Afro-Indigenous Relations across the Americas, 1492 to the Present

AHA Session 11
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Kendra Field, Tufts University
Robert Keith Collins, San Francisco State University
Charles E. Beatty Medina, University of Toledo

Session Abstract

The history of race relations in the Americas has tended to focus on how colonized indigenous populations and enslaved African or indigenous populations interacted with European settler colonial governments and their Euro-American subjects. Yet in many areas before the nineteenth century Europeans were the demographic minority, and in almost all areas there was a significant degree of direct interaction between peoples of African and indigenous descent. These relationships were diverse and varied across places and times, ranging from open hostility to collaboration against colonialism and slavery. While several decades of scholarship in multiple disciplines has explored the history of these relationships in the United States and of the “Black Indian” communities that sometimes emerged from them, and while a similar field of research has more recently emerged within Latin American and Caribbean studies, not since the late Rhett Jones have scholars attempted to explore these questions in hemispheric perspective.

This panel brings together historians of Afro-indigenous relations who work on a variety of geographical and chronological scales and whose scholarship ranges across the Americas from the early colonial period to the present. By sharing our most recent research in the field, we hope to open a wide-ranging conversation about sources, research methods, theoretical perspectives, and the responsibility of our scholarship to present-day Afro-indigenous communities. Scholarship on the subject in the United States goes back at least to Carter G. Woodson (1920) and Kenneth Wiggins Porter (1930) and has drawn particularly on the experiences and especially the legal status of Afro-Americans who joined or in some cases were enslaved by Native American groups, while Latin American and Caribbean research emerged more recently and has been significantly shaped by scholarship on historical and present-day maroon societies pioneered by Richard Price (1973), to say nothing of the oral histories of communities such as the Black Seminole (“Semiroon”) people or the songs of the Garifuna, recognized as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

With this panel we hope to revive the effort of Brown University Africana Studies professor Rhett Jones to bring these disparate histories into a single analytical framework, to draw comparisons and where possible connections across our distant specializations, to facilitate scholarship that speaks across regional, chronological, and disciplinary boundaries and which is ultimately answerable to the living communities to whom it is most urgently relevant. It will be of interest to specialists in Native American, First Nations, and African American history, the history of race and race relations, the history of kinship and identity, and the history of slavery and colonialism.

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