Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

Uncommon Sense

The following is from the Uncommon Sense archives. It first appeared in the Summer 2006 issue, no. 122.

Travel Subsidies Initiative for Ghana Conference

August 8–12, 2007, the Omohundro Institute, in cooperation with UNESCO, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, the Reed Foundation, Inc., and the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, will convene a conference in Ghana, West Africa. The meeting will examine the national and international contexts of the transatlantic slave trade at the end of the eighteenth century, the circumstances that led to decisions by some of the trade’s original instigators and greatest beneficiaries to outlaw participation in it, and the social, political, economic, and cultural consequences for all the inhabitants—slave and free—of the kingdoms and nations involved, of actions that ultimately abolished one of the pillars of Atlantic commerce.

From the outset, the Institute intended that the conference program involve Africa-based scholars as paper presenters, commentators, and session chairs. During a September 2005 planning visit to Ghana, Ron Hoffman met with the chairs of university departments, faculty members, and public officials who urged the Institute to try to arrange for scholars who are currently teaching in relevant fields in sub-Saharan universities and their graduate students to attend the conference. As a result, the Institute has become deeply committed to providing such an opportunity for faculty and graduate students from African universities, so that they might, for the first time in many years, meet and discuss subjects of mutual interest with their colleagues and counterparts from Africa and from other continents.

Indeed, this may well be the very first opportunity many have ever had to take part in such a forum and to join in the types of intellectual exchanges that students and faculty in developed countries routinely experience. To assess the number of sub-Saharan Africa-based faculty and graduate students who would be interested in participating in the conference as members of the audience if travel subsidies were available, the Institute sent a survey in January via email and fax to scholars at 82 universities in Africa. We received completed surveys from scholars in Benin, Cameroon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The Institute also received a number of messages from Africa-based scholars in other countries, including South Africa, Angola, and Malawi, commenting on the importance of the meeting to their work. Aubrey Herbst, a professor at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa, expressed his enthusiasm for the initiative, stating in an email, “We briefly touch upon all the aspects which you mention relevant to the conference. Since our students generally find slavery very interesting, I have been toying with the idea of extending it in our courses. For this reason alone I would love to come into contact with expert scholars at the conference, who no doubt may be very helpful in this regard.”

Papers presented at the conference will be published in a specialissue of the William and Mary Quarterly. The Institute also anticipates that the interaction of those attending the conference will serve as a catalyst for developing a self-sustaining community of sub-Saharan-based scholars and graduate students. We hope that the opportunities offered by the conference for creating connections among Africa-based academics and facilitating linkages with their North American and European counterparts will endure long after the meeting is over.

The Institute has received gifts and commitments that will supply the funds needed to convene the conference itself and is now seeking support for the attendance and participation of sub-Saharan African faculty and graduate students. Based on the survey returns, we estimate that approximately 100 people will qualify to attend. The estimated per-participant expense for travel and accommodations is $1,500, which brings the total cost of underwriting 100 Africa-based scholars to $150,000.

In November 2005, an individual made a $50,000 challenge gift to the project that is contingent upon our raising the remaining $100,000 of the $150,000 goal. As of June 30, we have raised $55,000 of the $100,000 needed to meet the challenge, through a $50,000 gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and commitments from two individuals. The Institute is seeking support from foundations, corporations, and individuals to raise the remaining $45,000.

If you are interested in more information about the Ghana conference and the travel subsidies initiative or would like to make a gift to the project, please contact Shawn Holl, director of development, at (757) 221-1141 or