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Center For Africana Studies

Working Papers

The Center for Africana Studies Working Papers Series is designed to offer cutting edge scholarship on important topics related to the study of the Africa, the African-American experience, and the African Diaspora.  Many of the papers are the products of conferences, reading groups, workshops, and symposia sponsored by the Center.  A limited number of papers have been independently submitted for review by members of our board and for publication on our website.  These works offer a preliminary look at topics, research, and intellectual debates that will soon appear in article or book form.  The Working Papers Series is designed to allow scholars a venue to launch their work to the wider academic public for feedback and discussion.  We encourage you to contact our authors directly if you have comments on their work.  Similarly, you should also contact the authors before citing any publication appearing here.  All citations should adopt the following style:

Reginald Lewis, “The African Diaspora in Baltimore,” (working paper WP001 for the Center for Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University, 2007)


Abstracts and Papers >2009 2008 2007

Abstracts and Papers 2009

WP 012
Race and Class in Colonial Mexico - An Overview of the Literature
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Kristin Gilles
Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi


This paper evaluates historiography in colonial Mexican history, focusing on the specific contributions scholars have made in the discussion of the role of race and class within colonial Mexican society.  Looking at identity construction and social stratification, one group of scholars argue that race is more important in the operation of these two social processes; while other scholars argue that class is more important.  However, there is a third group of scholars within the debate who have taken unique positions.  These historians, all who are writing more recent scholarship, move the debate forward, offering alternative explanations for the processes of identity construction and social ranking beyond the traditional race or class explanation.  The debate becomes much more complex with the introduction of patriarchialism, gender, different social spaces, or the idea of social race.  My paper proposes that patriarchy and social race, defined by shared experiences, were the most important determinants of identity construction and social stratification. 




Abstracts and Papers 2008


Charting Racial Formations in the New U.S. South: Reflections on North Carolina’s Latino, African-American, and Afro-Latino Relations

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John Jackson Jr., University of Pennsylvania
David Sartorius, University of Maryland, College Park
Carlos Tovares, California State University, Northridge
Bobby Vaughn, Notre Dame de Namur University
Ben Vinson III, Johns Hopkins University


The term “New South” has been used for over a hundred years to describe and categorize the Southern U.S. The desire to continually reinvent the South suggests that the current transformations of the region’s economy, demographics, and politics are not radical reconfigurations of a monolithic and unchanging landscape, but rather are the latest articulations of a complex and continually evolving region. Change in the South, however is not a neutral, uncontested process. The South’s meaning is now being challenged in ways that have not been witnessed before. Multiethnic diversity has been identified as one of the key emerging features of the region, particularly in job-laden metropolitan areas. In North Carolina and other Southern States, migration streams are channeling Latinos into areas with relatively large Black populations, and in geographically defined social/political spaces that have been historically discussed in binary terms of Black and White. This essay is a preliminary exploration of these processes of contested change in North Carolina, examining the stakes involved, the processes that have unfurled, and the histories/legacies produced by these interactions that are rapidly becoming prominent features in the American social landscape.

Africa and Its Diasporas: Remembering South America
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By Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

African interest in the Diaspora has never been greater than it is now. This is evident in the growing attention paid to the subject by African scholars and governments. The motivations are as varied as they are complex. The ascendancy of globalization, transnational, and postcolonial studies has helped fuel African scholarly interest in Diaspora studies as has the rising tide of African international academic migrations since the 1980s (Zeleza 2004). The academic migrants are part of Africa’s new Diasporas, whose size is growing rapidly in parts of the global North, and which is coveted by African governments for their social capital—skills, knowledge, networks, civic awareness, cultural experience and cosmopolitanism—that can provide not only access to global markets and investment and stimulate technological innovation, but also invigorate democracy, strengthen civil society and encourage the growth of new philanthropic cultures. Already, the new Diaspora is Africa’s biggest donor; not surprisingly governments increasingly regard it as a critical remittance pipeline, as an important economic asset.


The Deliverance of Henry “Box” Brown

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By Hollis Robbins

While The Narrative of Henry “Box” Brown has enjoyed a renewed interest in African American studies, few scholars have focused on the particular method of Brown’s escape from slavery to freedom—his overnight shipment by Adams Express from Richmond to Philadelphia—or the humor of his story. This paper argues that Brown’s initial celebrity is inextricably intertwined with public enthusiasm for rapid, reliable, and inexpensive mail delivery in antebellum America (notably in the abolitionist community) and with the daily comedy of the postman’s blindness to the contents of the mail.

The Cultural Politics of Paul Robeson and Richard Wright:
Theorizing the African Diaspora

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By Floyd Hayes, III

“The Cultural Politics of Paul Robeson and Richard Wright: Theorizing the African Diaspora”
Confronted with the task of defining what it meant to be black in an anti-black world, early cultural critics faced intellectual, existential, and political challenges. This paper focuses on how Paul Robeson and Richard Wright met these challenges in the post-World War Two period. The author explores the way that Robeson and Wright’s biographies and writings shed light on the ambiguities inherent in theorizing the African Diaspora.

“George Lamming the Existentialist”

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By Lewis R. Gordon

This essay argues that George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin offers important tropes in black existential thought that are synchronous with Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, but with a more detailed exploration of the concept of political complicity through his portrait of the phenomenon of slime and its correlate, the slimy individual. The author also discusses Lamming’s treatment of the Fanonian motif of colonizing notions of normative development.

Abstracts and Papers 2007


"Immigration, Race, and Nation: Baltimore's Immigrant Recruitment and Response, 1880-1910"

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By Melanie Shell-Weiss
In the period immediately following the Civil War, Maryland was among the southern states to pursue an active campaign to recruit European immigrants. This paper explores these efforts as well as the response of residents already residing in the state, and strives to locate these initiatives within the broader context of race relations across the region.


“Immigrants in Baltimore: How Warm the Welcome?”

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By Elizabeth Clifford

This paper focuses on the contemporary situation of immigrants in Baltimore. Immigrants in Baltimore face a situation different from those in many other cities in important ways. First, the immigrant population is incredibly diverse in Baltimore, and in Maryland more generally, with no one or two nationalities predominant, whereas in many cities the majority of immigrants are from one of a few origins. Second, in the early years of the 21st century, Baltimore’s growing immigrant population encountered a city in which the city government officially and warmly welcomed them, in an effort to stave off population decline, whereas in many cities local governments are hostile to immigrants. In this paper, I examine current demographics of immigrants in Baltimore, and examine the official response to this immigrant flow. This research draws from secondary analysis of Census data and government sources regarding the official city standpoint on immigration, as well as from fieldwork with an immigrant organization in the city. In addition, the author reflects on her experiences organizing and coordinating the Baltimore Immigration Summit, an annual event that brings together academics, service providers, activists, and others interested in the issue of immigration in Baltimore.


Atlantic Bridge and Atlantic Divide:
Africans and Creoles in Late Colonial Brazil
by John Russell-Wood

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This essay focuses on an aspect of persons of African birth and descent in colonial Brazil to which not sufficient attention has been paid by scholars.  To the many factors--ethnicity, language, belief systems slavery, manumission and the circumstance of having been born free,slave or manumitted, and belief systems, and behaviors, which led to differentiations among persons of African birth or descent in the colony—place of birth played a crucial role in distinguishing Africans from Afro-Brazilians. This essay will briefly review relations between African- born and Brazilian- born of African descent and then focus exclusively on the presence in Brazil of persons born in Africa. I posit the hypothesis that some continued to live in accordance with African principles and practices and consciously and intentionally resisted assimilation into Luso-African- Brazilian or even Afro-Brazilian communities.


The Problems and Challenges of Research and Writing
on African and their Descendants in Colonial Cartagena de Indies: A Research Report
by Nicole von Germeten

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This paper is a work-in-progress summarizing the kinds of documents that can be used to learn about the history of Africans in colonial Cartagena de Indias.  Some of the sources described here include the work of Alonso de Sandoval, a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary who worked with African slaves, and documents related to the Cartagena leper colony.  The paper's emphasis is on analysis of Afro-Cartagenan's testimonies given during the beatification process of Saint Peter Claver.  These testimonies may offer a window into local African and Creole conceptions of heroism and miracles.

Color Lines and Social Lines: Clothing as an Index of Status
in Eighteenth-Century Lima, Peru
by Tamara J. Walker

As they had since the mid-sixteenth century, colonial officials in eighteenth-century Lima faced a formidable challenge: to grant the trappings of status to a select few while ensuring that those privileges – seductive as they were – were not exercised by those for whom they were not intended.  Although slaves and free castas figured prominently in the language of laws that aimed to govern access to elegant clothing and other material goods, official zeal on the subject of dress never quite managed to bend colonial reality to its will.  In fact, colonial officials failed in their efforts to effectively control access to clothing as a means to reinforce a color-based social hierarchy because they framed the debate in terms that were by then ill-suited to the city’s social and economic context. The decision to draw a color line that would act as a social line worked against officials for three reasons. First, it failed to account for the deeply-entrenched practice among slave owners – some wealthy, some not – of dressing slaves to communicate the owners’ wealth and status. Second, it underestimated just how many slaves had carved out access to clothing for their own purposes, often with the help of their owners.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it presumed that the city’s population of free castas – a group that also consisted of a number of slave owners – would not think of themselves as exceptions to the rules. In short, colonial officials failed to understand the power – and the problem – of clothing as it had evolved in colonial Peru and was manifested in eighteenth-century Lima. 

This paper is currently being revised. For more information, contact:

Tamara J. Walker
University of Pennsylvania
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences




Media Watch: A Timeline of Black Urban Video Culture, 1989-2004
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Tanji Gilliam, The University of Chicago

The aim of my project is to open up hip-hop to a wider discussion of contemporary Black, radical politics.  In so doing, I shift the exclusive focus away from the culture’s aesthetics, which tends to occlude the political aspects of hip-hop. I examine the historical and cultural implications of representation for Black American subjects and the influence of these implications on hip-hop cultural participants. In “Media Watch,” I employ five examples to argue that video media at large, including music videos, video art, Internet and news video, and other forms, presents a model for democratic representation that hip-hop culture has failed to acknowledge or enact. This is primarily because hip-hop has not critiqued its own lack of diversity with respect to gender and concrete political commitments in its video imagery. Archiving hip-hop video culture in this work, allowed for a much needed, self-reflexive study of hip-hop politics. It also reasserted hip-hop’s significance as a critical lens for interpreting black contemporary politics in general.