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African Diaspora Newsletter No.11 - Conferences and Workshops
International Conference on “Slavery, Islam and Diaspora” Dedicated to Nehemia Levtzion,

York University, 24-26 October 2003

Ismael M. Montana and Nadine Hunt

Last fall, the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora held an international conference on “Slavery, Islam and Diaspora” at Calumet College, York University. The conference chaired by Prof. John Hunwick was, chiefly organized by graduate students in the Department of History and was made possible with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History, Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora, York University; Faculty of Arts, Department of History, Calumet College, Founders College, Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, Office of the Associate Vice-President Academic, Office of the Associate Vice-President International, Office of Student Affairs and the York University Bookstore.

This unique conference, which looked more broadly into slavery, diaspora and the Islamic factor from the early modern to the modern period, brought together over 70 leading scholars and students working on issues concerning Islam, slavery and related subjects in various parts of the world. Its major goal was to redress the imbalance in the study of slavery especially how the Islamic factor shaped both the history of enslavement, the development of the African diaspora and the activities of enslaved Muslims. With this task in mind, the various panels provided opportunities for studies in Comparative slavery, world history and engagements in African diaspora studies. The presenters and discussants revealed the extent to which enslaved black Africans influenced their host societies. They also highlighted how the movement of enslaved Africans contributed to the shaping of the modern Muslim world and in leading to the conversion of many people to Islam. An important part of the conference was that it revealed a methodological gap in the study of the Atlantic slave trade and the dynamics of the African diaspora in the Atlantic. For instance, throughout the Atlantic slave trade, a substantial component of Africans that were exported to the Americas came from Muslim societies, yet Islam has not been fully factored into studies of Atlantic slavery. It is revealing therefore that several papers at this conference touched on how enslaved Muslims from Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) occupied a unique place within the Atlantic slave trade and how attention on this people will reveal more on the ethnicity of the Atlantic slave trade, literacy, political organisation, slave resistance, medicine, gender and the economy. Likewise, the role of enslaved Africans in the Islamic world also engaged the attention of the participants. This was the crux of Prof. Ehud R. Toledano’s keynote address on the historiography of slavery in the Muslim World. The three-day forum discussed the conference themes in nine panels. Topic ranged from: “The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean; Slavery in North Africa; Slavery Beyond the Mediterranean; African Muslims in the Americas; Slavery in the Maghreb; Islam and the Abolition of Slavery; Islam, Slavery and Race; Conceptions of Slavery and Emancipation to Slavery in Brazil”.

On the occasion of the sudden death of Prof. Nehemia Levtzion, who was expected to attend this conference, Prof. Martin A. Klein, Emeritus (University of Toronto) described Prof. Levtzion as a humanist, Arabist, Islamicist, a prominent historian and a leading international expert of Islam in Africa. Levtzion, the Fuld and Bamberger Professor of History of the Muslim Peoples at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was born in Palestine in 1935. He studied Arabic and Islamic history at the Hebrew University for his bachelor and master degrees and the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London for a doctorate in African History. Levtzion was, indeed, a prolific scholar who led to his credits, generations of scholars and students in the Islamic History of Africa. His works include Islam in West Africa: Religion, Society, and Politics to 1800 (1994); Rural and urban Islam in West Africa (1987); Eighteenth-century renewal and reform in Islam (1987); Conversion to Islam (1979) Ancient Ghana and Mali (1973) and Muslims and chiefs in West Africa: A study of Islam in the Middle Volta Basin in the pre-colonial period (1968) and Medieval West Africa in the Eyes of the Arabic Sources. He also co-authored (with Miriam Hoexter), The public sphere in Muslim societies (2002); (with Randall L. Pouwels), The History of Islam in Africa (2000); (with Ivor Wilks), Chronicles from Gonja: A Tradition of West African Muslim Historiography (1986); (with J.F.P. Hopkins), Corpus of early Arabic sources for West African history (1981) and (with William Brinner), Hebetim Islamiyim be-sikhsukh Yisra’el ‘Arav (1974).

Following the dedication Prof. Paul Lovejoy delivered an opening speech, which was followed by greetings from the Associate Vice-President International Prof. Adrian Shubert on behalf of York University and from the Chair of the History Department, Prof. Marlene Shore. Ismael M. Montana also welcomed participants on behalf of the Organizing Committee.

Overall, this conference, in spite its postponement due to SARS, was a robust conference, many of the participants attest to have attended, in terms of organization, themes, and of course achievement on the part of the Organizing Committee. Practically speaking, the conference was conceived to compliment the Muslim Diaspora component of the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora. Thus, for instance, out of thirty Graduate students associated with the Centre, eleven are working on various aspects of slavery in Islamic societies in West, Central, East and North Africa as well as in the Indian Ocean and Brazil. Members of the Organizing committee are primarily drawn from the latter group. The resolve of this committee to organize and indeed hold this event therefore also partly stems from the fact that the conference theme resonates strongly with the research interest of all the members and partly from our realization that many people share similar interest and will benefit, like us, in such a forum. Needless to mention, in a sense the preparation for this conference provided the Organizing Committee an ideal opportunity to experience intellectual dialogue with scholars and fellow students.

The closing remarks were delivered by Bashir Salau, which brought the conference to an end. He thanked all participants for their contributions.

Selected papers from the conference proceedings will be published in 2004. See Behnaz Mirzai Asl, Ismael Musah Montana and Paul E. Lovejoy (eds.), Islam, Slavery and Diaspora (Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, forthcoming).

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Organizing Committee
Top: M. Bashir Salau, Nadine Hunt, Alia Paroo, José Cairus, Jennifer Lofkrantz,
Bottom:  Ismael Musah Montana, Paul E. Lovejoy
Not in this picture: Behnaz Mirzai Asl

Papers Presented

Africa (East)
Paroo, Alia, York University, “The Ismailis in East Africa from 1835 to 1914”
Sheriff, Abdul, Zanzibar Museums, “Slavery in Early Islam and the Social Composition of the Zanj Rebellion”
Vernet, Thomas, Université Paris 1, Pantheon-Sorbonne, “Slave Trade and Slavery on the Swahili Coast, 1500-1750”

Africa (North)
Brower, Benjamin, Cornell University, “The Servile Populations of the Algerian Oases Seen Through the French Colonial Archives”
Daddi-Addoun, Yacine, York University, “Racialization of Slavery: The End of ‘White-European’ Slavery in Algeria: 1816-1830”
Freamon, Bernard K., Seton Hall Law School, “The ‘Ulama’ and the Abolition of Slavery in Nineteenth Century Egypt: The Role of the Modernists”
El-Hamel, Chouki, Arizona State University, “Writing Moroccan Slavery: Slave Registers and Slave Definition”
Helal, Emad Ahmed, Cairo University, “The Anti-Slavery Movement in Nineteenth Century Egypt Between Shari`a and Practice”
La Rue, George Michael, Clarion University, “‘Dying like Sheep with the Rot’: The Health of Enslaved Sudanese in the Egyptian Army Myth and Reality, 1820-1835”
Montana, Ismael Musah, York University, “Religious Identity and Social Consciousness of the Black Slave Community of Tunis in the Nineteenth Century”
Searcy, Kim, Indiana University, “Mahdist Proclamations on Slavery, the Slave Trade and Emancipation: 1885-1898”

Africa (West)
Hall, Bruce, University of Illinois, “Bellah Highwaymen: Slave Banditry and Crime in Colonial Northern Mali”
Hamza, Ibrahim, York University, “Some Historical and Cultural Definitions of Slavery and Freedom Among the Hausa People”
Lofkrantz, Jennifer, York University, “Power Dynamics, Society, and Ransoming of New Captives and Long-Term Slaves in West and North-West Africa in the Nineteenth Century”
Ojo, Olatunji, York University, “Islam, Ethnicity and Slave Resistance: Hausa ‘Mamluks’ in Nineteenth Century Yorubaland”
Salau, M. Bashir, York University, “Slaves in a Muslim City: A Survey of Slavery in Nineteenth Century Kano”

Afroz, Sultana, University of West Indies-Mona, “Setting the Record Straight, the Invincibility of Islam in Jamaica”
Niaah, Jalani, University of West Indies-Mona, “‘Not a Continent for an Island’: Rastafari, Representations and History”
Warner-Lewis, Maureen, University of West Indies-Mona, “Religious Constancy and Compromise Among Nineteenth Century Caribbean-Based African Muslims”

Middle East
Toledano, Ehud R., Tel-Aviv University, “Ottoman Slaves as Individuals, Ottoman Slavery as a Relationship”
Kravets, Maryna, University of Toronto, “Blacks beyond the Black Sea: Eunuchs in the Crimean Khanate”
Armstrong-Ingram, R. Jackson, University of Nevada, “‘Black Pearls’: The African Household Slaves of a Nineteenth Century Iranian Merchant Family”
Mirzai Asl, Behnaz, York University, “Commerce and the Dispersal of Africans in Persia”

South America
Cairus, José, York University, “‘Brothers’, ‘Partners’ and ‘Clubs’: Muslim Brotherhood and Sufi Practices in the Diaspora in the Shadow of the Muslim Uprising’s Criminal Court Trials Sources, Bahia, 1835”
Dobronravin, Nicolay, Saint-Petersburg State University, “Multilingual Arabic-script Literacy in Nineteenth Century Brazil and Trinidad: New Sources in Dublin, Havre and Salvador (Bahia)”
Farias, Juliana B, Universidade Federal do Fluminense and Soares, Mariza C., Vanderbilt University, “Religious Tolerance: Black Muslims among White Christians in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century, Rio de Janeiro”

Theory and Ideology        
Philips, John, Hirosaki University, Reconciling Definitions of Slavery
Tastan, Osman, Ankara University, “On the Notion of Slavery in Islamic Law: The Concept of Rights and Liberties Encountering the Historical Social Realities”

If you would like to access the conference program, you may visit:
http://www.yorku.ca/nhp/conferences/york2003/index.htm or contact nigerian@yorku.ca.

Literary Manifestations of the African Diaspora,

Cape Coast, Ghana, 10-14 November 2004

The organizers of this conference welcomed papers from critics, scholars and researchers engaged in examining literary representations of the African diaspora in historical and sociological perspectives. The aim of the conference was to introduce a wider audience to the ways in which trans-Atlantic constructions of the historical experience of the African diaspora find expression in the literary mode. It encouraged the exploration of the African diaspora through a variety of genres, both oral and written. These included narrative, poetry, myth, legend, autobiography, drama, as well as other texts.

The conference was held at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Panels were organized over four days and included local visits to historical sites, such as the historic Cape Coast, where the infamous Cape Coast Castle (Click here) is located. The Castle is a grim reminder of the legacy of slavery and the slave trade, and as a symbol its "door of no return" highlights the tragedy underlying the theme of the conference. Nearly forty participants presented their research, representing many West African and International universities. The conference sponsored by the University of Cape Coast (Click here) and the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora at York University, in collaboration with the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Proceedings from this conference will be available….

For more information about panels and to view accepted abstracts and papers, please visit http://www.yorku.ca/nhp/conferences/cape_coast/abstracts.htm

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Black History Month Workshop, York University, 27 February 2004

Nadine Hunt

The Harriet Tubman Resource Centre on the African Diaspora held its second annual workshop on the Underground Railroad, exploring types of multi-media being used to document the African-Canadian experience in Upper Canada (Ontario). The one-day workshop took place at the Founders Assembly Hall, York University. The participants included local residents and organizations representing various communities across Ontario, who are currently documenting the lives of African-Canadians in their towns. Also in attendance, students and faculty representing several Ontario universities, as well as independent filmmakers and writers currently investigating Underground Railroad themes in film and literature.

The program included Susan Poizner who directed Mother Tongue: Buxton a documentary film. In the film, we learn that Eliza Ann Parker escaped US slavery by migrating to the Chatham-Kent area in southern Ontario. Eliza’s great great granddaughter Toni Parker tells her escape and the documentary is narrated by Susan Poizner. Susan attended the workshop and discussed her objectives regarding this film and her thirteen part series Mother Tongue: The Other Side of History. The film is approximately thirty minutes in length and was produced for educational use; a teacher’s manual is in progress. For more information, visit http://www.mothertongue.ca

The second film, Freedom’s Land: Canada and the Underground Railroad produced by Marcy Cutler for the CBC televised series The Canadian Experience. This film narrated by Anthony Sherwood, depicted the obstacles faced by African-American refugees entering Canada prior to the Civil War. The film included several personalized stories about Henry Bid an African-American refugee, Alexander Ross and John Brown who were abolitionists, and Osborn Parry Andersen a black Canadian who joins the union army to fight in the Civil War. Several Canadian academic historians appeared in the film, they include James Walker, Afua Cooper and Karolyn Smardz-Frost. Marcy Cutler was present at the workshop and discussed in depth the ambitions of the film and overall series. The film has had several successful screenings as well as appearing on the CBC. For more information, visit:

Bryan Prince announced that his book I Came as a Stranger is available through Tundra Books. The book describes the people who made their way to Canada from the United States and the life that awaited them. From Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, Ontario to Harriet Tubman’s Canadian base of operations in St. Catharines, the communities founded by former slaves soon produced businessmen, educators, and writers. For more information visit:

The final presenter was Liberato "NorthStar: an interactive website being developed by the Tubman Centre". The project is funded by CANARIE Inc. and is a collaborative initiative between Professor Vincent Tao, Canada Research Chair in Geomatics Engineering and Professor Paul E. Lovejoy, Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History. Check back soon for more information.

Report on the Conference ‘Angola on the Move: Transport Routes, Communication and History’, Centre for Modern Oriental Studies Berlin, September 24-26, 2003

Mariana P. Candido, York University

Until very recently, the history of this Angola region has rarely been on the agenda of most German scholars who prefer to focus on English and French-speaking Africa, or especially Germany’s colonies of Cameroon, Tanzania and Namibia. Whatever the reasons for such a weak academic interest in the country of oil and diamonds, the protracted war and language barriers (Portuguese being the official language of Angola) loom large. Nevertheless, early contacts with Portuguese-speaking traders and missionaries has led to an important amount of extant written sources. While not a few of these date back from the 16th century, many have been discovered only recently, including several archives of local chiefs that stretch back into the 17th century. This is quite unique for an African country south of the Sahara. Moreover, today's Angola was a key supply region for the Trans-atlantic slave trade, which for this and other reasons makes it closely linked to the histories of other continents. An investigation of the continuities and ruptures in movements and communications thus allows an understanding of historical contexts and interconnections that extend beyond the region into as far as Europe and Latin America.

This conference, organized by Beatrix Heintze and Achim von Oppen provided a good opportunity to bring to the attention of the German public what has been and continues to be produced on the Angolan past by scholars from Africa, Europe and the Americas. Its purpose was to discuss the role of transportation in the shaping Angola’s history. Transportation inevitably put people together, allowing communication between different parts of the territory that had previously been more isolated. In the several papers presented in this three day conference, scholars highlighted how various modes of transportation have affected the life of different societies, including through sudden exposure to outside influences. The tendency was to stress that transportation and communication had a long history in Angola, and should not be associated exclusively with European contact or limited to the evolution of railways and motor roads. People in Angola had long ago engaged in long distance trade, allowing contact with different societies and the emergence of mutual commercial and other links throughout West Central Africa. It was also emphasized that displacement and migrations have had a long history in Angola due to internal factors such as wars, political instability or droughts, but also external influences, as with the 1575 establishment of the Portuguese in coastal Angola and their subsequent penetration into the interior.

In my paper, “Demography, Epidemics, and Trade Routes: the Case of Caconda, 1830-1870”, I was especially concerned with the population variations that took place in Caconda, a commercial entrepot in the interior of central Angola, between 1830 and 1870. Largely neglected in the extant historiography, the case of Caconda is nevertheless an extremely interesting one. Not only does it shed light on an area of intense population movements, but Caconda also represented the link between the coast and the interior and was surrounded by different local political institutions. Caravans coming from the deep interior into the coast and vice versa used Caconda as a trading post. In this paper, I explored the links between decreasing population in Caconda and the outbreaks of disease in Angola, and the possible effects of these events upon the geopolitics of the area. The case exemplifies the role of traders in the establishment of a new epidemiology throughout the hinterland. Traders not only carried commodities, including slaves, across the interior: they were also agents facilitating the spread of diseases. An outbreak of smallpox in Caconda might have led to a reduction of trade between the deep interior and Benguela on the coast, since caravans and pombeiros used Caconda as a centre of commerce and supply. Caconda was far from an isolated outpost in the interior. Events that disturbed this commercial entrepot could have powerful effects on the trade carried with Benguela and vice versa.

Information related to this conference, including the list of participants, abstracts and papers are available at the web page of the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (www.zmo.de/angola).

Report on the New Frontiers in Graduate History York University, 26-28 February 2004

Uttam Bajwa and Christy DiFelice

Graduate students in the History Department at York University held an annual conference 'New Frontiers in Graduate History'. The turnout was excellent with a record number of panels and participants from institutions across Canada, the US, and Germany. The conference began with an opening session on “Historians Outside the Ivory Tower” featuring York graduate Sara Stratton, York Professor Molly Ladd-Taylor and University of Toronto's Lansana Gberie who spoke about the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone and Liberia conflicts.

Graduate Students associated with the Harriet Tubman Resource Centre were well represented at the conference particularly among York's own graduate students. Denise Challenger presented a paper entitled 'From London to Bridgetown: The Control of Women and Venereal Diseases in the Atlantic World, 1864-1887' as part of a panel considering hierarchies of power and sexuality. On a panel chaired by Liz Polak, Thor Burnham gave a paper entitled, “Trading Away the Revolution The Meanings of the Darfour Execution in 19th Century Haiti” and Ibrahim Hamza gave his paper, “Crime and Punishment in Colonial Northern Nigeria (ca. 1897-1909)”. The panel also included a paper from Ibra Sene from Michigan State University called, “On Colonization and Punishment in Senegal”. Robert Stewart chaired a panel on “Race, Ethnicity and Immigration Communities”. Finally, we presented a co-written paper entitled 'Representations of Africa in the Works of Michael Jackson' which was well attended and supported by our fellow students. Overall, the conference was a definite success. Student turnout was impressive and the high quality of papers and presentations speak to the diversity and strength of research interests among York's graduate students.

American Historical Association Conference, Washington, D.C. 11 January 2004

Thorald Burnham

Prof Paul Lovejoy chaired the panel entitled "Africans Negotiating Conflicts in the Era of Revolutions". He replaced Rina Cáceres from the University of Costa Rica, who was unable to attend. Mariza Carvalho de Soares, Universidade Federal Fluminense presented first. Her paper was entitled: “Gender and Power Among African Catholics in Rio de Janeiro in the Eighteenth Century”. Thor Burnham, from York presented “The Darfour Incident in Haitian Politics in the Early Nineteenth Century”. Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University, presented “Repression of Free Blacks in Cuba Following the Saint Domingue Revolt”.


Department of History, York University,  Toronto, Canada
Email: nigerian@yorku.ca
Fax: (416) 650-8173