Paper Abstracts

Panel 1: Women, Gender, and Sexuality in West Africa
10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.


Dr. Andrew Apter, Departments of History and Anthropology, UCLA
Title: “Queer Crossings: Kinship, Gender and Sexuality in Igboland and Carriacou”

Abstract: In this essay I reexamine “quasi-institutionalized lesbianism” on the Caribbean island of Carriacou, addressing veiled references to its “Igbo” origins in popular music and culture. Did lesbian unions develop in response to nineteenth century male out-migration, or could they possibly derive from West Africa, given their association with the Igbo nation on the island? I argue a case for Igbo origins if we separate gender from sexuality. Comparing the studies of Amadiume and Achebe on kinship and gender politics in Igboland with lesbianism on Carriacou, I identify gendered logics of property holding and devolution that became sexualized in the Caribbean.

Dr. Rudolf P. Gaudio, Purchase College, State University of New York
Title: “Desperate Straights: Nigerian Heterosexuality in Crisis”

Abstract: In analyzing the continent’s antigay politics, a number of writers have adduced historical evidence to demonstrate that it is not homosexuality that was “imported” into Africa, but homophobia. Such studies challenge the claim that homosexuality is “un-African,” but they do not explain why so many contemporary Africans find that claim appealing. This paper argues that political homophobia is symptomatic of a crisis in heterosexual citizenship. Focusing on Nigeria, I explore the contradictory pressures faced by many urban heterosexuals, who subscribe to a model of bourgeois marital respectability that is at odds with financial realities and an ethos of heterosexual permissiveness.

Dr. Judith A. Byfield, Department of History, Cornell University
Title: “Marriage in the New Millennium”

Abstract: The literature on marriage has grown substantially in recent years. These studies confirm that marriage and divorce remain especially rich terrain for exploring social history, women’s agency, discursive constructions of ‘woman’, masculinity, and gender relations of power. This paper examines some of the newest scholarship on marriage by Africanist scholars and considers the ways in which constitutional innovations and migration are altering gender roles and expectations in marriage as well as the ways in which men and women negotiate the rules and boundaries of marriage.

Dr. Emily Lynn Osborn, Department of History, University of Chicago
Title: “Gender, Sex and State-Craft in West African History”

Abstract: In my paper I argue that sex and state-craft, which are typically treated as discrete and separate realms by historians and political scientists, are co-constitutive processes. By focusing on the history of Upper Guinea, Guinea-Conakry, this paper will explore how the parameters of sex and state-craft changed over time, from the pre-colonial through the post-colonial eras, and reveal what those changes meant for gender roles and their politicization more generally.

Panel 2: History, Health, Security and Contemporary Media in West Africa
1: 45 p.m.-3:15 p.m.


Dr. Alhaji U. N’jai, University of Wisconsin-Madison & University of Sierra Leone
Title: “Ebola in West Africa: Historical Context on the Deadly Outbreak and Underlying Causative Factors in the Region”

Abstract: The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is unprecedented in its magnitude and death toll. The earliest outbreaks of the viral hemorrhagic disease occurred simultaneously in 1976 in Nzara village, Sudan and Yambuku village, DR Congo. Over 20 sporadic outbreaks have occurred since then in East- and Central Africa. In the outbreak region, rapid urbanization have probably increased the animal to human viral transmissions as the forest ecosystem buffers are bridged bringing humans closer to viral reservoirs. In general, lack of public health systems, resource depletion, and disconnects between traditional and the colonial values systems are major underlying factors.

Dr. Donna A. Patterson, Department of History, Delaware State University
Title: “West Africa and Global Health Security: Ebola and Pharmaceutical Trafficking”

Abstract: Like most of the world, public health in West Africa is a major consideration for patients, healers, and biomedical personnel who simultaneously navigate the public health space. Drawing from the panel’s premise on “History, Health, Global Security and Contemporary Media in West Africa,” I will highlight two issues: the 2014 Ebola epidemic and pharmaceutical trafficking. Based on archival material, media reports, and oral testimony, I will examine: 1) how Ebola and pharmaceutical trafficking are represented in the media and popular culture, 2) how history informs the present, and 3) the significance of West Africa in global public health security. 

Dr. Adesoji Adelaja, Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University
Title: “The Socio-Economic Roots of Insecurity: Learning from the MENA Region in Developing a More Comprehensive Security Strategy for Nigeria”

Abstract: In the MENA region, several seemingly-stable states rapidly experienced unpredicted people-led uprisings. Some reformed their socio-economic policies to curtail the unrest. Others clamped down on citizens, leading either to government overthrow or intractable struggles for power. The correlations between socioeconomic condition, unrest, crisis management policy and political outcome suggest the need to better understand the causes and consequences of unrest and crisis management strategies in Africa. This paper explains how lessons from the MENA experience shaped the development of a new national security strategy in Nigeria, and two new approaches: “soft approach to counter-terrorism”, and “Northeast Economic Transformation Strategy.”

Dr. Pita Agbese, Department of Political Science, University of Northern Iowa
Title: “The New Dimensions of Security Threats in West Africa”

Abstract: Human trafficking, terrorism, small-arms trafficking, and drug trafficking have replaced civil wars, ethnic conflicts and military coups as the new face of security threats in West Africa. Boko Haram, the terrorist group that began in Nigeria, has now expanded its base of deadly attacks to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In Nigeria alone, it has killed over twenty-thousand people and has led to the displacement of over 2 million people. Mali is another West African country ravaged by terrorism. West Africa has become a hub for the trans-shipment of illicit drugs from South America to Western Europe and there is evidence that some of the drugs are now consumed in West Africa. Utilizing a multi-dimensional approach, this paper examines the scope, parameters and consequences of the new security threats in West Africa. It also analyzes national and regional attempts to resolving the security threats and suggests additional steps that would minimize the tolls that the threats have imposed on the West African sub-region.


Panel 3: West African Oralities and Oral History
3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.


Dr. Gracia Clark, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University-Bloomington
Title: “Learning from and Teaching with Oral Narratives”

Abstract: Oral narrative remains highly significant for Akan peoples today, so accurate interpretation demands careful attention to their uses of similar genres. Life stories recorded by Akan traders associated with Kumasi Central Market reveal a spiral expository pattern echoing Akan teaching and persuasive styles. Cycling once through key topics establishes a level of understanding needed to benefit from the next pass, with different emphases and juxtapositions. Like nuanced repetition in other contexts, it leaves listeners responsible for perceiving those deeper insights relevant to their own needs. This model clarifies my role when interviewing, editing for publication and assigning narratives in classes.

Dr. Joe Lunn, Department of Social Science, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Title: “Marching to a Distant Drummer: Oral Histories of First World War Senegalese Veterans’ Descendants”

Abstract: This paper examines the perspectives of three generations of Senegalese veterans’ descendants, showing the individual variation and generational evolution in their own interpretations about how their fates–and those of their families as well as West Africans collectively–were influenced by the military service of their ancestors during the First World War.   In so doing, it sheds light on how the soldiers’ wartime experience became embedded in the collective consciousness of Africans and Europeans alike and, re-appropriated by successive generations according to their own changing historical situations and circumstances, it continues to endure.

Dr. Abena P. A. Busia, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
Title: “Orature and Feminist History-making: Lessons from ‘Women Writing Africa’”

Abstract: The four volumes of Women Writing Africa, a twenty year project of the Feminist Press, illuminate a deep historical perspective through the voices of diverse African women.  The regional anthologies document their expressive heritage in literature and orature, over many centuries.  Each selection is prefaced by a ?headnote? and each anthology by a contextual introduction. For the editorial collective mining the range of oral texts to (re)create the world of the women who produced them became an illuminating exercise in feminist history-making. This paper will share some of the issues faced as they met these challenges.

Dr. Stephan Miescher, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
Title: “Ghana’s Electric Dreams: Oral Histories of the Volta River Project”

Abstract: The presentation offers a reflection about the use of oral histories in my forthcoming book and accompanying documentary film about the history of the Volta River Project and the hydroelectric Akosombo Dam, Ghana’s largest development project completed in 1965. Oral histories complement the silences and absences of the archives and show how this multipurpose dam was experienced by Ghanaians of diverse backgrounds. Their personal accounts, foregrounded in the documentary film, reveal the project’s different meanings, challenge its official narratives, and provide a vivid commentary about the legacy of modernization in Ghana. 

Panel 4: West African and Diasporic Religions
11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.


Dr. Robert Baum, African and African American Studies, Dartmouth College
Title: “Prophetism in West African History”

Abstract: This paper will examine the history of prophetism in West Africa. In the paper, I will examine the history of indigenous prophets who claim direct revelation from the supreme being in the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial eras. I will analyze the differences between messengers of the supreme being and lesser spirits, between prophetic experience and the experience of spirit possession. I suggest that the existence of Christian prophets who found and sustain African-initiated churches are indications of one of many significant influences of indigenous African religions on African Christianity. 

Dr. Edward Curtis, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Title: “West African Islam and the Black Muslim Diaspora”

Abstract: This paper will analyze how imagined and physical links and ruptures with West Africa are embodied, practiced, and emplaced in and through Islamic religion. It will utilize evidence from several different case studies, including the Stambeli in Tunis, Mourides in Italy, Mandinga Muslims in Portugal, Sierra Leonean Muslims in Washington, D.C., and indigenous Black Muslims in the United States. The goal will be to sketch the basic outlines of Islamic practice among these communities and to suggest the need for a flexible definition of diaspora that accounts for the religious and non-religious elements of West African Muslim practices.

Dr. Cheikh Babou, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania
Title: “Globalizing African Islam from Below: West African Sufi Masters in the US”

Abstract: This paper uses the concept of globalization from below to explore the recent expansion of West African Sufism in the United States. It focuses on the role of two Senegalese Sufi masters, the late Murid and Tijani shaykhs, Abdoulaye Dieye and Imam Hassan Cisse. The paper contends that the attraction of West African Sufi masters to Europeans, Americans, and Africans in the diaspora is rooted in these two Sufi Shaykhs’dual cultural outlooks as global citizens straddling Western and African cultural traditions. By re-interpreting Sufi teachings in a way that accommodates Western perceptions and contemporary ethical, political and cultural concerns, including, environmental issues, social justice, and women’s empowerment, these African Sufi masters were able to develop a vision less bound by the local African context and more meaningful to Western audiences, especially people of African descent. In the process they have stretched the appeal of Sufi Islam beyond the confines of the strictly religious and spiritual where it mostly operates in Senegal.

Dr. Shobana Shankar, Department of History, Stony Brook University
Title: “West Africa’s Impact on Global Missionary Movements”

Abstract: This paper argues that developments in West Africa helped transform Christian and Muslim missions into global movements in the twentieth century. Drawing examples from American Christian and Indian Muslim missions in West Africa, I highlight factors such as the struggle for racial equality in the Black Atlantic, the importance of literacy, and the diasporic search for a homeland. I argue that the West African influence on non-African religious movements demonstrates the region’s unique cultural power. Moreover, I suggest how these facets of religious worldview shaped the transnational cultural connectivity that was increasingly important for migrants in the postcolonial era.


Panel 5: West African Narratives of Slavery and the Slave Trades
2:15 p.m.-3:45 p.m.


Dr. Trevor Getz, Department of History, San Francisco State University
Title: “The Claims Wives Made: the entanglement of slavery and marriage in post-emancipation Gold Coast, 1874-Present”

Abstract: Slavery and marriage were two sites of contestation around which early colonial Gold Coast society rearranged itself under British rule.  In fact, the two were frequently entangled in policy and practice. Many women (and some men) who appeared before the colonial courts as litigants in slave-trading and enslavement cases used the opportunity to make claims to be wives and husbands, to modify their status within their marriages, to escape their spouses, or to choose new partners. Studying these entanglements can give us insights into the nature of colonialism and emancipation as well as the opportunities and limits of post-emancipation life and livelihood.

Dr. Ugo Nwokeji, African American Studies & African Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley
Title: “Advancing the Cultural Frontiers of Slavery and the Slave Trade in West African 

Abstract: Historical studies have generally treated slavery as an economic practice and the slave trade merely as economic transaction. The economistic approach or understanding of slavery and the slave trade among historians is overdue for reassessment, not simply to follow the fashion of “cultural turn” in the social sciences and beyond, but also in light of the historical role(s) of slavery, and how culture shaped and was shaped by the slave trade, slavery and antislavery, both globally and in the region. This paper thus seeks to advance the cultural frontier of the slavery and slave trade historiography in West Africa.

Dr. Olatunji Ojo, Department of History, Brock University
Title:“Manuelita: A Slave Ship in Yoruba History”

Abstract: In 1833, the British navy seized a vessel, Manuelita, transporting to Cuba, about 500 slaves all from Echumacho in the Lagos interior. It was rare in the history of the Atlantic slave trade to see these many slaves from the same place on the same ship and all at once. Drawing on an array of sources this paper explores the history of these slaves and their homeland, and what their shared experiences of enslavement indicate about the politics and commercial organization of the nineteenth century Yoruba slave trade.


Panel 6: Traditional Archives and New Media
4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.


Dr. Deborah Mack, National African American Museum of History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution
Title: “Collaborative Research and Public Value: Museums and Creating Sustainable Futures”

Abstract: The National Museum of African American History and Culture has partnered in a signature startup collaboration with the Musée Théodore Monod d’Art africain and Laboratoire d’Archéologie at Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegal) and MSU’s MATRIX: the Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. This pilot case study argues for a process that prioritizes advancing 21st century skills and new technologies in learning; prioritizing multigenerational shared authority; modeling community engagement research as praxis; funding “next generation” project research leadership; framing explicit institutional discussion on education and cultural heritage institutions in terms of public value.

Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Title: “New Media to the Rescue in African Diaspora Community centered Research? Potential and Challenges”

Abstract: The Will to Adorn Project at the Smithsonian Institution uses the aesthetics of everyday dress to interrogate the diversity of ethnic, class, faith and other cultural identities as expressed within United States communities of African descent. This study has its conceptual roots in an earlier community research project—a study of emergent African immigrant expressive culture in metropolitan Washington, DC. The African Immigrant materials were recorded on 35mm film and audio-cassette. Fieldwork for the Will to Adorn project was carried out in nine cities throughout the country using widely accessible digital technology including the creation of a social media platform, an iphone app and an online set of research protocols for multi-generational teams of community researchers with varied levels of research experience. The recordings of image and voice for the Will to Adorn project were born digital. This presentation, compares and contrasts the opportunities and challenges involved in creating community research tools that foster collaboration across the African world.

Mr. Jeff Ajueshi, Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Abuja, Nigeria
Title: “Culture Heritage Archiving and Digitization”

Abstract: New ways of thinking about traditional archives — their composition, their place in cultural history and their theories — have suggested approaches to cultural memory. In this essay, varied issues that presented themselves as we readied our archive in Nigeria for more in-depth research by a wider pool of users are brought to bear. There are questions on new media, privacy and confidentiality; from individual positions to the more open usage required of a scholarly archive. This essay shall in conclusion take on the engagement between cultural heritage archiving, and the strategic role of archivists in cultural preservation in Nigeria. 

Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome, Detroit Institute of Arts
Title: “Artists ‘Ledger Books’: An Alternative Archive for Historians of African Art”

Abstract: African art scholarship has long been plagued by the relative lack of information about its artists and the patrons and communities they serve. Although some effort has been made through fieldwork to build up critical contextual data to help our understanding of the art, the erroneous impression that the traditional artist is largely illiterate and uninterested in record-keeping still prevails. This paper focuses on a little known system of ledger book-keeping practiced by Ewe sculptors in Ghana. Originating from late 19th century German carpentry training, these personal “archives” are treasure troves that hold vital data about artists’ commissions, clientele, and geographical influence.

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