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Bernard Bailyn, Director
HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 
 

The African Diaspora in the Americas:
History, Conception, and the Politics of Culture

   

Professor Vincent Brown
Harvard University
Fall 2003


Men, women, and children of African descent have had a profound impact upon the cultural history of the Americas. Brought to the New World as part of the largest forced migration in history—often characterized as the inaugural phase of “the African diaspora”— Africans and their descendants have drawn upon their experiences to create enduring cultural forms that seem simultaneously to be thoroughly American and distinctly African. How can we best understand the diverse cultural practices of black people in the Americas? From where did those practices derive? How are they related to each other? This course explores a history of earnest attempts to answer these questions. As scholars and social groups have probed cultural affinities among the descendants of Africans in the Americas, the predominant conceptions of the “diaspora” have been made and remade. By examining such histories of diaspora-in-the-making we will better appreciate the complex histories of African-American cultural practices.

The course consists of four major sections. The first, “Historical Formations,” introduces the forced migration of Africans to New World slave societies and raises the question of what relation Africans and their descendants in different parts of the Americas bear to each other, apart from their common subjection to similar historical processes. The second section, “Conceptual Approaches,” explores some of the most influential twentieth-century attempts to grapple with that question, introducing the theories and methodologies that have framed African diaspora studies. Section III, “Classic Case Studies,” focuses more narrowly on the ways that a variety of these approaches have comprehended Afro-Atlantic religions, religions which themselves have encompassed serious efforts to contemplate the “diaspora.” The last section, “Historical Memory and Cultural Politics,” examines the ways that understandings of Africanity and diaspora have been transformed through contemporary political struggles and collective acts of memory.


COURSE REQUIREMENTS:

· Approx. 100-200 pages of reading/ week
· One-hour midterm exam
· 8-10 page review essay
· Take-home final exam

Required Texts:

George Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997)
Brent Hayes Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003)
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993)
Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, The Birth of African-American Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992 [1976])
Richard Price, First Time: The Historical Vision of an African American People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002 [1983])
Robert Faris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1983)
Course Reader

All texts are available for purchase at The COOP, with the exception of the Course Reader, which can be purchased from Gnomon Copy.


CLASS SCHEDULE:

I. HISTORICAL FORMATIONS

Week One
Forced Migration and Congenital Slavery

Monday, Sept. 15
INTRODUCTION: TEXTS, THEMES, AND REQUIREMENTS

Wednesday, Sept. 17
THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

Required Reading:
David Eltis and David Richardson, “West Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade: New Evidence of Long-Run Trends,” Slavery and Abolition, Volume 18 (1997), pp. 16-35
Philip D. Curtin, “The Slave Trade and the Atlantic Basin: Intercontinental Perspectives,” in Nathan Huggins, et. al., Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience I (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), pp. 74-93

Week Two
Forced Migration and Congenital Slavery

Monday, Sept. 22
SCREENING: AFRICANS IN AMERICA, EPISODE I

Wednesday, Sept. 24
POWER AND CULTURE IN SLAVE SOCIETIES

Required Reading:
Charles Wagley, “Plantation-America: A Culture Sphere,” in Vera Rubin, ed., Caribbean Studies: A Symposium (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1960), pp. 3-13
Herbert S. Klein, “Patterns of Settlement of the Afro-American Populations in the New World,” in Nathan Huggins, et. al., Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience I, pp. 99-115
Philip D. Morgan, “The Cultural Implications of the Atlantic Slave Trade: African Regional Origins, American Destinations and New World Developments,” Slavery and Abolition, Volume 18 (1997), pp. 98-121


II. CONCEPTUAL APPROACHES

Week Three
Birth of a Discipline: Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Melville J. Herskovits

Monday, Sept. 29
ANTI-RACIST ACTIVISM AND BLACK SCHOLARSHIP

Wednesday, Oct. 1
THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF THE NEGRO

Required Reading:
Melville J. Herskovits, “Problem, Method and Theory in Afroamerican Studies,” in Frances S. Herskovits, ed., The New World Negro, pp. 43-61
Carter G. Woodson, “African Survivals in America,” and “The African Background Outlined,” Chapters XVII-XVIII in The African Background Outlined or Handbook for the Study of the Negro (Washington, D.C.: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1936), pp. 168-216
Walter Jackson, “Melville Herskovits and the Search for Afro-American Culture,” in George Stocking, ed., Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict, and Others: Essays on Culture and Personality, History of Anthropology 4 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 95-126
Kevin A. Yelvington, “The Anthropology of Afro-Latin America and the Caribbean: Diasporic Dimensions,” Annual Review of Anthropology 30 (2001), pp. 227-60.

Week Four
African Civilizations in the New World

Monday, Oct. 6
AFRICA IN THE AMERICAS
SCREENING: BAHIA: AFRICA IN THE AMERICAS

Wednesday, Oct. 8
**MID-TERM EXAM**

Required Reading:
Robert Faris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit, pp. xiii-158

Week Five
Afrocentricity

Monday, Oct. 13
**HOLIDAY- COLUMBUS DAY**

Wednesday, Oct. 15
THE USES OF “CIVILIZATION”

Required Reading:
Robert Faris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit, pp. 163-268
Molefi Kete Asante, “The Search for an Afrocentric Method,” in The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), pp. 173-96
E. Frances White, “Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counter Discourse, and African American Nationalism,” in Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., ed., Is it Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 130-55.

Week Six
Continuity and Creolization

Monday, Oct. 20
CULTURAL FORM AND POLITICAL-ECONOMIC CONTEXT

Wednesday, Oct. 22
CREOLE LINGUISTICS AND CREOLIZATION

Required Reading:
Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, The Birth of African-American Culture, pp. vii-84
Lee Drummond, “The Cultural Continuum: A Theory of Intersystems,” Man, Volume 15, No. 2 (June 1980), pp. 352-74

Week Seven
Black Modernity in Atlantic Perspective

Monday, Oct. 27
WHAT IS MODERNITY? WHO IS MODERN?

Wednesday, Oct. 29
THE DILEMMA OF THE BLACK EUROPEAN

Required Reading:
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, pp. ix-110
Jacqueline Nassy Brown, “Black Liverpool, Black America, and the Gendering of Diasporic Space,” Cultural Anthropology 13, No. 3 (1998), pp. 291-325

Week Eight
Critical Post-Africanism

Monday, Nov. 3
POST-MODERNITY AND THE END OF ORIGINS

Wednesday, Nov. 5
FRAGMENTED HISTORIES

Required Reading:
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, pp. 111-223
Sally Price, “Patchwork History: Tracing Artworlds in the African Diaspora,” New West Indian Guide, Vol. 75, No. 5 (2001): 5-34


III. CLASSIC CASE STUDIES: AFRO-ATLANTIC RELIGIONS

Week Nine
African Survivals in American Religions

Monday, Nov. 10
CATCH-UP AND REVIEW
**REVIEW ESSAY DUE**

Wednesday, Nov. 12
CUBAN SANTERIA

Required Reading:
Brandon, Santeria, pp. 1-120
Stephan Palmie, “Genealogies of Morality: The Afro-Cuban Nganga as Wage Laborer, Slave, and Maroon,” in Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 158-200

Recommended:
Brandon, Santeria, pp. 126-185

Week Ten
The Invention of Africa in American Religions

Monday, Nov. 17
HAITIAN VODUN

Wednesday, Nov. 19
BRAZILIAN CANDOMBLE

Required Reading:
Terry Rey, Kongolese Catholic Influences on Haitian Popular Catholicism: A Sociohistorical Exploration,” in Central Africans and Cultural Transformations, pp. 265-285
Andrew Apter, “On African Origins: Creolization and Connaissance in Haitian Vodou,” American Ethnologist 29, No. 2 (2002), pp. 233-60
Melville J. Herskovits, “The Social Organization of the Candomble,” in Frances S. Herskovits, ed., The Negro in the New World: Selected Papers in Afro-American Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966), pp. 226-247
J. Lorand Matory, “The English Professors of Brazil: On the Diasporic Roots of the Yoruba Nation,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, Volume 1 (1999), pp. 72-103.


IV. HISTORICAL MEMORY AND CULTURAL POLITICS

Week Eleven
Historical Memory and Diasporic Identity

Monday, Nov. 24
SOCIAL HISTORY AND THE ENDS OF ORIGINS

Wednesday, Nov. 26
USEFUL MEMORIES OF AFRICA

Required Reading:
Price, First Time
David Scott, “That Event, This Memory: Notes on the Anthropology of African Diasporas in the New World,” Diaspora 1, Number 3 (1991): 261-284

Week Twelve
The Politics of Diaspora

Monday, Dec. 1
PAN-AFRICANISM, GARVEYISM, AND NEGRITUDE

Wednesday, Dec. 3
TRANSNATIONAL SAMPLING AND THE POLITICS OF STYLE

Required Reading:
Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora, pp. 1-118
Angela Y. Davis, “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, Nostalgia,” in Monique Guillory and Richard C. Green, eds., Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure (New York, 1998)

Week Thirteen
The Making of the African Diaspora

Monday, Dec. 8
SCREENING: IN AND OUT OF AFRICA

Wednesday, Dec. 10
CULTURAL PERFORMANCE AND COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Required Reading:
Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora, pp. 119-318
Jan Hoffman French, “Dancing for Land: Law-Making and Cultural Performance in Northeastern Brazil,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 25, No. 1 (May 2002), pp. 19-35

Monday, Dec. 15
RECAPITULATION AND CONCLUSION

**WINTER RECESS: 17 December 2003 - 4 January 2004**
Reading Period: Monday, Jan. 5-Tuesday, Jan. 16

**January 17: FINAL EXAMINATION AVAILABLE FOR PICK-UP**


**January 27: FINAL EXAMINATION DUE**

 
 
     
  © 2009 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Created January 16, 1998; last revised February 24, 2011.