PreCirculated Cross-cultural Contacts between Europeans and West Central Africans, 1730–1910

AHA Session 21
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 111 (Hynes Convention Center)
David Richardson, Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull
Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

Session Abstract

In the past decades, historians have paid great attention to cross-cultural contacts between Europeans and non-Europeans in the early modern period.  Yet, with some notable exceptions, less attention has been paid to the changing nature of West Central Africa’s relationship with the outside world.  The appearance of Portuguese sailors on the coast of West Central Africa in the late fifteenth century set in motion a unique process of religious, cultural, and economic exchanges. Fundamental to this process was the position of West Central Africa as the largest regional supplier of slaves to the Atlantic world as well as its pioneering role in the expansion of Christianity in Africa. This section will focus on the historical interactions between West Central Africans and a variety of European actors, notably Portuguese colonial administrators, missionaries and Dutch traders, from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.          The papers on this panel will discuss different aspects of the changing relationships between West Central Africans and the Atlantic world from the era of the transatlantic slave trade to the early colonial period.  The presenters will explore debates on African religion as it intersects with political life, the introduction of  new religious beliefs and cultural norms, and, the evolution of new cultures of trade.  The patterns which emerge are not uniform across West Central Africa. Each of the three communities discussed on this panel (Loango, Kongo, and Benguela) developed from a different starting point; each community negotiated change and preservation with different results.  The papers in this panel will provide three different perspectives in terms of time and space in which cultural interaction and transformation took place.  In addition to introducing new archival research on West Central Africa, the papers feed into larger debates about creolization, with a particular emphasis on African agency in the transformation of cultures and political economies.

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