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Models of African mobility: the forced and the free

By far the dominant narrative of African mobility is that of slavery and the Triangle Trade. Here, we will look instead principally at individual and family migration: the chosen, or at least physically unforced movement of individuals and groups from the African continent to locations in Europe (including the Soviet Union) and the Americas. This week we will compare these historiographies and the reasons why free African migration has received relatively little historical attention until recently.


Required Reading:

  • ALL GROUPS Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, 'African Diasporas: Toward a Global History', African Studies Review 53, no. 1 (2010): 1-19.
  • Archive group 1 : Michelle Wright, 'Middle Passage Blackness and its Diasporic Discontents: The Case for a Post-War Epistemology', in Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken, eds, Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 213), p. 217-233 E-book.
  • Archive Groups 2, 3 : Donald Martin Carter, 'Chapter 11: Blackness over Europe: Meditations on Culture and Belonging', in Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken, eds, Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), e-book.
  • Archive Groups 4, 5: Hull, Elizabeth. “International Migration, Domestic Struggles and Status Aspiration among Nurses in South Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, 2010, pp. 851–67. JSTOR,

Discussion Questions

  • Why have narratives of enslavement and the Atlantic context so dominated histories of African diaspora?
  • What can we gain from examining migration from Africa in other contexts and by other means? And what might we lose?

Background Reading:

Public History blog: Refugee debates have an African history problem:

Yvette Alex-Assensoh, 'African Immigrants and African Americans: An Analysis of Voluntary African Immigration and the Evolution of Black Ethnic Politics in America', African and Asian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2009): 89-124 (e-Journal) NB: Connecting to this article can be a challenge, as the links are a bit unpredictable. If you get stuck, try this.

And for an interesting comparative perspective on African American internal migration, see: Bryan Stuart and Evan Taylor, 'Migration Networks and Location Decisions: Evidence from U.S. Mass Migration'
This paper examines the effects of birth town migration networks on location decisions. We study over one million long-run location decisions made during two landmark migration episodes by African Americans from the U.S. South and whites from the Great Plains.

Kim Butler, 'Brazilian abolition in Afro-Atlantic context,' African Studies Review 43, 1 (2000), p. 127. This article offers a very clear and straightforward set of definitions and tools for understanding and studying diasporas. Of course, you should use in conjunction with other scholarship -- but it's a good place to start!

Kelly Duke Bryant, 'Black but Not African: Francophone Black Diaspora and the "Revue Des Colonies," 1834-1842', The International Journal of African Historical Studies 40, no. 2 (2007): 251-82. Non white, African and Caribbean origin populations reflecting on African diaspora in 19th c. France and colonies.

Darlene Clark Hine, 'Frontiers in black diaspora studies and comparative black history: enhanced knowledge of our complex past', The Negro Educational Review 52, 3 (2001), pp. 101-8.

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, 'Africa and Africans in the African Diaspora: The Uses of Relational Databases." The American Historical Review 115, no. 1 (2010): 136-50. Useful methodology piece on limitations of databases and quantitative methods of understanding the slave trade, focused around claims and counter claims about role of African women in stimulating new world rice production. Could pair nicely with Tinde van Andel's piece.

Pier M. Larson, 'Reconsidering Trauma, Identity, and the African Diaspora: Enslavement and Historical Memory in Nineteenth-Century Highland Madagascar', The William and Mary Quarterly 56, no. 2 (1999): 335-62. Puts African/Indian Ocean slave trade back into the slave trade diaspora story.

Marc C. McLeod, 'Undesirable Aliens: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in the Comparison of Haitian and British West Indian Immigrant Workers in Cuba, 1912-1939', Journal of Social History 31, no. 3 (1998): 599-623. .

Tinde van Andel, 'The Reinvention of Household Medicine by Enslaved Africans in Suriname', Social History of Medicine, 29.4 (November 2016), 676-694. e-journal.

Emilie Venables, 'Senegalese Women and the Cyber Café: Online Dating and Aspirations of Transnational Migration in Ziguinchor'. African and Asian Studies, 7(4) 2008, 471-490. opens in a new window

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, "Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic." African Affairs 104, no. 414 (2005): 35-68. Critiques Paul Gilroy, extends African Diaspora beyond Atlantic world; polemical but still useful summary of the diaspora literature as of 2005).