New Methods and Sources for Recovering New Voices: West African Peasant Rice Farmers and Enslaved Laborers on Lowcountry Rice Plantation

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1155 Observatory Drive Madison, WI 53706, 206 Ingraham Hall
@ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Africa at Noon

Speaker: Edda L.  Fields-Black

Time: 12:00 pm- 1:00 pm

Venue: 206 Ingraham Hall

I will reflect on intersecting themes that have connected my work on the history of West Africa and its connections to the African Diaspora and the Atlantic World: 1) transnational history of rice farmers and their agricultural technology, both peasants in precolonial West Africa and enslaved laborers in the antebellum US South; 2) innovative methodologies and sources to recover the voices of historical actors who did not leave written sources and whose stories have not been told. And, I will try to imagine the next challenge, the next frontier, the new stories and sets of sources that Africanists can use our unique training to tell.

Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black, Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University in the Department of History, has written numerous scholarly studies on the trans-national history of West African rice farmers, including Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University: 2014, 2008), uses a unique blend of interdisciplinary sources and methods to chronicle the development of tidal rice-growing technology by the inhabitants of the West African Rice Coast region, the region where the majority of captives disembarking in South Carolina and Georgia originated. She is co-editor of Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (co-edited with Francesca Bray, Peter Coclanis, and Dagmar Schaeffer) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 2017), which was awarded the Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2015 and translated into Chinese in 2023. From 2012 to 2016, Fields-Black served as the consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s permanent exhibit “Rice Fields of the Lowcountry,” located in the Power of Place Gallery. Fields-Blacks’ latest book is titled COMBEE: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee River Raid, and Black Freedom during the Civil War (Oxford University Press, February 2024). Narrative history will tell the untold story of the Combahee River Raid from the perspective of Tubman and the enslaved people she helped to free based on new sources not previously used by historians. It is the story of the largest slave revolt in US history in which enslaved people who labored against their wills on nine rice plantations, ran for their lives, boarded the US gunboats, and sailed to freedom. Lastly, Fields-Black is executive producer and librettist of Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice, the first full symphonic work about enslavement composed by three-time Emmy Award-winning classical music composer, John Wineglass.