David C. Driskell Center

An International Symposium


April 18-20, 2002


Abak Doors
J. Gonzalez Perez (b.1949), Mokongo Efi and Iyamba Efo, 1995. Diptych. Oil on masonite kitchen cabinet doors, 23 1/4" x 28", Havana.
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Schedule | Bios & Abstracts

Are"Africa" and "Africanness" unproblematic, self-evident, and historically invariable concepts? Or are we dealing with terms whose multiple and changing meanings are the products of complicated, and conflict-ridden histories? These are the questions this symposium aims to address. It does so by following W.E.B. DuBois´ lead that explicitly "African" identities—i.e. forms of subjectivity based on ideas of provenance from or allegiance to the African continent—emerged first in the diaspora, and only later became thinkable on the continent itself. The symposium’s central questions will concern the multiple "Africas" that historically have been produced in the Americas, and their impact on the formation of current conceptions of what constitutes Africanness or Africanity.

Participants will ponder the relationship between the historical contexts within which what we might provisionally call "Africanist knowledge" was produced, and those contexts in which it was appropriated, critiqued, modified, rejected or reinterpreted by people of African descent (whether in the Diaspora or on the continent itself). They will examine the various ways in which, at various times and in different locations in the Americas, specific conceptions of Africa have been (or are being) deployed in the service of a variety of projects of social, cultural, or political nature. For although it is obvious that definitions of "Africanness" or "Africanity" have played a crucial role in the making of a wide variety of strategies of identification, forms of subjectivity, aesthetic or religious expression, and political mobilization, the "Africas of the Americas" so produced are not only highly diverse, but sometimes mutually contradictory, if not explicitly antagonistic.

In discussing these matters, special attention will be given to perspectives that do not privilege the historical and contemporary situation of the U.S., but which instead either provide material for discussions of such issues in hemispheric, or better yet, Atlantic scope. The symposium aims to enable a theoretical debate that will help transcend the general epistemological naïveté of current discussions of "Africanity." At the same time, however, it seeks to balance contributions dealing with North America (or even only the Anglophone parts of the Diaspora) against perspectives arising from the historical specifics of New World regions formerly colonized by France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, as well as those shaped by concerns pertinent to the African continent itself.

The scope of the symposium will be explicitly interdisciplinary, with participants coming from such fields as African American Studies, Anthropology, English and French Literature, History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology.

Symposium Organizer: Stephan Palmié, Department of History.

Africas of the Americas is sponsored by The Committee on Africa and the Americas, The David C. Driskell Center, and The Center for Historical Studies.