaeological field research and provides a foundation in the techniques of archaeological site survey, field excavation and recording, as well as artifact analysis and catalog preparation. The 2007 field school runs during Summer Session II, July 2 to August 3. The class meets Monday-Friday at the Joseph Lloyd Manor site from 8 am to 4 pm. Lloyd Manor is located in Lloyd Harbor, NY on the north shore of Long Island north of Huntington Village. Students must provide their own housing and transportation during the field school. All equipment is provided. There is no prerequisite. For more information about registration and other summer program details please visit, or or contact: Prof. Chris Matthews, Department of Anthropology, Hofstra University,; (516) 463-4093.

Guinea Community Archaeological Project, New York. July 09, 2007 to August 03, 2007. In this fifth season at Guinea, we will continue excavation of the home and yard of Primus and Elizabeth Martin, the leaders of the community, and test adjacent to several other house foundations. Guinea was home to African Americans who worked for the elite "river families" along the Hudson, one mile away. Guinea's inhabitants had small farms along a nearby mill stream. Students will learn basic excavation techniques and artifact identification. We will hold a workshop on interpretation of animal bone and teeth. Landscape use is a key issue. Sessions run from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 8:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Students are expected to participate in an open house on the second Saturday. Scholarships are available. Application deadline: May 01, 2007. Contact: Professor Christopher Lindner, Bard College 1683, Annandale, NY 12504-5000; 845-758-7299; 845-758-7628; email; web Listing for this field school on AIA/AFOB:

The Archaeology of Chesapeake Slavery and Landscape. The Monticello-University of Virginia Archaeological Field School will be held June 4 through July 13, 2007 at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. This field school combines field research with readings, lab instruction, classroom lectures and field trips. Excavation is conducted on domestic sites of enslaved field hands of the late 18th century. Our work focuses on the implications of changing land use on the Monticello plantation. This understanding of agriculture, economy, and social dynamics relies on contributions from a variety of disciplines including geology, zooarchaeology, palynology, architectural history, and social history, and is grounded within anthropological archaeology. Acceptance to the field school comes with a scholarship for half the amount of tuition. The program offers six credits to undergraduate and graduate students through the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. The course does not assume students have previous archaeological field experience. Application deadline is March 23, 2007. For further details, including application requirements, tuition and housing, please visit

Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Virginia, Archaeological Field School, June 3 to July 6, 2007. Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia are pleased to offer the Nineteenth Annual Summer Field School in Historical Archaeology. The field school provides a foundation in current methods and theories of historical archaeology, and offers a solid introduction to the practical skills of site survey, excavation, recording, and laboratory procedures. Students will actively participate in our ongoing interpretation of archaeology to the public. In the summer of 2007, field school participants will excavate an early nineteenth-century building complex, believed to be associated with plantation work spaces and possibly slave quarters, adjacent to Jefferson's ornamental grounds. Application deadline: April 10, 2007; send the following information to Jack Gary, Archaeological Research Manager, Poplar Forest, P.O. Box 419, Forest, VA 24551. Web:

The Archaeology of Slavery and Abolition, Archaeological Field School, Summer 2007, 6 units, Summer Session D. July 2-August 10, Surrey County, Virginia. Laurie A. Wilkie, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley (UCB); Kim Christensen, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, UCB; Kelley Deetz, Graduate Student, Department of African American Studies, UCB. Students enrolled in the course will excavate for three weeks in Virginia, at Bacon's Castle slave quarter in Surrey County, Virginia, and for three weeks at the Matilda Joslyn Gage housesite in upstate New York (near Syracuse), giving students the opportunity to experience excavation at the homes of enslaved African Americans and the home of a white abolitionist that also served as a stop on the underground railroad. This is a unique opportunity within historical archaeology. Students will learn archaeological survey, mapping, excavation and basic artifact analysis techniques. There will be weekly field trips to other locally significant sites incorporated into each portion of the field school. Students would be divided in two groups and will switch halfway through the field school to go to the other site. Previous archaeological experience is not required. It is our hope to attract students from a wide range of academic departments, including Anthropology, African American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and History, among others. Students will be required to participate in all activities scheduled during the field school, including excavation and other research work four days a week, and group reading discussions and field trips once a week. Students will receive six credits through the UCB Summer Sessions program. Specific costs and information on how to register are available online at: For more information, and to request an application, email the teaching team at


The Falmouth Field School in Historical Archaeology, Falmouth, Jamaica. University of Virginia, Anthropology 382, and the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. May 23 –June 15, 2007. The Falmouth Field School in Historical Archaeology (ANTH 382) is a three-week, three-credit program in historical archaeology based in Falmouth, Jamaica. The field school is offered through the University of Virginia’s International Studies Office. Students enrolled in The Falmouth Field School in Historical Archaeology (ANTH 382) will conduct archaeological field work at the Stewart Castle slave village, a mid-to-late 18th-century site that has not previously been tested archaeologically. Objectives for the season include a site-wide shovel test pit survey designed to identify temporal and spatial variation within the village. In addition to the survey, several excavation units will be opened to further explore areas discovered during the survey. Students will learn methods for designing archaeological surveys and technologies to record their results, specifically drawing archaeological plans and stratigraphic sections. Each afternoon students will participate in laboratory activities such as artifact washing and identification. Several evenings a week are dedicated to lectures and discussions. Course readings and lectures will introduce students to archaeological survey and excavation methods, key concepts in the study of 18th-century material culture, and will provide a background in the social history of slavery in the Caribbean. Discussions will focus on the ways in which archaeological data can prompt and address unanswered historical questions related to the evolution of slave societies throughout the Atlantic World. Students will have the opportunity to participate in optional field excursions on the two weekends to historic sites across the island, including New Seville, Good Hope Estate, Colbeck Castle, and Spanishtown. This field school is held in conjunction with The Falmouth Field School in Historic Preservation (ARH 555). Students enrolled in ANTH 382 will spend one day a week learning historic preservation techniques with architectural history students from The Falmouth Field School in Historic Preservation (ARH 555). This field school is one component of the larger archaeological research program, the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery ( Please contact Jillian Galle (, 434-984-9873) for more information. Please also see (Go to "Find a Program" and search under "Jamaica") or Applications are due March 15, 2007. Students may apply online at


Syracuse University Archaeological Field School, Elmina, Ghana. July 1-14, 2007. Syracuse University is pleased to announce its historical archaeological field school at the Elmina trading fortress and in the surrounding area of coastal Ghana. Directed by Dr. Christopher DeCorse of Syracuse University, and as part of the on-going Central Region Project, historical archaeological investigations will be conducted into the Atlantic trade and its cultural repercussions and implications in the region. The field school will take place between July 1 and July 14, 2007. No previous archaeological experience is ncessary, and academic credit will be offered through Syracuse University for both undergraduates and graduates. There may be grants available for student support for the field school. Field school participants will help survey and locate archaeological sites, and excavate and map previously identified sites, as well as spend time in the lab processing artifacts and analyzing field data. Recently a maritime underwater component has been added to the Central Region Project. Qualified participants will have the opportunity to participate in either the terrestrial or maritime components of the project, possibly working in both areas. Due to the high-energy, high-risk diving environment, maritime archaeological involvement will focus primarily on conservation of materials from underwater maritime sites. Students will receive 3 credits from Syracuse University for the 2 week field school. It may be possible for students wishing to extend their stay beyond the formal dates of the project to do so for additional credits and fees. Please contact Rachel Horlings,, for questions and an application. Web:

Gorée Island Archaeological Field School, Senegal. June 1 to July 17 (6 credit hours), or June 20 to July 17 (3 credit hours); Rice University and IFAN, University Ch. A. Diop, Dr. Ibrahima Thiaw, Dr. Francois Richard, and Dr. Susan McIntosh. In 2007, the small island town of Gorée, located off the coast of Senegal just a short ferry-ride away from the capital of Dakar, will be the focus of a six-week field school in historical archaeology and laboratory analysis. Renowned as an island from which West African slaves were shipped to the New World, Gorée Island is a remarkable field site for historical archaeological investigation. Its significance is underscored by its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage site list. The 2007 excavations are part of an ongoing investigation into the growth and development of Gorée into a supply port for the Atlantic trade, occupied, and serviced by a polycultural population of slaves, Europeans, mainland Africans, and mixed-race, high-caste women known as signares. This field school is composed to two class components. The Field Techniques class offers participants the opportunity to gain practical experience in techniques of historical archaeology including excavation work, data collection, photography, and site drawing. The Laboratory Techniques and Analysis class focuses on the materials collected from the site and will emphasize the processing, recording, preservation, and preliminary analysis of archaeological material. Since the assemblage will include many European imports a component of the class will also be learning to identify, source and date such artifacts. Application deadline: March 15, 2007. Contact: Dr. Susan K. McIntosh, 713-348-3380, email, web Listing for this field school on AIA/AFOB:

[Return to table of contents]

Updates to the
Atlantic Slave Trade and
Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record

By Jerome S. Handler

Gate of No Return, Cape Coast Castle, Ghana

With a new domain name,, this searchable collection of more than 1,200 images continues to be revised, corrected, and updated on a regular basis. Since the last update, aside from various corrections and modifications to already existing entries, new images have been added on the British West Indies, particularly Jamaica. The compilers welcome any suggestions for corrections or modifications to the current bibliographic and historical information, and appreciate hearing from persons with specialist knowledge of any of the images. Such persons, from a variety of fields in a number of countries, have thus far helped to improve the information in the entries, thus enhancing the site's value as a research and teaching tool. Comments can be addressed to Jerome Handler, Virginia Foundation for the Humanties, at

At the January 2007 annual conference of the Society for Historical Archaeology in Williamsburg, Virginia, I was pleased to discover that many presenters at sessions dealing with the African Diaspora found images in this website useful for their presentations. While some presenters acknowledged or cited the website, others did not. I hope that in future presentations, persons who use images from our website for their conference presentations would acknowledge the website as they would any source. A proper citation could provide the original primary source and then cite the website. For example, "Bridgens, 'West India Scenery' (1836), as shown on," or "Mayer, 'Captain Canot' (1854), as shown on" Thanks for your continuing support.

[Return to table of contents]

Teaching with Historic Places:
Lesson Plan on New Philadelphia, Illinois

New Philadelphia lesson plan; photo of town site by Pat Likes

The National Park Service's program in Teaching with Historic Places recently added its tenth lesson plan focusing on archaeology. In New Philadelphia: A Multiracial Town on the Illinois Frontier, students meet "Free Frank" McWorter, a formerly enslaved man who founded the town, sold lots, and farmed to earn money to buy his family out of slavery. Students also learn how archeological investigations uncover clues about the development, life, and eventual decline of the town. This program has performed an outstanding job of creating teaching resources which focus on communities long neglected in our history books. This particular lesson plan is of the highest quality, drawing on multiple lines of evidence -- archaeological, oral histories, and primary documents -- and presenting diverse perspectives for students to consider and debate. Ms. Charlotte King, an intern with the NPS Archeology Program, wrote the lesson with the assistance of archaeologists and historians at the University of Maryland, University of Illinois, Illinois State Museum, and Illinois State Archives; members of the New Philadelphia Association; descendants of "Free Frank" McWorter; and others. The NPS featured this lesson plan in celebration of African-American History Month, and you can access it online at:

[Return to table of contents]

Virginia Apologizes for Role in Slavery

By Larry O'Dell

February 25, 2007

Article posted online by the
Associated Press at:
Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

Virginia Lawmakers Express 'Profound Regret'
for Role in Slavery, Exploitation of Native Americans.

Meeting on the grounds of the former Confederate Capitol, the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously Saturday to express "profound regret" for the state's role in slavery.

Sponsors of the resolution say they know of no other state that has apologized for slavery, although Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure. The resolution does not carry the weight of law but sends an important symbolic message, supporters said.

"This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution," said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored it in the House of Delegates.

The resolution passed the House 96-0 and cleared the 40-member Senate on a unanimous voice vote. It does not require Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's approval.

The measure also expressed regret for "the exploitation of Native Americans."

The resolution was introduced as Virginia begins its celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, where the first Africans arrived in 1619. Richmond, home to a popular boulevard lined with statues of Confederate heroes, later became another point of arrival for Africans and a slave-trade hub. . . .

[Return to table of contents]

U.S. House Passes Bill to Preserve
Family Records of African American Descendants

From Congressman Tom Lantos' website at

Washington, D.C. January 22, 2007. The House of Representatives passed legislation by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, San Francisco) to ensure that many of the genealogical records involving the families of former slaves in this country will be preserved, catalogued and digitized for easy access for researchers.

"The federal and local records covered by this legislation are not only of personal importance to the families involved," Lantos said in a speech on the House floor. "They are also historically significant to us all. They document the reuniting of our nation and the historic moment of transition for slaves from the status of property to citizens, a time when our country finally began to right a horrible moral wrong. We need to take the process another step now, by ensuring that those records and the lessons they hold are preserved for all eternity."

The Lantos legislation, the Preservation of Records of Servitude, Emancipation, and Post-Civil War Reconstruction Act (H.R 390) builds on the foundation of the Freedmen’s Bureau Records Preservation Act, which was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate in 2000 and which became Public Law 106-444. That law required the Archivist of the United States to create a searchable indexing system to catalogue the genealogical records from the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.

"For most Americans, researching their genealogical history involves searching through various historical records, almost all of which have been properly archived as public historical documents," Lantos noted. "Unfortunately, African Americans face a unique challenge due to our nation’s history of discrimination and slavery. Instead of simply looking up wills, birth and death certificates, or other traditional genealogical research documents, African Americans are forced to identify the names of former slave owners, and then hope that these owners kept accurate records of pertinent property, tax, and probate information."

H.R. 390 will augment the already highly useful catalogue created by the National Archives to protect countless other critically important historic documents. The bill directs the National Archives to preserve additional post-Civil War Reconstruction records. It also establishes a grant program for the Archivist to work with various states, universities, colleges, and genealogical institutions to establish digitized databases so that anyone in this country will have access to these treasure troves of information.

The bill passed by a vote of 414-1. The Senate must now pass the Preservation of Records of Servitude, Emancipation, and Post-Civil War Reconstruction Act (H.R 390) for the bill to become law. Additional information is available on Congressman Lantos' website at

[Return to
table of contents]

New Exhibit

Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa

Butabu architecture exhibit photo Fowler Museum (UCLA) press release:

"Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, Photographs by James Morris," opens April 22, 2007 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

For centuries, complex adobe structures, many of them quite massive, have been built in the Sahel region of western Africa, an area encompassing parts of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso. Made of earth mixed with water, these buildings display a remarkable diversity of form and originality. In "Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, Photographs by James Morris" -- on view at the Fowler Museum at UCLA from Apr. 22 through July 15 -- 50 lush, large-scale photographs offer a stunning visual survey of these structures, from monumental mosques to family homes.

In 1999 and 2000, Morris spent several months in Africa traveling to remote villages and desert communities to photograph these organically shaped, labor-intensive adobe structures. During his time in the Sahel region, Morris created a typological record of regional adobe buildings, as well as an artist's rendering of West African architecture that reflects the sensuous, surreal and sculptural quality of these distinctive buildings.

Several images of ambitious religious buildings -- like the Friday Mosque in Djenne, Mali, the largest mud building in the world; the towering Friday Mosque in Agadez, Niger; and the iconic Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali -- flaunt a grandiosity that seems to push the physical limits of mud architecture. Photographs of more humble structures, like private homes or neighborhood mosques and churches, display highly expressive and stylish buildings, often decorated with intricate painting, grillwork or relief designs.

Interestingly, these African adobe buildings share many of the qualities now much discussed in contemporary Western architectural circles: sustainability, sculptural form and the participation of the community in their conception, fabrication and preservation.

The term butabu -- which describes the process of moistening earth with water in preparation for building -- emphasizes the human presence as intrinsic to the creation and maintenance of these structures. The array of rich surface textures in these images are vivid markers of the earth used to make these structures and the continual communal effort required to sustain them as they are threatened by the uncertainties of weather and the encroachment of Western technology.

In Morris' sophisticated compositions, the expressive mud structures sharply lit by the African sun remind viewers of the landscape from which they have been built for centuries. The modern existence of these buildings is a reflection of their sustainability and usefulness and an affirmation of a vital, resourceful and creative culture. Morris' vivid, large-scale images (most are in the range of 32 x 45 inches) convey the dramatic nature of these buildings and reveal them as aesthetic treasures as well as architecture with contemporary relevance.

Morris is a British photographer whose work centers on the built environment and the cultural landscape. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Council and Princeton University, as well as many other private collections. The exhibition is accompanied by the book "Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, Photographs by James Morris," published in 2003 by Princeton Architectural Press.

The "Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, Photographs by James Morris" exhibit is organized and toured by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions (CATE) of Pasadena, Calif. Support for the Los Angeles presentation was provided by the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director's Discretionary Fund and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum.

"Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, Photographs by James Morris" will be on view in the Fowler Museum's Lucas Gallery. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and on Thursday from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. The Fowler Museum, part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. For more information, the public may call (310) 825-4361 or visit

[Return to table of contents]

New Book

"I've Got a Home in Glory Land:" A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad
By Karolyn Smardz Frost.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 0374164819, ISBN 0374164812, 480 pp., 8 pp. illustrations, February, 2007.

Description from the Publisher:

Smardz book cover

It was the day before Independence Day, 1831. As his bride, Lucie, was about to be "sold down the river" to the slave markets of New Orleans, young Thornton Blackburn planned a daring -- and successful -- daylight escape from Louisville. But they were discovered by slave catchers in Michigan and slated to return to Kentucky in chains, until the black community rallied to their cause. The Blackburn Riot of 1833 was the first racial uprising in Detroit history.

The couple was spirited across the river to Canada, but their safety proved illusory. In June 1833, Michigan's governor demanded their extradition. The Blackburn case was the first serious legal dispute between Canada and the United States regarding the Underground Railroad. The impassioned defense of the Blackburns by Canada's lieutenant governor set precedents for all future fugitive-slave cases.

The Blackburns settled in Toronto and founded the city's first taxi business. But they never forgot the millions who still suffered in slavery. Working with prominent abolitionists, Thornton and Lucie made their home a haven for runaways. The Blackburns died in the 1890s, and their fascinating tale was lost to history. Lost, that is, until a chance archaeological discovery in a downtown Toronto school yard brought the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn again to light.

About the Author: Karolyn Smardz Frost is an internationally recognized archaeologist and historian. She lives in Collingwood, Ontario.

[Return to table of contents]

Society for Historical Archaeology's Cotter Award

SHA logo

The Society for Historical Archaeology has recently bestowed the John Cotter Award on three scholars working on subjects of African American heritage and archaeology: Carol McDavid in 2007, Timothy Baumann in 2006, and Paul Mullins in 2000. The Society's statements accompanying each of these awards are set out below. Patrice Jeppson provided the statement for the 2007 award; the 2006 award statement by Virgil Noble is an excerpt from Historical Archaeology 42(2): 6-8 (2006); and the 2000 award statement by Robert Paynter is an excerpt from Historical Archaeology 34(4): 7-8 (2000).

Established as the third societal award by the Society for Historical Archaeology in 1998, this award is named for John Lambert Cotter (1911-1999), a pioneer in historical archaeology education and an advocate for the discipline. Cotter was the first President of the Society (1968), first editor of the discipline's professional journal Historical Archaeology, the excavator of Jamestown, Virginia (1953-1957) and the chief architect of behind the development of urban archaeology (in Philadelphia in the 1970s). This award however refers to its namesake’s long career as a teacher and his lifelong support of each new generation of scholars that entered the discipline. Cotter, who taught the first formal course in historical archaeology in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania, kept his door always open to Penn undergraduates, hobbyist archaeologists, high school students, and the general public, as well as his own graduate students. His influence on the younger generation of scholars extends across North America and spans more than five decades.

2007 Award to Carol McDavid

The Society for Historical Archaeology has presented its 2007 John L. Cotter Award in Historical Archaeology to Dr. Carol McDavid for her outstanding achievement in using historical archaeology to engage local communities.

Established by the SHA in 1998, this award is named for John Lambert Cotter (1911-1999), a pioneer in historical archaeology education and an advocate for the discipline. Each year, the SHA presents this award to an individual in the first five years of their career in recognition of a single, outstanding achievement. Dr. Timothy Baumann received the 2006 Cotter Award in recognition of his research and teaching in subjects of African American history, archaeology, and heritage in Missouri and the Midwest.

Dr. McDavid is being honored in 2007 for helping stimulate discussions about Diaspora studies and critical theory in public archaeology. Drawing on social theory, community-based strategies, and new technologies, McDavid has explored how to create a public archaeology discourse that is more democratic, open, multivocal, and relevant to archaeology's diverse audiences. In doing so, McDavid has changed the way archaeologists can both learn about and share archaeological research with the public.

McDavid's research focuses on broadening the stories that can be told about African American archaeology sites. She seeks to both expand the audiences for African American history and to tie this regional history to the worldwide African Diaspora.

For her first project, she engaged the public in deciding whether, and how, to publicly interpret 19th century African American life at the Levi Jordan Plantation Project in Brazoria, Texas. Archaeological research on the plantation, conducted by Kenneth L. Brown at the University of Houston, had recovered evidence relating to the activities of all those who once lived and worked there, both prior to and after emancipation. After first making sure that local descendants approved and were involved, McDavid set up an interactive Internet web site where community members helped archaeologists decide how to present and discuss the history of this plantation.

Through these web pages, community residents and members of the broader, interested public added oral history recollections about the plantation and joined archaeologists in deciding what the artifacts recovered from the property tell us about life in 19th century rural Texas. The original web site project is archived at, and plans are underway to update the site in the future.

McDavid continued her community engagement research as Project Director for Public Archaeology at the Yates Community Archaeology Project (, which is sponsored by the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum in Houston's 4th Ward.

This program focuses on the history and preservation of Freedman's Town, a vibrant and historically important African American community whose founders comprised some of Houston's earliest citizens. Freedmen's Town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historically significant neighborhood. She also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Harris County Heritage Society.

In introducing Dr. McDavid's accomplishments at the awards banquet, Dr. Paul Shackel summarized why McDavid is a deserving recipient: "Carol's civil engagement helps to address contemporary social issues and is a model for the next generation of archaeologists who want to be socially responsible and engaged with descendant communities."

2006 Award to Timothy Baumann

At our 2006 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, held at Sacramento, California, The Society for Historical Archaeol­ogy took great pleasure in presenting the John L. Cotter Award in Historical Archaeology to Timothy E. Baumann. That coveted mark of distinction, named in honor of SHA's first president, is meant to recognize exceptional achievements by our colleagues at the outset of their professional lives. Tim Baumann is indeed a truly outstanding young scholar who has dis­tinguished himself early in his promising career, making him an especially deserving candidate for this extraordinary recognition.

Tim first took an interest in archaeology as a boy in St. Charles, Missouri, and later would begin pursuit of a career in the disci­pline as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he earned a BA in anthropology in 1991. He then advanced to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-­Milwaukee, where he received both a Museum Studies Certificate (1994) and a Public History Certificate (1995) while working on his MS in anthropology (1995). He moved south to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for his doctorate, completing his PhD in 2001.

Tim's innovative doctoral study focused on the small town of Arrow Rock in his native Missouri and particularly on archaeological evi­dence related to the population of free blacks who settled there in the latter half of the 19th century. His dissertation, '''Because That's Where My Roots Are': Searching for Patterns of African-American Ethnicity in Arrow Rock, Missouri" (Department of Anthropology, Univer­sity of Tennessee, 2001), greatly expanded upon the general theme of his earlier master's thesis, "Missouri's Neglected History: Establishing a Framework for African-American Archaeology" (Department of Anthropology, University of Wis­consin, 1995). Moreover, this work stimulated an abiding interest in the history and archaeology of that rural community in Central Missouri, which in turn became the foundation for a long-term program of directed research that is now entering its second decade.

Joining the faculty at University of Missouri-­St. Louis as a lecturer in 1998, he became an assistant professor of anthropology upon comple­tion of his doctorate three years later. Through­out his years at UM-St. Louis, Tim has con­ducted an active program of archaeological field investigations in Arrow Rock, exploring its post-­Civil War African American community through the material remains of former households, a Masonic lodge, an African Methodist Episcopal church, a school, a restaurant, and a tavern. Not only does this research hold great potential to contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the African American experience following Emancipation, it is perhaps equally important for the unique opportunities this research has provided for public outreach and community involvement. An impressive list of scholarly publications and conference presentations, as well as numerous invited lectures before various avocational groups, provides ample evidence that Tim excels at interpreting the importance of his research to his professional colleagues and to the public at large. Moreover, he has had great success in engaging the descendent population of African Americans from Arrow Rock who still maintain strong ties to the community, no matter where they might currently reside.

This is not to say that Tim has focused exclusively on Arrow Rock during his tenure at UM-St. Louis. To the contrary, he has conducted important comparative field research in recent years at the Oak Grove and Prairie Park plantations, two earlier sites within a few miles of Arrow Rock where the African American occupants were still held in slavery. Closer to home, Tim has also been involved with excavations in Old North St. Louis, a National Register Historic District, as part of a neighborhood revitalization project. Aside from rehabilitating the 19th-century built environment, a major goal of that collaborative project has been to integrate the neighborhood's recent history with its more remote past and involve the community in the process of interpreting that history.

Tim's efforts at public outreach are not lim­ited to involving the Arrow Rock and Old North St. Louis communities in his field research and giving informative talks to interested layper­sons. He hosts a website on archaeology and has garnered excellent coverage of his research and student training programs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, and other regional newspapers. Tim also has been the subject of numerous local television interviews and appears as an occasional guest on the UM-­St. Louis National Public Radio station for live listener call-in programs that feature topical discussions of archaeology and historic preser­vation in the St. Louis area, including one that was broadcast in conjunction with the opening of the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology held at St. Louis in 2004.

It is worth noting here that Tim Baumann served most capably as chair of the Terrestrial Program for the 2004 SHA Conference and vol­unteered to organize and chair the well-received Public Session at those meetings. Thanks to the breadth of his familiarity with historical archaeology in Missouri (he co-edited a volume devoted to that subject for the Missouri Archae­ologist in 2005), Tim was able to gather a host of researchers working on a wide range of proj­ects in the state, ensuring broad popular appeal. A highlight of the conference, the session was very well attended, despite a National Football League play-off game being held elsewhere in the city on that same afternoon.

As an influential participant in many state and regional organizations, Tim has proved to be a capable advocate for the interests of historical archaeology and has enthusiastically championed its accomplishments. He has been extremely active in the Missouri Archaeological Society and the Missouri Association of Professional Archaeologists, which has helped refocus state­wide attention on historical archaeology among amateurs and professionals alike. He regularly lends his talents to organizing the Missouri Archaeology Month activities each year, playing a significant part in having historical archaeol­ogy become the focus of statewide observances in 1999. Tim also has given service to the Midwest Archaeological Conference, serving as an organizer of its joint meeting with the Southeast Archaeological Conference at St. Louis in the fall of 2004 and now as treasurer for MAC.

In spite of his relative youth, or perhaps because of the great energy it grants him, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that Tim Baumann is the leading practitioner of histori­cal archaeology in Missouri today. The tremen­dous ability and remarkable dedication that he brings to his work has breathed new life into a long-dormant professional interest in histori­cal archaeology throughout that state, earning him the respect of colleagues well beyond Missouri's borders. He has also proven him­self an important figure in the vital effort to inform and connect with the public, raising the visibility of historical archaeology in the eyes of average citizens throughout his home state. For these reasons and more, Timothy E. Baumann is a worthy recipient of the prestigious John L. Cotter Award in Historical Archaeology.

2000 Award to Paul Mullins

The Society for Historical Archaeology presented the John L. Cotter Award in Historical Archaeology to Paul R. Mullins at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada in 2000. Mullins was the initial recipient of this new award offered by the society to recognize a truly outstanding, single achievement by a person newly entering the discipline.

Paul Mullins has been nurtured by and in turn has given to a number of academic communities in his formative career. He received his Bachelor of Science with a minor in Anthropology from James Madison University in 1984. He studied historical archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park participating in Mark Leone's Archaeology at Annapolis program, where, in 1990, he received what was their highest degree, a Masters of Applied Anthropology. He entered the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1990 and received his Ph.D. in 1996, awarded with distinction supervised by a committee that included Enoch Page, Daniel Horowitz, and Robert Paynter. He has served on the faculty of George Mason University and is presently an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Paul's encyclopedic knowledge of popular and arcane material culture, his generous and creative mind, and his wry sense of humor have left an indelible mark on the historical archaeology programs, their graduate students, and faculty at University of Maryland and University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Paul has established himself as a prolific and thoughtful scholar of many sides of the American experience. He is a frequent contributor at annual meetings of our society, presenting papers on topics as varied as Archaeology at Annapolis, African American material culture and life, white consumer culture, and the ways Europeans were carved, engraved, sketched, and inscribed by indigenous people around the world. He has contributions in some of the more important publications of the past decade, including articles in Leone and Potter's Historical Archaeologies of Capitalism, De Cunzo and Herman's Historical Archaeology and the Study of American Culture, Leone and Silberman's Invisible America, Wurst and Fitts's recent special issue of Historical Archaeology, Confronting Class, and his own co-edited volume with Shackel and Warner, Annapolis Pasts: Historic Archaeology in Annapolis, Maryland. His work has considered the lives of Shenandoah Valley potters, the aesthetics and political economy of baseball cards, the fantasies provoked by pilgrimages to Graceland, and, with Marlys Pearson, the curatorial habits of Barbie aficionados.

His most sustained work, however, has considered the free African American community of Annapolis and the ways these people negotiated mass consumption and white racism. Indeed, he receives the Cotter Award for his monograph on this subject, Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture. This study brings an urgency and significance to historical archaeology, a goal recognized by many and realized by few. Working with objects discovered in archaeological contexts, Mullins realizes our discipline's populist promise to study all of a community and not just the curated few. His analyses of how the African American community of turn of the twentieth century Annapolis produced, used, thought about, and discarded the things of the burgeoning mass consumer market leads to a vision of a highly heterogeneous, conflicted, and vibrant community, living for itself in the context of discrimination. Through illuminating these people's lives, Mullins addresses two issues that continue to fixate American culture. The first is the debate about the morality of consumption, distinctively portrayed herein from various African American perspectives. The second is the arrogant practice and discourse of white supremacy, a ferocious shaper of the mass consumer market that was constantly met by creative and variegated material responses by the African American community. These themes emerge from his careful readings of objects and texts, and are gracefully combined in the best tradition of historical archaeological writing. The result is a study in which archaeological research links the worlds of the past with our present, and thereby contributes a unique and powerful perspective on these most American of dilemmas.

Race and Affluence is a study that will influence historical archaeology for its perspectives, data, and methods. It will have repercussions beyond the bounds of our discipline and contribute to a more nuanced view of the issues of race and racism in the United States. It is but one in what promises to be a very interesting series of studies to come from Paul Mullins.

[Return to table of contents]

Slavery and Justice Program at Brown University

Press Release, Brown University, February 24, 2007.

Providence, Rhode Island -- Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons today announced a series of major new commitments to students in Providence public schools. These commitments are inspired in part by the report of the University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. Simmons released the University's response to that report this morning.

Brown University report
Read the report by
Brown University

The University's new commitments to Providence Schools include:

  • A $10-million endowment to create The Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. That endowment, which the University will begin raising immediately, will be invested within the University's own endowment. The Brown Corporation will oversee annual expenditures from the fund, and those annual expenditures will be allocated by the University with input from the superintendent of Providence schools. A $10-million endowment could provide as much as $500,000 in the first year, with the amount growing as the principal increases.

  • As many as 10 new Urban Education Fellows will be available for service in Providence-area schools each year. Urban Education Fellows are graduate students who agree to serve at least three years in Providence-area schools after earning either a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master of Arts in urban education policy at Brown. Urban Education Fellows will have their tuition paid by the University.

"One of the clearest messages in the Slavery and Justice Report is that institutions of higher education must take a greater interest in the health of their local communities, especially Kindergarten through 12th-grade education," Simmons said. "Lack of access to a good education, particularly for urban schoolchildren, is one of the most pervasive and pernicious social problems of our time. Colleges and universities are uniquely able to improve the quality of urban schools. Brown is committed to undertaking that work."

The Slavery and Justice Report, a three-year research and public affairs project released by the University last fall, outlines in considerable detail the history of slavery and slave-trading in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England. It found that some of the University's early benefactors were involved in the slave trade, and that the University benefited from their involvement.

In addition to the new commitments to Providence public schools, Simmons outlined several other provisions in the University's response:

  • A suitable memorial. The University will ask city and state officials to join it in forming a commission to determine how the history of the slave trade in Rhode Island might best be acknowledged in a memorial.

  • Distribution and presentation of information. The University will distribute the report and will develop a schedule of exhibitions to make important materials more readily available. The report itself will remain on the University's Web site (, and printed copies will also be made available.

  • Academic initiatives. The University will appoint a committee of experts to explore how best to carry out a major research and teaching initiative on issues of slavery and justice, building on resources in its academic departments and centers. The University will also appoint a team of outside experts to recommend how it might strengthen its Department of Africana Studies.

  • Continuing academic partnerships. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Brown began providing technical assistance to a number of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's). That program proved to be of exceptional benefit to both Brown and its HBCU partners; the University will expand this program to include additional institutions. The University will also strengthen and expand its exchange program with Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., a program that has existed since the mid-1960s.

Finally, Brown University will continue to support all its existing programs for the benefit of Providence public schools, including administrative support for the superintendent's office, mentoring and tutoring programs, professional development for teachers, funds for equipment and other efforts.

A related news article about Brown University's Slavery and Justice Report was included in the December 2006 issue of this Newsletter.

[Return to table of contents]

Call for Papers
Association for the Study
of the Worldwide African Diaspora.
Fourth Conference, Barbados, October 9-12, 2007.

ASWAD logo

Extended deadline: proposals due by March 31, 2007. You are invited to participate in the fourth conference of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD), to be held October 9-12, 2007, in Barbados. The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill is hosting the conference as its Signature Program for the year, with co-sponsorship from New York University.

In commemoration of the Bicentennial of the British and American Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the theme of the conference is Interrogations of Freedom: Memories, Meanings, Migrations.

The conference will be research driven, featuring panels organized in ways which effectively stimulate discourse across geographic, disciplinary, cultural, and theoretical boundaries. All geographic areas will be represented, including Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Paper and panel proposals that incorporate gender and women as categories of analysis are encouraged.

Proposals: Please send a two-page abstract (for either a single presentation or a panel) and a one-page cv (or one-page multiple cv's) by March 31, 2007. They can be sent prior to submitting the registration fee, and are to be sent electronically via email attachment to: Other queries (but not abstracts; please send all abstracts to can be addressed to: Michael Gomez, Dept. of History, New York University, 53 Washington Sq South, NY, NY 10012-1098; Ofc: 212-998-8624; Fax: 212-995-4017;

We intend to post papers on our website, and some may be selected for publication. If you do not wish your paper to appear in either format, please clearly indicate such. Completed materials should be submitted in publishable form prior to October 9, 2007.

[Return to table of contents]

Call for Papers
From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas
ASALH 92nd Annual Conference
Charlotte, North Carolina, October 3-7, 2007.

ASALH logo

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History is soliciting papers for its 92nd Annual Conference. Since the theme focuses broadly on the experiences of Africans in the Americas "from slavery to freedom," submissions are encouraged that treat the Atlantic slave trade, slavery, resistance, abolition movements, emancipation, and the development of "New World" communities in all parts of the African Diaspora. Individuals interested in submitting proposals should give particular thought to comparative perspectives on slavery and race. The theme will also allow for broad and varied discussions on reparations and the meaning of freedom and citizenship for Africans throughout the Americas. ASALH invites scholars from all disciplines to make presentations in Charlotte on African and African American life, history, thought, and culture from the Atlantic coast of West Africa to the Caribbean Islands, Latin America, and the United States.

Preference will be given to session proposals that address the specific conference theme; other submissions, however, are invited and will be gladly accepted. ASALH supports and values all scholarship on peoples of African descent.

ASALH will begin accepting proposals on October 31, 2006. The deadline for submissions will be May 31, 2007. All proposals must be submitted electronically to ASALH. Additional information is available on the ASALH web site at

[Return to table of contents]

Call for Papers
Atlantic Emancipations
April 10-12, 2008, Philadelphia.

A Conference Co-Sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and Rochester Institute of Technology.

The year 2008 marks the bicentennial of two important events in the history of slavery and freedom in the Atlantic world: the official end of the overseas slave trade in the United States (following the passage of statutes in the U.S. and Great Britain the previous year) and the maturation of Pennsylvania's gradual abolition law -- the world's first emancipation statute. These two events offer an exciting opportunity for reflection on the broader theme of black freedom struggles in the Atlantic world during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

This conference will bring together scholars for extended discussion of a range of themes relating to the historiography of black freedom movements nationally and internationally. Plenary speakers will include Richard Blackett, Laurent Dubois, Steven Hahn, and Gary Nash.

Proposals are welcome for papers addressing any aspect of the theme of "Atlantic Emancipations." Among the many topics conference organizers hope to consider are the foundations of black abolitionism in the North and South Atlantic; the meaning of the Haitian Revolution in Atlantic world politics and society; comparative emancipations in different imperial and local contexts; the prospect and peril of interracial activism in and beyond the United States; black emigration movements and the migrations of people of color to different locales in the Atlantic basin; legal cultures in pre- and post-emancipation societies; the gendered meanings of emancipation; the dynamics of national allegiance and identity formation for free people of color in the African Diaspora; and the technologies of freedom (including printed discourse) throughout the Atlantic world.

The deadline for submission of proposals is April 1, 2007. Proposals should be no more than two pages in length and must be accompanied by a brief c.v.. Accepted papers should be approximately 30 pages in length and will be due February 1, 2008, for pre-circulation to conference participants. Presenters will receive support for travel to, and lodging in, Philadelphia. Selected essays will be published in an edited volume appearing in the University of Georgia Press series entitled "Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900."

Please send paper proposals to, or to Atlantic Emancipations, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 3355 Woodland Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4531.

[Return to
table of contents]

Call for Papers
Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference
University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica.
Seventh International Conference, July 3-7, 2008.

Crossroads conference 7th International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference of the Association for Cultural Studies, Cultural Studies Initiative, University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica.

Proposals are invited for sessions at the 7th International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference of the Association for Cultural Studies, scheduled for July 3 to 7, 2008 in the Caribbean. The deadline for submission of session proposals is June 30, 2007.

The Caribbean could well be regarded as one of the first crossroads of the modern era, where Africa and Asia met Europe on Amerindian soil. The conditions were a forced and bitter crucible. The results of that encounter contributed not only to the making of the modern western world but also to the dynamism that is central to all the cultures of the Western Hemisphere.

Being a site of conquest, dislocation, crossings, enslavement and rebellion, but also of memory and survival, hope of return, culture-building, in-between-ness, and immense creativity and heritage, the Caribbean is a relevant site for hosting the 7th International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference, under the theme Of Sacred Crossroads.

Contemporary emphasis on materialism and consumerism as measures of our humanity, arising from the unbridled excesses to which science and technology have been sometimes put, is of growing concern, putting under duress the intangibles embodied in the values by which we live as human beings. Out of these concerns has sprung deepening dialogue at the interface between science and spirituality. UNESCO's celebration of the intangible heritage of humankind is a timely reminder that civilizations rise not only on great edifices, monuments and artefacts that defy time, but also on those moments of 'livity,' or human relationships, that last only as long as they are lived, without which human life would have little meaning.

"Of Sacred Crossroads" captures many of these concerns in a manner that allows for the broadest of interpretation and accommodation across disciplines and forms -- religion, art, dance, song, orature, healing, re-creation, performance, ritual, belief systems, ethics, globalization, communication, among others.

Key themes for the Conference include: Rituals of arrival and contact; Crossings, the art of the crossroads; Spirituality and identity; Language rituals; Globalization and the spirit; Indigenous spiritualities; Rituals of conflict, rites of rebellion; Virtual realities; virtual spiritualities; (Spiritual) Tourism; Rituals, substances and sacred geographies; The spirit of music; Cultures of reconciliation; Storytelling; Crossroad deities and divination; Geographies of the body and spirit.

Guidelines for submission of proposals: the deadline for submission of session proposals is June 30, 2007. Please see the Session Organizer's Manual posted on the website for information on length, format and guidelines for submission of proposals. Please submit you session abstracts on our website.

For further details on the Conference visit the conference website at

[Return to table of contents]

Editor's Note on Book Reviews

John McCarthy is coordinating book reviews to be written for this Newsletter, and he has received review copies of a number of books from presses that he can supply to individuals who agree to write a review of such recent publications. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in book review assignments for the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, please drop John a note, at A reviewer receives a free copy of the book.

I also will occasionally publish selected book reviews in this Newsletter from H-Net, the Humanities and Social Sciences Online service, which makes such reviews available for reproduction for educational purposes. Other reviews are available on the H-Net Reviews web site. -- Chris Fennell

[Return to table of contents]

Book Review

Blench book cover

Roger Blench. Archaeology, Language, and the African Past. The African Archaeology Series. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press, Hardcover ISBN 0-7591-0465-4, Paperback ISBN 0-7591-0466-2, 388 pp., April 2006.

Reviewed for the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter by Kevin C. MacDonald, Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

The enormous linguistic diversity of Africa, and its impact upon the transmission of ideas and technologies, has been considered all too rarely by Africanist archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians. In Diaspora studies monolithic 'West African' culture concepts which plagued the beginnings of the sub-discipline, could perhaps have been tempered had researchers realised that coastal West Africa holds far greater linguistic (and therefore cultural) diversity than the whole of Europe. On the other hand, the continuity of African languages in the New World, particularly via the existence of African-American Pidgin and Creole dialects, is something which has been fully appreciated since the time of Herskovits and before. Therefore, there is much to be gained in seizing a better understanding of African linguistics, whether one is interested in weighing the effects of cultural randomisation in the New World or scrutinising aspects of linguistic continuity with the African continent. Yet, for the average academic non-linguist, linguistic tracts can appear well nigh impenetrable, and the sheer scale of Africa's linguistic diversity (at least 2,000 distinct languages and four massive phyla) is similarly daunting. For example, Bendor-Samuel's (ed., 1989) tome on The Niger-Congo Languages is a fine, up-to-date reference on the phylogenies and many linguistic families of the Niger Congo Phylum, but aside from distribution maps and language lists it possesses little accessible to the non-specialist. It is for this reason that inter-disciplinary endeavours like Archaeology, Language, and the African Past are welcome additions to the literature.

Roger Blench, with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating previously (Blench and MacDonald 2000), is a rare polymath in an age of hyper-specialism. Having been formally schooled in social anthropology and ethnomusicology, he is largely a self-trained linguist, and his disregard of disciplinary boundaries allows him to make connections that would elude most researchers. As Blench states (2006:6) "The African past can be pursued with a generous vision or a more limited perspective." In other words, there are archaeologists and historians who make allowance for living reflections of the African past, via oral histories and language, and those whose vision is fixed upon empirical data, whether from the excavation or the archive. Blench is clearly of the former type as are, thankfully, a steadily growing number of contemporary Africanist scholars.

Archaeology, Language and the Africanist Past is divided into three sections. The first section concerns linguistic methodologies, ranging from a well-considered critique of glottochronology and lexicostatistics, to the use of loanwords as indicators of the sequence of spread for new technologies, crops, and animals. The second section comprises reviews of the current state of research, as well as some of Blench's own hypotheses, regarding the major language phyla of Africa and the history of their speakers. This section is particularly useful in that it traces how much classifications have changed over the past century, and shows which terminologies have dropped from use. The final sections deal with information which can be derived from linguistic and archaeological sources for the origins and spread of a wide range of domestic animal and plant species in Africa. All of the sections are liberally illustrated with maps and cladograms to explain the points being made. To cover such vast ground the book is oftentimes almost painfully brief on some passionate subjects, but rest assured that referencing is extensive, allowing the reader to further investigate contentious issues.

Some of the case studies addressed in the second section of the book are of particular interest to this reviewer. For example Blench details the 'lost languages' of Africa – language isolates which probably reflect an earlier radiation of hunter-gatherer languages overlain by the spread of the current major phyla (Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Afroasiatic). He also looks into deep-time technological issues which may have facilitated the wide spread of Niger-Congo languages, suggesting linguistically-attested precocious bow and arrow technology as a possible catalyst. He is also not afraid to grasp the nettle of the early dispersal of Afroasiatic (ex-Hamito-Semitic). Blench is sometimes radical, but, in my experience, it pays to consider his arguments carefully. I have the suspicion that what might now seem unorthodox might simply be a few generations ahead of current research.

For what it sets out to be -- an introduction to the use of linguistics as a means of developing our knowledge of Africa's past -- the book is a tour de force. However, researchers of the Diaspora may be disappointed that there is very little coverage of African language survivals and pidgins in the New World (less than two pages:122-123) . Nor is this book a comprehensive reference catalogue of individual African languages and their distributions (such as Bendor-Samuel [1989] is for the Niger-Congo languages). Rather, it is Blench's own very personal take on the deeper time (pre)history of African languages, liberally interlaced with archaeological data. All archaeologists of the continent should be obliged to read it -- even if they only accept a fraction of the hypotheses being advanced.


Bendor-Samuel, John, editor. 1989.
The Niger Congo Languages. New York: University Press of America.

Blench, Roger and MacDonald, Kevin, editors. 2000.
The Origins and Development of African Livestock: Archaeology, Linguistics, Genetics, and Ethnography. London: UCL Press.

[Return to table of contents]

Book Review

Fagan book cover

Brian Fagan. Writing Archaeology: Telling Stories about the Past. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, ISBN-10 1598740059, ISBN-13 978-1598740059, 176 pp., December, 2005.

Reviewed for the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter by Carol McDavid, Project Director for Public Archaeology, Yates Community Archaeology Project.

When John McCarthy asked me to review Brian Fagan's new(ish) book Writing Archaeology: Telling Stories about the Past, I assumed that it would be a well-written and well-researched volume, as Fagan has a long and well-established reputation as a good and entertaining writer. In addition, the book is one of the first books published by Mitch Allen's new Left Coast Press, and Mitch's efforts to produce readable books about archaeology are well known to the readers of this Newsletter.

What I was not prepared for was how very useful the volume would turn out to be -- after all, a book can be well-written and even interesting, but not particularly relevant to one's particular needs. Maybe it is just because I am struggling through a considerable amount of writing myself these days, but I found this book to be chock-full of useable and pertinent information about both the craft and business of writing. This is not a book about academic writing, it is a book meant to guide archaeologists who want to write for more general audiences. In many important ways, this is a book about writing as public archaeology.

Fagan starts by reminding us that our best power, as writers, likes in the fact that archaeologists have good stories to tell -- and he shows, though many examples, how this is true. Most of these examples are drawn from his own writing, thus focus mostly on prehistoric archaeology topics, but all are interesting and carefully chosen to illustrate various points about good writing. This is what distinguishes this book from many other "how to write" books -- Fagan is dealing specifically with archaeological writing. Therefore he is able to offer useful and particular advice about how archaeologists can make the leap from formal writing up our data to more general writing stories in a way which makes sense. I found myself thinking about my own writing in a very different way.

The book contains a great deal of specific information, ideas, tips, how-to lists, and guidelines. One chapter deals with magazine and op-ed articles and columns (marketing ideas, proposing stories, and writing); another deals with trade books (where I finally learned what those are, exactly). Writing book proposals and outlines is handled in another chapter; his comments on how to write with passion, and how to develop effective leads are especially useful. One chapter deals with publishers, agents and editors -- how, whether and when to use them, what their jobs are, and how to negotiate contracts. An entire chapter is devoted to writing a first draft of a book -- how to start, how to develop a writing habit, how to create a useful workspace, how to deal with writer's block, and how to research special topics. Another chapter deals with the revision process (with a number of useful editing strategies); another looks at the production and marketing process, and a final chapter examines the specialized processes involved in writing and marketing textbooks. Throughout are countless nuggets of information and advice, all of which are presented in an amiable, self-deprecating, but authoritative style. In short, there is a lot of information here, and it is a good read besides.

My only complaint about the book is serious: there is no index. This has an extremely negative impact on the volume's potential usefulness. There is a good list of other sources for writers, and the bibliography is fine -- but no index in a book meant to be used as a practical and even inspirational guide? I hope the readers of this Newsletter will forgive this conversational tone -- but Brian and Mitch -- please correct this in future editions!

Despite this flaw, this book is must-read for anyone who hopes to write about archaeology to general audiences, but it should also be read by those who write mainly for other archaeologists. We often bemoan how boring some of our writing is, and this book could point the way to correcting that as well. Anyone who writes about archaeology should read -- and more importantly, use -- this book.

[Return to table of contents]

Book Review

Kriger book cover

Colleen E. Kriger. Cloth in West African History. The African Archaeology Series. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press, Hardcover ISBN 0-7591-0421-2, Paperback ISBN 0-7591-0422-0, 240 pp., July 2006.

Reviewed for the African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter by Madia Thomson, Independent Scholar, Philadelphia.

Drawing on artifacts, oral, and written sources, Colleen Kriger attempts to understand and present "the collective values and achievements" of West African people in her book Cloth in West African History. Using the textile industry as her lens on society, Kriger opens with a quote from a visitor to the Dahomey Kingdom, a certain Robert Norris, which discusses the importance of cloth in ritual gift exchange. The purpose of the book seems clear: to show the importance of cloth in society and to explain how that importance or value had changed over time. Were it something clearly stated rather than inferred from the quote, it would be an effective, yet simple way of providing a linking idea for the general discussion as well as establishing her work as historical. One discovers with more reading, however, that the form of the book and Kriger's style makes it difficult to follow any one theme let alone talk about a history of cloth. The imagined essential theme suggested on page one disappears very quickly.

One of the difficulties may be that Kriger tends to make uncertain statements that show that she is thinking rather than that she has thought. After the quote mentioned above, one reads much about the nature of textiles, but little about the reason for her choice. She offers no clear statement of what she plans to do until page seven, when she writes that she wants to tell a history of textiles using three artifacts. This idea clearly determined the form of the book. Chapter One is clearly a "light" chapter used as a way of getting to what she considers the more important sections of the book: those that discuss the artifacts. Chapters Two through Four are dedicated to this purpose. A brocaded wrapper from Bida, a pair of trousers from Northern Nigeria, and an indigo-dyed wrapper from Ibadan therefore open the narrative in these three chapters. Noticeably longer than the first, these central chapters are in fact where one begins to see what Kriger would like to do; use a textile as the basis for a larger discussion of culture and society. Even at this point however, the themes are not clear. Kriger has much to say about the textiles, the place one finds them, and how they were produced. Yet while there is much information, there is little said. The nice smooth story that began on page one is gone. Instead of finding a strong statement that links the chapters with a central theme, Kriger simply continues to think about her ideas on paper.

In addition to the lack of unifying theme, Kriger, tends to repeat information that was, admittedly, tiresome from the start and does not improve with re-telling. In Chapter One for example, she gives a detailed description of how fibers curl around a spinning rod, noting that the shape they form can help identify the spinning technique or the fiber in question. It seems a useful bit of information for people who do not weave and so, it is a shame that she does not say so directly (one needs to interpret). When repeated in subsequent chapters as superfluous detail that little to the discussion, it loses its appeal. It occasionally reads as a way of proving what was said in Chapter One about spin direction rather than adding any substantive detail. There is no interesting history told about it. I would much rather read Ingrid Bergman's Late Nubian Textiles or Grace Crowfoot Methods of Handspinning which she footnotes. It really becomes a bit of a blur when on page eleven Kriger writes about Nubian spinning to say that "the spindle, held in the right hand with the whorl on top would produce thread with an s-twist, the opposite of how West African spinners held their spindles and made their z-spun yarns" This does not seem complicated. That she mentions this difference after a brief description of spin directions further obscures the text. A similar confusion might arise depending on whether the spinner was left- or right-handed. Her repeated references to detail that may be useful for distinguishing West African weaving technique from Nubian but gives offers little insight into the region under discussion adds little to the story.

In the midst of this obscurity comes the occasional moment of clarity, however, as in the section titled "Weavers, Wrappers, and Trade in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century." In its opening pages, that is, pages forty-four to forty-six, Kriger situates her discussion of cloth in the context of socio-economic change in the Bight of Benin. She reminds us that the trade in slaves existed along side the trade in textiles and that as the trade in slaves declined, the palm oil industry grew. She also notes how some cloth industry workers adapted to the changes. New wealth from the growing oil palm industry that might have gone to foreign exporters could be directed to them. Unlike others of earlier centuries who might have chosen to produce lower-priced (and potentially lower quality?) goods, Kriger writes that cloth industry workers in nineteenth-century Akwete, Nigeria responded by producing high quality cloth for potential high-end clients (p. 45). This is by no means obvious, and she does well to note it. Approaching what one expects from the first two pages, this section contains the elements of an interesting history. Methods, people, and textiles interact in response to changes in the political economy of a given region. As a flowchart, it might read:

   Akwete Textile Workers Make Cloth as Slave Trade Declines ----
       Competition from Foreign Imports Act as Catalyst ----
         Perceptions of Akwete Cloth and Value Improves.

A quote from a primary source would only help the narrative by providing the always interesting detail of a fine history. One reads these bursts of engaging prose, and then, as Kriger does not maintain the level throughout the chapter, loses them again. They are quite nice and refreshing when they appear and one wishes that the entire book read as well.

For someone looking for an elegant history of textiles in Africa, Kriger's Cloth in West African History is not the answer. Its form -- chapters of uneven length followed by endnotes, that lack of useful or misplaced graphics -- disrupts the flow of the text . Emphasizing fluidity, sometimes to the neglect of interesting and the addition of useless detail, Kriger's style itself prevents one from actually reading the elegant story suggested on the opening page. The combination of storytelling and attention to what might be called minutiae is often off-putting. For someone simply interested in the details of cloth and weaving in West Africa however, Kriger is just fine.

[Return to table of contents]

Book Review

Cherki book cover

Published by H-French-Colonial, (October 2006).

Alice Cherki. Frantz Fanon: A Portrait. Translated by Nadia Benabid. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006. 255 pp. index, Cloth ISBN 0-8014-4038-6; Paperback ISBN 0-8014-7308-x.

Reviewed by Sylvia I. Bergh, Department of International Development, University of Oxford.

Frantz Fanon (1925-61) was a Martinique-born psychiatrist, political activist, and prolific author. He was one of the most prominent thinkers of the twentieth century on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization, whose works have inspired numerous anti-colonial liberation movements.

The author of this recent portrait of Frantz Fanon, Alice Cherki, was born into an Algerian Jewish family and worked alongside Frantz Fanon as a young psychoanalyst from 1955 to 1961, i.e. from the time he arrived in Algeria until his death. This period spans the critical years of Fanon's involvement with the struggle for Algeria's independence. The author's motivations to write this book lie in her discovery that younger, well-educated generations are not familiar with Fanon's work, despite his groundbreaking writings on racism, colonialism, the relationship between oppressor and oppressed, and the prospects of developing nations. Apart from saving Fanon from complete oblivion, Cherki's objectives are to "counteract both the unrestrained idealization that holds Fanon to his heroic image and cuts him off from history as well as the powerless and silent reaction greeting bewildering allegations that dismiss Fanon as an apologist for violence and an obsolete figure linked to Third Worldism" (pp. 1-2). Cherki succeeds on both counts. First, she situates Fanon's life as a psychiatrist, political activist, and prolific writer in its wider historical context and paints a vivid picture of his relationships with intellectuals and political leaders. Importantly, she does not hold back on his shortcomings and failures. Second, the last three chapters entitled "The Wretched of the Earth" (discussing Fanon's most well-known book), "After," and "Fanon Today" engage with the critics of Fanon's work and provide an illuminating re-interpretation of Fanon's thinking on violence. They also outline the areas where his contributions remain relevant to this day. Finally, Cherki fulfills a third, more implicit objective, namely to highlight Fanon's achievements as a practicing psychiatrist. As a psychoanalyst herself, she is in a unique position to do this. She was too young at the time to fully assess Fanon's breadth of knowledge, but has since made use of his psychiatric writings and case notes from 1959 and 1960, much of which remain unpublished even today.

The book is divided into ten chapters, excluding a short preface, Introduction, and conclusion. The first seven chapters are chronologically arranged and cover Fanon's trajectory from his childhood in Martinique, his time in France as both a solider and a student, the years as a psychiatrist and political activist in Algeria and Tunis, and, finally, his African experiences. The first chapter, entitled "Before Blida" (the psychiatric hospital where Fanon became Chief Resident Physician in 1953), relates the events that shaped Fanon's personality: his discovery of the denial of the history of slavery and of being a second-class citizen, and the racism he encountered on the part of French soldiers. Despite the latter, Fanon decided to join the anti-Nazi struggle in France. Aged eighteen, Fanon justified this decision by stating that "whenever human dignity and freedom are at stake, it involves us, whether we be black, white or yellow. And whenever these are threatened in any corner of the earth, I will fight them to the end" (p. 10). Disillusionment soon followed, however, and a year after leaving Martinique, he wrote "I was mistaken. There is absolutely nothing . . . here to justify my speedy decision to anoint myself as the defender of a farmer's rights, when the farmer, himself, does not care a damn about those rights" (p. 12). As Cherki points out, this episode illustrates well his lifelong vacillation between a disillusionment in humankind and his inability to lose faith in it entirely, between his suspicion of politicians and his readiness to join the causes they promote despite those suspicions (p. 13). By highlighting such vacillations in Fanon's life throughout the book, the author succeeds in deconstructing Fanon's idealized and heroic image.

The second chapter is devoted to a description of Algiers in 1953, and is probably the weakest of the book. Although it provides a valuable background of the country's ethnic make-up and forms of segregation and racism at the time, it does not relate how this society affected Fanon, apart from stating that he "utterly misread its various elements" (p. 54). Nor does the chapter explain in great detail how Fanon came in contact with the youth movements, cultural associations, and Jewish community that apparently "played a key role in introducing him to the Algerian cause" (p. 45).

These shortcomings are somewhat addressed in the next chapter on "Blida," Fanon's time at the Blida-Joinville psychiatric hospital (1953-56), where the author describes the increasing links between Fanon's psychiatric and political work, starting with Fanon's medical treatment of guerilla fighters and relationships with local and regional leaders of the National Liberation Front (FLN) as well as his writings for FLN publications. Fanon's resignation in protest at the brutal repression of union strikes led to his expulsion from Algeria in 1956. After a short spell in Paris (described in the chapter "Fanon Transits through Paris"), Fanon settled in Tunis in the spring of 1957, at the height of the power struggle within the FLN. He was appointed to the FLN press office there and later became the FLN's spokesman, but he also continued to work as a psychiatrist at the Manouba Hospital. This chapter, entitled "Tunis," describes Fanon's relationships with the different leaders within the FLN, and the deep impact on him of Abbane's death, whom he had seen as Algeria's true and designated leader. It also highlights Fanon's writings that criticize the French Left for its passivity in the face of torture and the suffering of Algerians, and its lack of support for Algerian self-determination. Cherki points out the contrast between his political views and his personal networks of friends in Tunis, which belonged mostly to cosmopolitan circles of French and Europeans. A well-known shortcoming in Fanon's thinking is his failure to consider the relationship between religion and politics, but the author also repeatedly criticizes Fanon's sketchy understanding of the nationalist movement prior to 1954. One of the most fascinating passages in this chapter, though, is the description of Fanon's increasing liaison role between the Algerian Revolution and the liberation movements of a number of African states. The chapter also discusses at length Fanon's book Year 5 of the Algerian Revolution (later republished as A Dying Colonialism) whose main argument is that the defiant behaviors of the colonized must be seen as a consequence of the colonial structure and not as an immutable feature of the "base personality" (p. 133). Although this is Fanon's least-cited work, Cherki shows how its analysis transcends its historical moment and remains pertinent in Africa as well as Europe today.

The chapter on "Fanon and Africa" illustrates the importance he attributed to the Algerian War for the sociopolitical autonomy of other French African nations and African unity, and the reciprocity between national cultures and wars of liberation. This chapter also relates Fanon's work and travels as the Algerian provisional government's ambassador to Africa, based in Ghana. It was during this time that he became increasingly concerned about "postcolonialism"; the incomplete break with French culture and French colonial interests; and the instatement of compromise governments, power struggles, and corruption, especially in the countries he knew best, such as Senegal, Cte d'Ivoire, and Cameroon, as well as in Algeria. The chapter ends with an account of the failure of the Trans-Saharan Front and its new arms route for Algerian resistance fighters, an idea that was largely inspired by Fanon. Most importantly, given his earlier political activism, Cherki relates how Fanon, due to his deep involvement in events in Africa, became increasingly distant or even indifferent towards French politics and the antiwar demonstrations in France.

The chapter on "The Last Year of Fanon's Life" tells the story of his diagnosis with a severe form of leukemia at the end of 1960 and the frenzied writing of his last book, The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon's meeting with Sartre in Rome in April 1961 and the latter's promise to write the foreword to the book are recounted most vividly. The chapter ends with Fanon's reluctant trip to Washington D.C. for medical treatment, his death in a hospital there on December 6, 1961 (aged thirty-six), and a detailed account of his state funeral in Algeria.

As already indicated, the last three chapters are devoted to a discussion of Fanon's last book, its reception, and the continued relevance of his work. Cherki interprets The Wretched of the Earth as a distress signal and a warning "to alert African nations to the inherent problems of their relationship to the developed nations of Europe." She also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Fanon's thoughts on violence as set out in this book (mainly due to Sartre's misleading foreword). She argues that Fanon had come to be seen as an apologist for violence due to his interpreters' misguided reading of violence as purifying, when in fact Fanon's violence is a liberating one, a mechanism whereby the self could be freed from the colonizer. She also emphasizes Fanon's absolutely prophetic views on the pitfalls of newly independent nations.

Cherki's original contribution lies in restoring the place of the widely dismissed last chapter of the book, entitled "Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders," by showing how these reflections on psychiatric illness are in fact central to Fanon's argument. Moreover, Fanon had anticipated the "psycho-affective disorders" that would persist for at least one generation and affect both the perpetrators and victims of rape, murder, and torture carried out in the name of war.

The chapter entitled "After" describes how the Algerian leadership subsequently downplayed Fanon's role in the revolution, and his passage into oblivion in France, where the war in Algeria was seen as a closed chapter. This is balanced by an account of the different initiatives to publish Fanon's works and the conferences held in his memory. Cherki also points to Fanon's influence in the United States, especially on the African American movements of the 1960s led by Malcom X and Robert Wiliams, on Ali Shariati's work in Iran in the lead-up to the Iranian Revolution, as well as on the social and political movements of the late 1960s in Japan and elsewhere against the Vietnam War. The final chapter ("Fanon Today") reviews Fanon's continued relevance in recent years in a range of fields, from the political situation in Algeria, to cultural anthropology, psychiatry, linguistics, and literature. Indeed, given that Cherki wrote this book before the events of September 11, 2001 and the recent riots in France, her conclusion could be seen as quite prophetic when she asks: "But is the world really all that different from Fanon's portrayal of a mutually exclusive world that has been cleaved in half and where the only interlocutor between both sides is the soldier or the policeman? Is the problem of violence as a self-gratifying act obsolete?" (pp. 207-208).

As for Fanon's contributions to psychiatry, the book recounts how Fanon, both in Blida and in Manouba, built on his apprenticeship with Franois Tosquelles to develop an approach to institutional psychiatry and sociotherapy in which the aim was not to muzzle madness but to question and listen to it, and to give voice to patients (as well as the nurses). In one of the most fascinating passages of the book, Cherki recounts the successes of Fanon's methods with European women and its dismal failure with Muslim men, and Fanon's recognition that by using his Western-based sociotherapy program, he had disregarded an entire frame of reference and was in fact guilty of having thoughtlessly embraced a policy of assimilation. In Tunis, Fanon explored the approach of the "one-day stay" treatment where conflicts could be resolved more easily.

One of the book's main strengths lies in explaining the connections between Fanon's psychiatric and political thoughts on alienation by emphasizing the idea that a colonial master discourse could shape the constitution of the individual subjective unconscious. Another strength of the book is its emphasis on Fanon's continuous search for a balance between writing and political action.

There are a few shortcomings which render the book difficult to read at times. For example, it makes numerous references to Fanon's many articles, conference papers, and books, as well as other works that influenced him (such as those by Octave Mannoni), but it does not include a complete bibliography. Similarly, given the enormous number of Fanon's friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, the reading could have been facilitated by a complete list of the "cast" with short biographies, and a complete list of acronyms, especially of political associations and movements. Several citation references are also missing, some passages are repeats of earlier ones, and the translation, while very good on the whole, omits certain key expressions (such as fellaghas and maquis). Most importantly for non-psychiatrist readers, the text might have benefited from brief explanations of specialist psychiatric terms. However, much of this may be due to the process of translation.

Cherki is clear about the scope of her work. This is not a biography, as she did not interview Fanon's Antillean relatives and many other persons who knew him and are still alive. Her focus is only on Fanon's Algerian experience and she presents it as a long essay or "a testimony once removed" (pp. 3-4). Unfortunately, Cherki fails to fully embrace this "testimonial" position, and shifts back and forth from personal testimony to "neutral" observations, often writing about herself in the third person and relegating her own views to the endnotes. This is a shame, as the resulting mixture between a witness's first-hand account and a distanced, more academic work packed with literary references leaves the reader somewhat confused about the author's narrative position, as well as the exact nature of her relationship with Fanon. (Cherki does not state anywhere in the book that she was in fact the wife of Charles Geronimi, a close associate and friend of Fanon in Blida and Tunis.) The work would have been far more nuanced and enriched if Cherki had fully committed to bringing in her own experiences as they interacted with those of Fanon.

However, these are minor shortcomings when compared to the book's many merits, and the author's achievements are even more remarkable given Fanon's utterly discreet nature. I would therefore strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in a multi-faceted and historically situated account of Fanon's life and thinking, as well as his continued relevance.

Copyright (c) 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes.

[Return to table of contents]

dividing bar

©2007 African Diaspora Archaeology Network
Copyright and all rights reserved by
individual authors for each article.
Please send comments, suggestions, or questions
to Chris Fennell at
Last updated: March 10, 2007
Text only menu

About ADAN Web Resources Overview Research projects Newsletter Discussion groups Workshops and Forums