Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Black History Month 2007 in Europe: Updates on the BHM-E project status

As stated in my earlier post on Black History Month in Europe the team working on this special project is pretty excited as we do the research on people of African ancestry and the role they played in the history of Europe & the New World (novi orbis). This subject is of special importance to me because I remember as a sophomore in high school back in the 1960’s the battles we had with local and state officials, politicians, and community leaders in Missouri and Illinois to get information about African-American history into our school curriculums. When I review the amount of material available online today I can see how far we have come in America re: this important area of U.S. history and culture. It is simply amazing in comparison to what was available to students and adults alike back in the 1960’s. Canada and the United Kingdom (U.K.) also present more info online today about the contributions of black people to their respective national histories.

Those were turbulent times back then (the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1968) and the fight was led not only by African Americans but included people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds from every social and economic strata of our society. Minorities wanted the history of the United States re-written to reflect the truth about what really happened from the arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas up to the present. Warts and all!

I’ve been fighting the urge to write at length about my own personal experiences growing up during that period of American history (1950’s-1960’s) and sharing with you the stories about various people who had a strong, positive impact on my desire to learn and to keep learning as a lifelong experience until the day you die. But I want to focus now on the history of black people in Europe, a history that is intricately linked to the history of black and white and indigenous peoples in the Americas from the beginning of European expansionism and the transatlantic slave trade until the present. A history that the director of the Black European Studies Project at the University of Mainz describes as follows:


Research on History and Present of Black People in Europe
Source: BEST Project - Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

Within Anglophone Postcolonial Studies, the African Diaspora has been long recognized as an important concept. The history and culture of African populations, violently transported to the “new world„ via the slave trade, as well as their commonalities and different trajectories, are the subjects of vigorous scholarly debates. However, the history of Black Europeans, whose current number is estimated at eighteen million, still remains mostly unknown. This is a consequence both of the reluctance of many European nations to deal with their colonial history and of the widespread notion that Europe indeed consists of many different ethnicities who however all belong to the same „white race“. Black Europeans are thus often consigned to the role of „foreigner“ instead of being conceived as part of the plurality of a new united Europe.

The century-long history of black Europeans stands in sharp contrast to this political and academic negligence. A few individuals have achieved some renown, for instance Wilhelm Anton Amo [sic], 18th century professor of philosophy at the University of Halle or the writers Alexander Puschkin und Alexandre Dumas, but the history of the majority of Black Europeans, like the Afro-Germans sterilized under National Socialism, is completely forgotten. Since the 1980s scholars have begun to rediscover this forgotten history of Black Europe, inspired in some part by the constitution of Black movements in countries like Great Britain, Germany, or the Netherlands. As most European countries lack knowledge about their own indigenous Black minorities, academic exchange has been possible to date mainly in connection with U.S. studies of the African Diaspora. But Americans still regard the European experience as a divergence from the question central for their own research, the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet if one considers the history of Black Europe in its totality, along with differences that derive from the specificities of national history it is possible to discern important commonalities which on the one hand contradict the thesis of divergent experiences and on the other define colonialism as central also for history inside of Europe.

As a consequence of colonialism, the strategic maneuverings of the superpowers during the Cold War, and new migrations in the wake of increasing globalization, more Black people than ever are at home in Europe. But these new populations are neither taken into account, nor are the political and social consequences of their presence analyzed (for instance, their role as targets of the new xenophobia). Since the various Black populations of Europe are increasingly subjected to the same conditions (and confront an ever more homogeneous image of a Europe which up to now has excluded its non-white residents), a comparative study of these populations is of crucial scholarly importance and urgently demands a transnational approach.

The Black European Studies Program (BEST) at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, supported by the Volkswagen Foundation, aims at offering such an approach, adequate to the history, the present-day experience, and the future perspectives of the Black populations of Europe.

Note 1: I have added links to external online resources for clarity

The reception for this startup project about the history of black people in Europe has been great and again I thank the people who have sent us messages of encouragement. For several nights I have not been able to sleep very well due to excitement about new discoveries and re-discoveries re: European history and the desire (worry) to get my contribution to this project right and make it interesting for our international readers. I have to remember that there are some loving & caring wise people who are “looking over our shoulders” on this effort, some long dead (ghosts), so we should be just fine. It would be wise for me to follow the same advice I offered the young & energetic team members at the start of this Black History Month in Europe project: Stay cool. Take your time with it. Have fun and write from the heart.

I want to take the opportunity to personally thank the Black European Studies Project @ Johannes Gutenberg University – Mainz (Germany) for allowing us to use their excellent resources. A special thanks to Timo Wandert of the BEST Project at Uni-Mainz who is in contact with our very own resident historian Patrick (graduate of the University of Bremen). Timo works as a research assistant at the University of Mainz and is responsible for quantitative emperical research for the BEST Project and will be keeping a watchful eye over us in the blogosphere. Welcome to our sector of the blogosphere Timo and greetings to Dr. Randolph Ochsmann (Project Director) and Peggy Piesche (European Coordination).

I encourage my readers make a visit to the BEST Uni-Mainz website in order to read material they have published to date and to use their online database of scholarly articles about black history in Europe. There is a download link to the 1st International Interdisciplinary BEST Conference (Nov. 2005) summary document titled “Challenging Europe: Black European Studies in the 21st Century” that was attended by some of the finest international scholars in the field. I have found this document to be very useful in my own research and will be using excerpts from it for future posts on this subject.

So, that is all I have to say today about the background on the project and updates re: our status at the moment. The BHM-Europe team members (Jörg, Patricia, Patrick, and I) are all very busy researching and composing our posts and if I understand correctly Jörg & Patricia (Trish) will be dealing with black history in Germany during the 20th century to present time while Patrick and I will be heading back to Renaissance Europe and Early Britain & Scandinavia (ca. AD 100-200). Yep, black folks were there and an integral part of life in the Roman Empire at its farthest northern boundaries. Cold up there!

Note 2: We welcome anyone with knowledge about African and black history in Europe who would like to contribute an article to this project. Just get in touch with me via the comments section of this blog or with Jörg Wolf over at the Atlantic Review blog.

I also have updates on one of my favorite invisible European historical figures, Anton Wilhelm Amo (1703-ca.1759), to share with you before heading off to Renaissance Florence for a visit with Europe’s first black prince, Alessandro dé Medici. Alessandro’s story will knock The Da Vinci Code right off the international bestseller list! We’re negotiating for the movie rights on Alessandro’s story with an unnamed film producer so don’t even think about it. Too late, Dude.


Below I’ve listed additional online resources that you may find interesting and useful on this journey back in time:

Additional online resources (blogs):

Please Come Flying
Black History Month: Valaida Snow (famous female musician of the 1920’s-30’s era)

A Day in the Life
Black Americans that shaped my worldview: Sarah’s ABC tribute

The Black Informant
Nina Mae McKinney – the black “Garbo”

Negrophile
It is incontrovertible that America is a multiracial society

U.K. Guardian Unlimited – Comment is Free blog
Reading without prejudice by Cameroon Duodo – 03/20/06

The Ubyssey Online (Canada)
Author unveils black history

Additional online resources (websites):

History News Network @ George Mason University
Black History Month is relevant to all Americans by Randall Maurice-Jelks
400 years after Jamestown by Stephanie Robinson and Cornel West
More HNN articles about Black History in America

The History Cooperative - University of Illinois Press, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, National Academies Press

Journal for World History – Vol. 14 Issue 4, December 2003
The Agony of Asar: A Thesis on Slavery by the Former Slave, Jacobus Elisa Johannes Capitein (1717–1747)
Translated with comments by Grant Parker. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 2001.

The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America.
Edited by Robin Law and Paul Lovejoy. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 2001.

Journal of World History – Vol. 17 Issue 4, December 2006
Audience for a Giraffe: European Expansionism and the Quest for the Exotic
Erik Ringmar, National Chiao Tung University

University of Mainz (Germany) – Johannes Guttenberg University
Black European Studies Project (BEST)
Project director and staff info

University of Massachusetts (U.S.A.) – Amherst campus
Remapping Black Germany: new perspectives on Afro-German history, politics, and culture

Columbia University Libraries – African Studies database
African History and Culture


University of Illinois - UC campus - Dept. of Archaeology
ADAN - the African Diaspora Archaeology Network

H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)
H-Net is an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Our edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussion for colleagues and the interested public. The computing heart of H-Net resides at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online, Michigan State University, but H-Net officers, editors and subscribers come from all over the globe.

H-Net Africa (a member of H-Net consortium of scholarly lists)

H-Net Book Reviews
The African-German Experience, Critical Essays by Carol Aisah Blackshire-Belay
Review by Daniel J. Walther, Wartburg College – August 1997

Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich by Tina M. Campt
Review by Eva Rosenhaft, University of Liverpool – July 2005

Die (koloniale) Begegnung: AfrikanerInnen in Deutschland 1880-1945, Deutsche in Afrika 1880-1918 by Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst and Reinhard Klein-Arendt, editors.
Review by Eva Rosenhaft, University of Liverpool – July 2005

USHMM – U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Special Focus on Black History Month 2002 (U.S.A.)
Bibliography – Blacks during the Holocaust (WWII - Third Reich)

Stanford University Libraries - SULAIR

Africa South of the Sahara
African Diaspora in Europe

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1 comment:

Fiso said...

Hi BRE,
I only knew about 5 years ago that Alexandre Dumas was black so I wonder how many french folks know about it ...