Excavating the Past: Perspectives on Black Atlantic Regional Networks

Friday, April 3, 2009–Saturday, April 4, 2009
9:30 am PDT

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Andrew Apter, University of California, Los Angeles, and Patrick A. Polk, University of California, Los Angeles

co-sponsored by the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, the Mellon
Transforming the Humanities Grant, and the James S. Coleman African Studies Center


The UCLA Mellon Seminar in Black Atlantic Studies explores an emerging paradigm shift in African Diaspora scholarship. Inspired by Paul Gilroy’s innovative work in black cultural studies, the shift can be described as one from “roots” to “routes,” recasting Africa from a “baseline” to a “circuit” predicated on ethnic mixing and hybrid forms from the inception of the triangle trade. If European ports and capitals, Caribbean plantations, American shipyards and African cities became co-equal sites in an emerging trans-Atlantic field, so trade-union politics, plural societies, Pan-African movements and expressive musical and ritual hybrids developed as hallmarks of a distinctive “counter-modernity.”

Excavating the Past, a two-day conference in honor of UCLA emeritus professor Merrick Posnansky, will bring together a select group of leading archaeologists and historians of the Black Atlantic, most trained by Posnansky himself. Beyond recognizing Merrick’s contribution to the archaeology of Africa and the Americas, our aim is to develop a better understanding of how archaeological sites in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States provide “grounds” for hypothesizing the presence and impact of regional symbolic systems and/or social networks. Particular emphasis will be placed on the development of Creole societies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) in relation to West-Central Africa and Europe.


Candice Goucher, Washington State University, Vancouver
“Memory of Iron: Forging Black Atlantic History”

Philip L. de Barros, Palomar College
“How Far Inland Did the Arm of the Slave Trade Reach? Evidence from the Bassar Region of Northern Togo”

J. Cameron Monroe, University of California, Santa Cruz
“’In the belly of Dan’: Landscape, Power, and Urban Transformation in Precolonial Dahomey”

Akin Ogundiran, University of North Carolina-Charlotte
“Inventing Symbols, Constructing Self, Reproducing Community: On the Materiality of Culture in the Mid-Atlantic Age Yorubaland”

François G. Richard, University of Chicago
“Of Despotic Kings and Powerless Peasants? (Dis)Ambiguating Power in Siin (Senegal) during the Atlantic Era”

Keynote Address

Christopher R. DeCorse, Syracuse University
“West Africa after the Europeans: Change and Transformation in the Era of the Atlantic World”

Kenneth G. Kelly, University of South Carolina
“Atlantic Networks in the African Diaspora: Archaeological Research in French West Africa and the French West Indies”

E. Kofi Agorsah, Portland State University
“Formation and Transformation of Maroon Settlements in Suriname: Archaeological Strategies”

Peter R. Schmidt, University of Florida
Archaeological Signatures for Spiritual Agency among Africans in the New World: The Pitfalls of Grab Bag Ethnology

Laurie A. Wilkie, University of California, Berkeley
“American-Africans and African-Americans in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century and the Construction of Diaspora Identities”

Douglas Armstrong, Syracuse University
“Freedom on the Margins: Archaeological Explorations of Free Black Settlements in the Danish West Indies”