Research & Initiatives

pursuing interests across the spectrum of African and African-American studies

Monique Bedasse receives Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history

Monique Bedasse receives Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history

the faculty bookshelf

Building the Black Arts Movement: Hoyt Fuller and the Cultural Politics of the 1960s
The Quills of the Porcupine
Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress
The African Rank-and-File: Social Implications of Colonial Military Service in the King's African Rifles, 1902-1964
 Race, resistance, and the Boy Scout movement in British Colonial Africa
The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall
Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety and Intervention in Uganda's Time of AIDS
Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Making of Modern African American Religion
Recipes for Respect: African American Meals and Meaning
Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice
Jah Kingdom Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization
 James Baldwin: The FBI File
Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage
The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice
A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports
Tongnaab: The History of a West African God
The British Imperial Century, 1815–1914 (Second Edition)

Building the Black Arts Movement: Hoyt Fuller and the Cultural Politics of the 1960s

As both an activist and the dynamic editor of Negro Digest, Hoyt Fuller stood at the nexus of the Black Arts Movement and the broader cultural politics of his time. Building the Black Arts Movement uses historical snapshots of Fuller's life and achievements to rethink the period and establish Fuller's important role in laying the foundation for the movement. In telling Hoyt Fuller's story, Fenderson provides provocative new insights into the movement's international dimensions, the ways the movement took shape at the local level, the impact of race and other factors, and the challenges--corporate, political, and personal--that Fuller and others faced in trying to build black institutions. 

An innovative study that approaches the movement from a historical perspective, Building the Black Arts Movement is a much-needed reassessment of the trajectory of African American culture over two explosive decades. 

The Quills of the Porcupine

Bearing the historic symbol of the Asante nation, the porcupine, the National Liberation Movement (NLM) stormed onto the Gold Coast’s political stage in 1954, mounting one of the first and most significant campaigns to decentralize political power in decolonizing Africa.  Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) was the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to secure political independence from Britain.  The struggle for full self-government was led by Kwame Nkrumah, the leading advocate of African nationalism and Pan-African unity in the post-World War II era.  The NLM threatened the stability of Nkrumah’s preindependence government and destroyed prospects for a smooth transition to full self-rule.  Though NLM demands for Asante autonomy mobilized thousands of members, marchers, and voters, the NLM was unable to forestall plans for a unitary government in a new nation.  Under Nkrumah, Ghana became independent in 1957. Marginalized politically by 1958, the NLM has at times been marginalized by scholars as well.  Cast into the shadows of academic inquiry where history’s losers often dwell, the NLM came to be characterized as a tribalist ghost of the past whose foreordained defeat was worthy of some attention, but whose spectacular rise was not.

Today, when it is far harder to dismiss decentralizing movements and alternative nationalisms as things of the past, Jean Marie Allman’s brilliant The Quills of the Porcupine recovers the history of the NLM as a popular movement whose achievements and defeats were rooted in Asante’s history and in the social conflicts of the period.  Allman draws skillfully on her extensive interviews with NLM activists, on a variety of published and archival sources in Ghana, and on British colonial records—many of them recently declassified—to provide rich narrative detail. Sophisticated in its analysis of the NLM’s ideology and of the appeals of the movement to various strata within Asante society, The Quills of the Porcupine is a pioneering case study in the social history of African politics.  An exciting story firmly situated within the context of the large theoretical and historical literature on class, ethnicity, and nationalism, its significance reaches far past the borders of Asante, and of Ghana.

Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress

Everywhere in the world there is a close connection between the clothes we wear and our political expression. To date, few scholars have explored what clothing means in 20th-century Africa and the diaspora. In Fashioning Africa, an international group of anthropologists, historians, and art historians bring rich and diverse perspectives to this fascinating topic. From clothing as an expression of freedom in early colonial Zanzibar to Somali women’s headcovering in inner-city Minneapolis, these essays explore the power of dress in African and pan-African settings. Nationalist and diasporic identities, as well as their histories and politics, are examined at the level of what is put on the body every day. Readers interested in fashion history, material and expressive cultures, understandings of nation-state styles, and expressions of a distinctive African modernity will be engaged by this interdisciplinary and broadly appealing volume.

Contributors are Heather Marie Akou, Jean Allman, A. Boatema Boateng, Judith Byfield, Laura Fair, Karen Tranberg Hansen, Margaret Jean Hay, Andrew M. Ivaska, Phyllis M. Martin, Marissa Moorman, Elisha P. Renne, and Victoria L. Rovine.

The African Rank-and-File: Social Implications of Colonial Military Service in the King's African Rifles, 1902-1964

The African Rank-and-File explores why East Africans in the King's African Rifles (KAR) served a foreign power, which denied them the rights of full citizenship and was at best paternalistic and at worst openly oppressive. The KAR was a viable institution because it advanced, to varying degrees, the interests of the colonial state, the British military establishment, and African soldiers. These interests were quite often contradictory, and it took an ongoing process of negotiation and accommodation over the social status of the African soldiery to make the KAR work. Tensions such as these were not unique to the colonial military; the co-option of Africans as chiefs, policemen, teachers, and clergymen produced similar points of friction. Like other important intermediary classes, African soldiers performed a vital service for the colonial regime and sought to exploit its inherent weaknesses to enhance their position in colonial society. Their ability to do so exposed some of the most fundamental tensions and contradictions of British colonial rule.

Race, resistance, and the Boy Scout movement in British Colonial Africa

Conceived by General Sir Robert Baden-Powell as a way to reduce class tensions in Edwardian Britain, scouting evolved into an international youth movement. It offered a vision of romantic outdoor life as a cure for disruption caused by industrialization and urbanization. Scouting's global spread was due to its success in attaching itself to institutions of authority. As a result, scouting has become embroiled in controversies in the civil rights struggle in the American South, in nationalist resistance movements in India, and in the contemporary American debate over gay rights. In Race, Resistance, and the Boy Scout Movement in British Colonial Africa, Timothy Parsons uses scouting as an analytical tool to explore the tensions in colonial society. Introduced by British officials to strengthen their rule, the movement targeted the students, juvenile delinquents, and urban migrants who threatened the social stability of the regime. Yet Africans themselves used scouting to claim the rights of full imperial citizenship. They invoked the Fourth Scout Law, which declared that a scout was a brother to every other scout, to challenge racial discrimination. Parsons shows that African scouting was both an instrument of colonial authority and a subversive challenge to the legitimacy of the British Empire. His study of African scouting demonstrates the implications and far-reaching consequences of colonial authority in all its guises.

The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall

In The Rule of Empires, Timothy Parsons gives a sweeping account of the evolution of empire from its origins in ancient Rome to its most recent twentieth-century embodiment. He explains what constitutes an empire and offers suggestions about what empires of the past can tell us about our own historical moment.
Parsons uses imperial examples that stretch from ancient Rome, to Britain's "new" imperialism in Kenya, to the Third Reich to parse the features common to all empires, their evolutions and self-justifying myths, and the reasons for their inevitable decline. Parsons argues that far from confirming some sort of Darwinian hierarchy of advanced and primitive societies, conquests were simply the products of a temporary advantage in military technology, wealth, and political will. Beneath the self-justifying rhetoric of benevolent paternalism and cultural superiority lay economic exploitation and the desire for power. Yet imperial ambitions still appear viable in the twenty-first century, Parsons shows, because their defenders and detractors alike employ abstract and romanticized perspectives that fail to grasp the historical reality of subjugation. 
Writing from the perspective of the common subject rather than that of the imperial conquerors, Parsons offers a historically grounded cautionary tale rich with accounts of subjugated peoples throwing off the yoke of empire time and time again. In providing an accurate picture of what it is like to live as a subject, The Rule of Empires lays bare the rationalizations of imperial conquerors and their apologists and exposes the true limits of hard power.

Regulating Romance: Youth Love Letters, Moral Anxiety and Intervention in Uganda's Time of AIDS

Drawing on ten years of ethnographic research, two hundred fifty interviews, and over three hundred youth love letters, author Shanti Parikh uses lively vignettes to provide a rare window into young people's heterosexual desires and practices in Uganda. In chapters entitled "Unbreak my heart," "I miss you like a desert missing rain," and "You're just playing with my head," she invites readers into the world of secret longings, disappointments, and anxieties of young Ugandans as they grapple with everyday difficulties while creatively imagining romantic futures and possibilities.

Parikh also examines the unintended consequences of Uganda's aggressive HIV campaigns that thrust sexuality and anxieties about it into the public sphere. In a context of economic precarity and generational tension that constantly complicates young people's notions of consumption-based romance, communities experience the dilemmas of protecting and policing young people from reputational and health dangers of sexual activity. "They arrested me for loving a school girl" is the title of a chapter on controlling delinquent daughters and punishing defiant boyfriends for attempting to undermine patriarchal authority by asserting their adolescent romantic agency. Sex education programs struggle between risk and pleasure amidst morally charged debates among international donors and community elders, transforming the youthful female body into a platform for public critique and concern. The many sides of this research constitute an eloquently executed critical anthropology of intervention.

Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Making of Modern African American Religion

From 1925 to 1941, approximately one hundred African American clergymen teamed up with leading record labels such as Columbia, Paramount, Victor-RCA to record and sell their sermons on wax. While white clerics of the era, such as Aimee Semple McPherson and Charles Fuller, became religious entrepreneurs and celebrities through their pioneering use of radio, black clergy were largely marginalized from radio. Instead, they relied on other means to get their message out, teaming up with corporate titans of the phonograph industry to package and distribute their old-time gospel messages across the country. Their nationally marketed folk sermons received an enthusiastic welcome by consumers, at times even outselling top billing jazz and blues artists such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.  

These phonograph preachers significantly shaped the development of black religion during the interwar period, playing a crucial role in establishing the contemporary religious practices of commodification, broadcasting, and celebrity. Yet, the fame and reach of these nationwide media ministries came at a price, as phonograph preachers became subject to the principles of corporate America. 

In Preaching on Wax, Lerone A. Martin offers the first full-length account of the oft-overlooked religious history of the phonograph industry. He explains why a critical mass of African American ministers teamed up with the major phonograph labels of the day, how and why black consumers eagerly purchased their religious records, and how this phonograph religion significantly contributed to the shaping of modern African American Christianity.

Winner of the 2015 Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize for outstanding scholarship in church history by a first-time author presented by the American Society of Church History  


Certificate of Merit, 2015 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research presented by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections 

Recipes for Respect: African American Meals and Meaning

Food studies, once trendy, has settled into the public arena. In the academy, scholarship on food and literary culture constitutes a growing river within literary and cultural studies, but writing on African American food and dining remains a tributary. Recipes for Respect bridges this gap, illuminating the role of foodways in African American culture as well as the contributions of Black cooks and chefs to what has been considered the mainstream.

Beginning in the early nineteenth century and continuing nearly to the present day, African Americans have often been stereotyped as illiterate kitchen geniuses. Rafia Zafar addresses this error, highlighting the long history of accomplished African Americans within our culinary traditions, as well as the literary and entrepreneurial strategies for civil rights and respectability woven into the written records of dining, cooking, and serving. Whether revealed in cookbooks or fiction, memoirs or hotel-keeping manuals, agricultural extension bulletins or library collections, foodways knowledge sustained Black strategies for self-reliance and dignity, the preservation of historical memory, and civil rights and social mobility. If, to follow Mary Douglas’s dictum, food is a field of action—that is, a venue for social intimacy, exchange, or aggression—African American writing about foodways constitutes an underappreciated critique of the racialized social and intellectual spaces of the United States.

Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice

As a black child growing up in inner-city neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, John Baugh witnessed racial discrimination at a young age and began to notice correlations between language and race. While attending college he worked at a Laundromat serving African Americans who were often subjected to mistreatment by the police. His observations piqued his curiosity about the ways that linguistic diversity might be related to the burgeoning Civil Rights movement for racial equality in America. Baugh pursued these ideas whilst traveling internationally only to discover alternative forms of linguistic discrimination in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean and South America. He coined the phrase 'linguistic profiling' based on experimental studies of housing discrimination, and expanded upon those findings to promote equity in education, employment, medicine and the law. This book is the product of the culmination of these studies, devoted to the advancement of equality and justice globally.

Jah Kingdom Rastafarians, Tanzania, and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization

From its beginnings in 1930s Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement has become a global presence. While the existing studies of the Rastafarian movement have primarily focused on its cultural expression through reggae music, art, and iconography, Monique A. Bedasse argues that repatriation to Africa represents the most important vehicle of Rastafari’s international growth. Shifting the scholarship on repatriation from Ethiopia to Tanzania, Bedasse foregrounds Rastafari’s enduring connection to black radical politics and establishes Tanzania as a critical site to explore gender, religion, race, citizenship, socialism, and nation. Beyond her engagement with how the Rastafarian idea of Africa translated into a lived reality, she demonstrates how Tanzanian state and nonstate actors not only validated the Rastafarian idea of diaspora but were also crucial to defining the parameters of Pan-Africanism.

Based on previously undiscovered oral and written sources from Tanzania, Jamaica, England, the United States, and Trinidad, Bedasse uncovers a vast and varied transnational network--including Julius Nyerere, Michael Manley, and C. L. R James--revealing Rastafari’s entrenchment in the making of Pan-Africanism in the postindependence period.

 

Winner of Wesley-Logan Prize, American Historical Association (2018)

Winner of Anna Julia Cooper and C.L.R. James Award, National Council for Black Studies

James Baldwin: The FBI File

Decades before Black Lives Matter returned James Baldwin to prominence, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered the Harlem-born author the most powerful broker between black art and black power. Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file, covering the period from 1958 to 1974, was the largest compiled on any African American artist of the Civil Rights era. This collection of once-secret documents, never before published in book form, captures the FBI’s anxious tracking of Baldwin’s writings, phone conversations, and sexual habits—and Baldwin’s defiant efforts to spy back at Hoover and his G-men.

James Baldwin: The FBI File reproduces over one hundred original FBI records, selected by the noted literary historian whose award-winning book, F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature, brought renewed attention to bureau surveillance. William J. Maxwell also provides an introduction exploring Baldwin's enduring relevance in the time of Black Lives Matter along with running commentaries that orient the reader and offer historical context, making this book a revealing look at a crucial slice of the American past—and present.

Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage

Most times left solely within the confine of plantation narratives, slavery was far from a land-based phenomenon. This book reveals for the first time how it took critical shape at sea. Expanding the gaze even more deeply, the book centers how the oceanic transport of human cargoes--infamously known as the Middle Passage--comprised a violently regulated process foundational to the institution of bondage. Sowande' Mustakeem's groundbreaking study goes inside the Atlantic slave trade to explore the social conditions and human costs embedded in the world of maritime slavery.

 

Mining ship logs, records and personal documents, Mustakeem teases out the social histories produced between those on traveling ships: slaves, captains, sailors, and surgeons. As she shows, crewmen manufactured captives through enforced dependency, relentless cycles of physical, psychological terror, and pain that led to the the making--and unmaking--of enslaved Africans held and transported onboard slave ships. Mustakeem relates how this process, and related power struggles, played out not just for adult men, but also for women, children, teens, infants, nursing mothers, the elderly, diseased, ailing, and dying. Mustakeem offers provocative new insights into how gender, health, age, illness, and medical treatment intersected with trauma and violence transformed human beings into the world's most commercially sought commodity for over four centuries.

 

Winner of Wesley-Logan Prize,  American Historical Association (2017)

The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

The Black Child Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012) provides the first in-depth historical account of the racial politics of American juvenile justice, examining the rise, fall, and lasting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice (ca. 1890-2000). The study traces ordeals of racial oppression and domination in juvenile justice – an imagined “citizen-building” institution – to embattled 20th century racial politics of American liberal democracy, while emphasizing the resistance of generations of black civic leaders.  The result is a more complex and dynamic view of how varied racial projects formed and functioned to not only diminish but also affirm the democratic standing of black youth and communities in this context of racialized social control. Theoretically, the project challenges conventional views of racialized social control which frame nonwhites as passive, subjugated populations, revealing the contentious nature of these relations, and the ability for less powerful groups to impose their interests within processes of social control. In terms of public policy, the book illustrates how redistributive remedies rooted in colorblind racial ideology have undermined gains in racial and ethnic group recognition, limiting the relevance of formal integration to substantive inclusion. 
 

Winner of the Michael J. Hindelang Book Award of the American Society of Criminology, 2013

Winner of the Outstanding Book Prize of the History of Education Society, 2013

 

A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports

As Americans, we believe there ought to be a level playing field for everyone. Even if we don’t expect to finish first, we do expect a fair start. Only in sports have African Americans actually found that elusive level ground. But at the same time, black players offer an ironic perspective on the athlete-hero, for they represent a group historically held to be without social honor.

In his first new collection of sports essays since Tuxedo Junction (1989), the noted cultural critic Gerald Early investigates these contradictions as they play out in the sports world and in our deeper attitudes toward the athletes we glorify. Early addresses a half-century of heated cultural issues ranging from integration to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Writing about Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood, he reconstructs pivotal moments in their lives and explains how the culture, politics, and economics of sport turned with them. Taking on the subtexts, racial and otherwise, of the controversy over remarks Rush Limbaugh made about quarterback Donovan McNabb, Early restores the political consequence to an event most commentators at the time approached with predictable bluster.

The essays in this book circle around two perennial questions: What other, invisible contests unfold when we watch a sporting event? What desires and anxieti

Tongnaab: The History of a West African God

For many Africanist historians, traditional religion is simply a starting point for measuring the historic impact of Christianity and Islam. In Tongnaab, Jean Allman and John Parker challenge the distinction between tradition and modernity by tracing the movement and mutation of the powerful Talensi god and ancestor shrine, Tongnaab, from the savanna of northern Ghana through the forests and coastal plains of the south. Using a wide range of written, oral, and iconographic sources, Allman and Parker uncover the historical dynamics of cross-cultural religious belief and practice. They reveal how Tongnaab has been intertwined with many themes and events in West African history—the slave trade, colonial conquest and rule, capitalist agriculture and mining, labor migration, shifting ethnicities, the production of ethnographic knowledge, and the political projects that brought about the modern nation state. This rich and original book shows that indigenous religion has been at the center of dramatic social and economic changes stretching from the slave trade to the tourist trade.

The British Imperial Century, 1815–1914 (Second Edition)

Although Britain's overseas empire may not have been "acquired in a fit of absence of mind," as one of its most prominent historians once alleged, neither was it the brainchild of politicians and bureaucrats in London. Why, then, has so much imperial history been written from this metropolitan perspective? Timothy Parsons strongly contends that the scope and duration of this, the largest of all modern European empires, can only be understood from a non-Western perspective. In an exceptionally concise and informative fashion, The British Imperial Century offers its readers a comprehensive overview of the formation and administration of the empire from its origins in the early nineteenth century, to its climax at mid-century, to its denouement on the eve of the First World War. This was the era in which a previously "informal" empire based on trade and commerce was transformed into a "formal" empire in which trade was often of secondary importance to strategic or political considerations. Parsons devotes chapters to key colonies and regions, many of them overlooked by previous scholars, that include the Indian "raj," Africa, the Middle East, and China. He also considers the long-term consequences of imperialism on the cultures of the colonized and the colonizers alike. An ambitious and thoughtful contribution to the field of imperial history, The British Imperial Century will find a useful place in courses on world history and European history, or as a supplemental text for classes on African, Asian, British, or Middle Eastern history.

Departmental Initiatives

Beyond our research activities, faculty in African and African-American Studies currently engage with the broader community in two significant ways: The African Film Festival and the African Oral History Project. 

African Film Festival

Since 2006, the African Film Festival has introduced Saint Louis audiences to the latest in African cinema. Through a variety of genres, the films showcase the latest talent and new directions in cinema while highlighting themes in a variety of African countries. 

African Oral History Project

Through the African Oral History Project, community members who lived through important historical eras collaborate with WashU faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to create a unique historical record that will offer new perspectives on African history while helping individual informants to better preserve their own life stories for themselves and their descendants. 

Visit the African Film Festival  Visit the African Oral History Project