Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


Introduction

Africans, the vast majority of them enslaved, comprised approximately two-thirds of the population that crossed the Atlantic before 1820. Their labor forged the plantation economies that laid the foundation for European empire in many parts of the “New World.” From amazingly diverse backgrounds, they brought with them countless languages, an abundance of religious rituals, and an innumerable assortment of family structures, cultural traditions, and political practices and ideologies. In the Americas, disparate legal systems and forms of imperial governance, an unfamiliar amalgam of agricultural systems and crops, and virulent demographic and disease environments challenged their existence in equally various ways. As they sought to survive within slavery and to devise ways of escaping it, Africans in the Americas created new communities, cultural traditions, social networks, and political arenas that remade the worlds in which they lived—and in the process, they made and remade themselves. The wide-ranging interdisciplinary scholarship featured in this conference compellingly sets before us the rich diversity of this unique, deeply human, historical experience.

Laurent M. Dubois, Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and French Studies and History and Director of the Center for French and Francophone Studies at Duke University, chaired the program committee for this conference. Members included Jean Casimir, University of Haiti; Bruce S. Hall, Duke University; Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University; Lisa Lindsay, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia; Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University; Simon Newman, University of Glasgow; Luis Nicolau-Parés, Federal University of Bahia; James Sidbury, Rice University; and Stephanie Smallwood, University of Washington. Sir Hilary M. Beckles, Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, is hosting the conference on the campus of his university.