The Rise of 'Race' in the West African Archive
This paper is a forensic effort seeking to detect when and how the subject of “race” enters West African discourse. It necessarily attends to the echo of race from outside of the region, how that echo is initially “heard” within the region, and subsequently reproduced within written documents generated within West Africa. This latter development more specifically concerns certain writings associated with imperial Songhay (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), and results in the conclusion that race takes on concrete social significance in the broader context of slaving activities in the region.
Michael A. Gomez is currently Silver Professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, and the director of NYU’s newly-established Center for the Study of Africa and the African Diaspora (CSAAD), having served as the founding director of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) from its inception in 2000 to 2007. He is also series editor of the Cambridge Studies on the African Diaspora, Cambridge University Press. He has chaired of the History departments at both NYU and Spelman College, and also served as President of UNESCO's International Scientific Committee for the Slave Route Project from 2009 to 2011. His first book, Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad: The Precolonial State of Bundu (Cambridge University Press, 1992), examines a Muslim polity in what is now eastern Senegal. The next publication, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), is concerned with questions of culture and race. The edited volume, Diasporic Africa: A Reader (New York University Press, 2006), is more fully involved with the idea of an African diaspora, as is Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (Cambridge University Press, 2005; second edition late 2019). The monograph Black Crescent: African Muslims in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2005) examines how African Muslims negotiated their bondage and freedom throughout the Americas, integrating Islamic Africa into the analysis. Gomez’s most recent book, African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa (Princeton University Press, 2018), is a comprehensive study of polity and religion during the region’s iconic moment, and was awarded the 2019 African Studies Association’s Book Prize (formerly the Herskovits Book Award), and the 2019 American Historical Association’s Martin A. Klein Prize in African History. Gomez supports the struggles of African people worldwide.