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Uncommon Sense

By OI · July 26, 2023

Emerging Scholars at ASWAD 2023

11 min read

The OI is pleased to support the attendance of these emerging scholars at the Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) & the Convening of the International Congress of African and African Diaspora Studies (ICAADS), August 2-5, 2023, at the University of Ghana–Legon, Accra, Ghana.

The OI is supporting scholars on the following panels:

Decolonializing Epistemes in the Afro-Americas: Dissidents’ Interventions into The Coloniality of Knowledge and Power 

  • Aline Penha Do Nascimento, Graduate Program In Geography At The Federal University Of Bahia
  • Claudenilson Dias, Center for Research and Extension in Cultures, Genders and Sexualities (NuCuS)
  • Feva Omo Iyanu, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, translator for Améfrica Press, Visiting Professor at Colorado College.
  • Mauri Balanta Jaramillo

Feeling, Living, and Un/belonging in Africa and the African Diaspora

  • Folarin Ajibade, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, New York University
  • Tanvi Kapoor, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, New York University
  • Zavier Wingham, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University
  • Erica Duncan, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, New York University

Read more about the work of these scholars here


Erica Duncan (New York University) writes

How do we tell the histories of enslaved African children and children of African descent in the Black Atlantic? Historians of slavery already know that tracing the lives of the enslaved is difficult, and for enslaved children, their presence in archives is even more ephemeral. However, their fleeting presence cannot and should not be misinterpreted as a sign of their insignificance to histories of vast early America.[1] Therefore, my dissertation, “(Un)settled Landscapes: Settler Economies and the Enslavement of African Children in South Carolina and the Bahamas, 1715-1838,” centers on the lives of enslaved and freed Black children in the British Atlantic during the long eighteenth century. I consider how British settlers circulated these children to facilitate the settlements of South Carolina and the Bahamas between 1715 to 1838. Identifying someone as a “child” reveals the contours of the racial ideologies that dictated childhood as a category, as Black children’s experiences within plantation economies were short, sometimes brutal, and interrupted by labor regimes as early as age 5. Thus, I ask how settlers speculated upon and used enslaved Black children’s position as chattel property and eventually freed Black children’s position as free laborers to envision the settlement of these colonies and implement ideas of belonging and sovereignty within the Americas? Relatedly, how did enslaved children’s experiences inform their mothers’, fathers,’ and communities’ expressions of freedom that possibly unsettled settler landscapes? I argue that the political economy of settlement not only relied upon enslaved children but also enslaved children’s subject position within these economies critically positioned them as unique subjects who informed their communities’ ideas of freedom and sovereignty. Put differently, by centering on these children’s bodily, spatial, emotional, and temporal worlds, we see how settlers used them as tools of settlement and how these children became essential to shaping ideas of freedom within the Black Atlantic.

[1] Importantly, historians of early American and the African Diaspora have begun to produce more work on enslaved and freed Black children in the early Americas. See, Wilma King, Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in the Nineteenth Century America, Second Edition (Indiana University Press, 2011); Nazera Wright, Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (University of Illinois press, 2016); Yesenia Barragan, Freedom’s Captives: Slavery and Gradual Emancipation on the Columbian Black Pacific (Cambridge University Press, 2021); Crystal Lynn Webster Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North (UNC Press, 2022).



Tanvi Kapoor (New York University) writes

For the upcoming ASWAD conference in Accra, I will present a paper based on my ongoing dissertation research in the semi-autonomous, predominantly Muslim archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania. In Zanzibar, patience (subira in Swahili, from the Qur’anic abr) is a religious virtue. Yet to be made to wait, especially in state institutions, is also experienced as an exercise of power. Through the lens of Zanzibar’s only referral hospital, my dissertation looks at how Zanzibaris have created waiting as a pious temporality amidst lasting state suppression over the past century.

My conference paper refracts the contemporary mourning culture at the referral hospital through a history of Shi’i mourning rituals in Zanzibar. At the referral hospital, people emphasize subira at the time of death and associate excessive crying with Islamic sin (dhambi). At the Twelver Shi’i mosque ten minutes away from it, people associate crying with a sacred quality and see it as a sign of true piety. Reciters begin their sermons lauding members of the Ahl al-Bayt (immediate family of the Prophet) for characteristics such as ṣabr /subira, especially during the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE.The sermons climax as the reciters burst into tears describing the agony of this ṣabr /subira, compelling everyone else to cry as wellIt is as though they are proclaiming that excessive subira demands mourning, even if in retrospect and removed generations from the event. How have such oppositional conceptions of subira and mourning solidified in Zanzibar, a place with an otherwise long history of cross-sectional devotion to ‘Alī bin Abī Ṭālib? My paper argues that these oppositional conception evince the peculiar formalization of Shi’i identity in Zanzibar, which proceeded along ethnic lines with the migration of the western Indian caste of the Khoja in the 19th century and reached its peak in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ultimately, it proposes that this formalization process colluded with later reformist debates regarding grave visitation and a genocidal state to change the relationship between the living and the dead in Zanzibar.



Zavier Wingham (New York University) writes

Arap Bacı, a caricature of and stereotype purportedly based on the figural enslaved African female in the Ottoman Empire, is a suture of real and fable. It is a blending the fact of enslaved domination and the phantasmic fictions of Blackness within the Ottoman imaginary. Her position shares resonance with Black scholars of slavery: she is wedged between partial truths of the archives, marked and possessed as absent, silent and her histories always already temporally stagnated and ruptured.

As a scholar of Ottoman slavery, I am fascinated by how Arap Bacı’s presence – from the age of empires until the present moment – remains captured by the Ottoman and Turkish imaginary and what kinds of narratives of (re)telling the past this animates. Similarly, the Door of No Return sutures and generates a similar alchemic blend of fact and fiction through which narratives of the past usher forth for diasporas borne out of the Transatlantic slave trade. And, as a historian attempting to hold both in perspective ahead of this ASWAD, I am prompted by a recent charge ushered from the president of AHA: to utilize – with integrity – the methodological scalpels provided by history to dissect the past, lest “bad history yield bad politics.” (One might throw a cursory look at the global rise of fascism, the anti-Black border regimes which animates the Mediterranean Sea as graveyard, or Ron DeSantis’ political agenda as illustration of how the inverse of this also holds true.)

More often than not the tools provided to historians of slavery – and in particular Black scholars of slavery – run counter to what we suspect, what we might know through living in the wake of slavery. The traditional entrappings of history circumscribe the kinds of problems (and questions) we might ask of Black pasts, while the research methods offered often are paired with a filial pledge to objectivity, lest the findings be deemed ahistorical. That this meeting will take place in Accra, Ghana and suture belated arrivals and returns; pasts, presents, and futures; Africa and its diasporas holds promise that we might, here, embrace the many facts and fictions of our pasts – of Arap Bacı and the Door of No Return – to imagine an otherwise future.

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