Since the early 20th century, a body of research on African American history has looked to Africa as a source for cultural expressions, houses, landscapes, languages, religious practices found in the North American diaspora. The concept of creolization, or the active merging and melding of multiple cultures (West and Central African, Northern European, Native American), provides a broad umbrella for understanding the role that the many African cultures played in creating North America. The Deerfield-Wellesley Symposium will bring together historians and archaeologists who are studying African heritage through-out the United States; those working in the deep South, the border lands, and the North. Topics to be explored include the development of widespread BaKongo influenced religions in North America, new research on New England’s African community, African folk medicine practices in colonial Virginia. The Symposium will conclude with a look at how museum interpretation of African life has changed over the last twenty years, as scholarship on African cultures in the diaspora has developed.
This Symposium will be held on October 24th and 25th at Historic Deerfield, in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Symposium cost: $70 for regular admissions
$50 for members and seniors over 65
$25 for students
Full Announcement follows:
African Cultures in the North American Diaspora: An Interdisciplinary Symposium
The Tenth Annual Deerfield-Wellesley Symposium in American Culture
October 24 and 25, 2003
A Symposium sponsored by Historic Deerfield, Inc. and
The Grace Slack McNeil Program in the History of American Art, Wellesley College
White Church Community Center, Deerfield, Massachusetts
October 24 and 25, 2003
For more information or to register contact Joan Morel via email or phone.
Since the early 20th century, a body of research on African American history has looked to Africa as a source for cultural expressions found in the American context. Many place names, building forms, languages, foodways, and religious practices have been found through-out the southern United States to show the influence of African cultures, brought by captives from different regions on the African continent. These cultural expressions have been called “survivals,” fragments of African cultures that somehow survived the middle passage and the dehumanizing effects of slavery, to find a place in the North American landscape. In the last twenty years scholars have come to understand that such survivals represent something far more complex, truly cultural transference, change, and growth in a new and harsh environment. The concept of creolization, or the active merging and melding of multiple cultures (West and Central African, Northern European, Native American), provides a broad umbrella for understanding the role that the many African cultures played in creating North America. More recent research has also extended the search for “Africanisms” to the border South and the northern United States, in recognition that where ever African people were forcibly taken, they retained that human characteristic—culture.
The tenth Deerfield-Wellesley Symposium on American Culture will bring together historians and archaeologists who are studying African cultures through-out the United States; those working in the deep South, the border lands, and the North. Topics to be explored include the development of widespread BaKongo influenced religions in North America, new research on New England’s African community, and African folk medicine practices in colonial Virginia.
The Symposium will conclude with a look at how museum interpretation of African life has changed over the last twenty years, as scholarship on African cultures in the diaspora has developed. Histories of music and food, as well as archaeological evidence have shown how enslaved Africans maintained their cultural heritage despite their forced enslavement. These stories of cultural perseverance are being shared with the public in places like Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg and Connecticut Historical Society where slave life has become an interpretive priority. The continuation of African practices while held in slavery vividly reveals resistance to the institution of slavery. This is a compelling fact to bring to the public arena, where slavery is often misunderstood, and where enslaved people are commonly viewed, albeit at times with compassion, as passive victims.
The Deerfield-Wellesley Symposium is funded in part by an endowment from the Barra Foundation. A portion of Historic Deerfield’s operating funds has been provides through grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
Friday, October 24th
Chair: Jessica L. Neuwirth, Director of Academic Programs, Historic Deerfield, Inc.
Session I: The American South: Begins at 12:30 p.m.
Archaeologist Chris Fennel will speak on "Instrumental and Emblematic Expressions in African Diasporas of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade," providing an interpretative framework for exploring African cultures in the Americas as systems, not simply survivals.
Dr. Ken Brown, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Houston, will lecture on "Spirits and Ancestors: Archaeology and the Role of Peoples of African Descent in Adapting Christianity into Their Spirituality" based on his research on widespread African and creolized religious practices found archaeologically on the Levi-Jordan plantation in Texas, Frogmore Manor, St Helena Island, South Carolina, and Richmond Hill, Bryan County, Georgia. Praise houses, curers, and cemeteries were expressions of African belief systems applied in New World settings, and demonstrate the power of religion in determining the "retention" of African cultural traditions.
The exploration of the southern United States will also include Ywonne Edwards-Ingram, reseacher and Instructor in the College of William and Mary, Department of Anthropology, who will speak about her on-going research into African folk medicine practices in Virginia.
Director of Archaeology at Montpelier (James Madison’s home in Virginia), Dr. Matthew Reeves, will discuss his on-going research into the evolving plantation landscape around Madison’s home, a landscape simultaneously constructed by enslaved African Americans and slave owning European Americans.
Session II: The American North: Begins at 2:30 p.m.
Associate Professor of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State University, Warren Perry, and researcher Janet Woodruff will speak on “African Spiritual Practices in the Diaspora: A Preliminary Look at Some Connecticut Sites,” while Jerry Sawyer, of the Central Connecticut State University, will discuss several years of archaeological work in Southeastern Connecticut, studying a complex landscape of sites where both free and enslaved Africans worked alongside, and in many cases intermarried with, Native Americans and Euro Americans. The landscape sites range from 'squatter' settlements, small industries, a folk healer's house, hamlets, and large Euro American households, all peripheral to large provisioning plantations that played a significant role in the triangle trade. These presentations describe a more complex African presence in New England than has been often reported.
Saturday, October 25th
Chair: James F. O’Gorman, Grace Slack McNeil Professor of the History of American Art, Wellesley College
Session III: The Border Lands: Begins at 9:30 a.m.
University of Maryland Professor of Anthropology, Mark P. Leone and Jessica L. Neuwirth will describe twenty years of research into Maryland’s African American history. Through the auspices of the Archaeology in Annapolis project, both have studied the evidence for African and African American lifeways, and religious beliefs in spaces typically inhabited by enslaved and free people of African descent in Maryland’s capital city. This research suggests that African cultures flourished in areas of the border South, long thought to be demographically inhospitable to cultural continuity. Historian
Timothy Ruppel will explore the narratives of slave life, collected by federal agencies during the 1920s and 1930s, as a way to deepen the understanding of lives lived under slavery. His work shows how enslaved individuals refashioned the spatial limitations given within slavery in order to preserve spiritual and family values and establish New World identities. Using the testimony of former slaves, Ruppel’s work suggests that landscapes throughout the African diaspora were encoded with hidden transcripts, that recognized a tie to creolized African traditions of spirituality. This world of African and European gods and spirits became the map for teaching knowledge of family and life strategies in a hostile environment.
The examination of research into African cultural heritage in North America will conclude with College of William and Mary Professor of Anthropology, Grey Gundaker, who will offer a synthetic look at the African and European cultural influences in the creation of spiritual, didactic, and cultural landscapes created by African Americans in the South.
Session IV: Museums and African American History: 20 years of interpretations: Begins at 1:30 p.m.
How have museums been able to tell the stories of African captives, enslavement, resistance and the struggle for freedom? What were their challenges, and how has the public responded? These questions help to examine how museums and the public are engaging some of the issues fundamental to African American life, and slavery in the Americas. Curator Kate Steinway of the Connecticut Historical Society and others involved with a multi-year, cross institutional effort to research and present the story of the Amistad will share their experiences with bringing this story to the public. They will be joined by James Ingram, of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, who has worked as part of the first major institutional effort to interpret slavery and freedom in the United States. Carole McDavid, of the Levi-Jordan Plantation Historical Association will discuss this groups research into the documentary and oral history of a Texas plantation, and their efforts to use the internet as a forum for teaching about African
Joan Morel or Jessica Neuwirth
Office of Academic Programs
Historic Deerfield, Inc
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