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Welcome to 18th Century Africa

What did the eighteenth century look like, smell like, sound like? And how different would those answers have been for different parts of the world? Historians and theorists of globalization have both identified a convergence of social, cultural, and political forms in the modern period. But how different would people have really found each other in the eighteenth century?

Historians have often struggled with the legacies of the nineteenth century in shaping the views of earlier African pasts. Travel writing, ethnographies, abolitionist literature, and colonial archives were as interested in painting a picture of modernity in Europe as they were in telling their readers something about Africa. As new historical research questions arising from Atlantic, economic, and global historical approaches have revived broader interest in pre-colonial African histories, the nineteenth century continues to cast a long shadow on how pre-colonial Africa is understood. The “compression of history” problem has been identified in African economic history, but it also shapes how the imagination of an African past infuses writing about the African diaspora and slavery in the Atlantic World, or the dynamics of historical change as a development towards colonial history.

How can forms of cultural history and interdisciplinary methodologies help us to access an eighteenth century African experience? How can a grounding in a particular century change the shape of our narratives of change over time? Does a fuller picture of life emerge through a different kind of story telling? This virtual workshop series seeks to bring together scholars and students working in a wide variety of fields and geographies ranging from music history, the history of art and architecture, fashion, literature and performance, food, material culture, religion, landscape archaeology, economic and business history, historical anthropology, gender, intellectual history, and political thought working on any part of the eighteenth century African continent. Most broadly, the workshop series will ask us to think about time, narrative, and chronology as they shape how African historical change is discussed in relation to global histories.

Virtual Workshop Series

University of Cambridge

June 2021

300 word abstract and 1 page CV to 18thcenturyafrica@gmail.com

by January 31, 2021

Questions to bee21@cam.ac.uk

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