CFP: Landscapes of Slavery, Landscapes of Freedom: The African diaspora and the American built environment

Harvard Graduate School of Design

November 5-7, 2021

Histories of the Atlantic world have focused both on the adaptation of ideas from the Old Continent to the new and on the material and cultural exchanges occurring throughout the centuries. To complement this scholarship, studies have been conducted on the slave trade between West Africa, mainland North America and the Caribbean, which formed the base of plantation economy and helped build the fortunes of many landowners in the colonial and antebellum period of the republic. Recent scholarship has acknowledged the violence of the archive of white records of slavery that have silenced the voices of the enslaved, and this work has sought to recover the experiences and vantage points of slavery’s victims.

This forum will address a more specific set of questions that have to do not only with the unique contribution the forced labor of the African diaspora and Afro-descendants brought to the plantation economy, but also with the potential exchange of knowledge about gardening and cultivation practices across the Atlantic, both from West Africa and between the Caribbean and mainland North America. On occasion the cultivation of specific staple crops such as rice depended upon the expertise of the enslaved. More generally, many of those forced to labor on their masters’ plantations simultaneously worked on small plots of land within their quarters, enabling them to exercise limited agency with regard to the extent and type of crop cultivation for their own use and consumption. When slavery legally ended, the exploitation of black labor continued, although over time black land-ownership increased and perhaps involved different approaches to land use than was common among white small-holders. Reconstructing these histories and those of the environments Africans built and cultivated for others and for themselves is challenging, as there is only a limited archival record that contains few enslaved voices.

This conference seeks to engage with the work of archaeologists, ethnobotanists, cultural geographers, anthropologists, and of experts in African American Studies and oral history in order to form a more complete picture of the African contribution to the shaping of the North American landscape.

Proposals for unpublished papers are welcome from scholars in any field. Topics might include (but are not limited to) such subjects as:

• the relationship between place-making and slave labor in North America and its cultural, social and economic underpinnings.

• the adaptation of imported African horticultural and agricultural knowledge in the Caribbean and North America.

• the exchange of knowledge related to agricultural and gardening practices between the Caribbean and the North American mainland.

• Atlantic World foodways.

• crop cultivation and food growing practices on plantation sites indebted to forced labor.

• the ways in which slavery and forced labor made intensive cultivation and production possible.

• the place-making of former slaves in both rural and urban environments.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words are to be headed with the applicant’s name, title of the paper, professional affiliation, and contact information. A two-page CV should also be included in the submission. Please send proposals by March 15, 2021 to: Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Email:

Authors of accepted proposals will be required to submit the complete text of their papers by June 15, and carry out potential revisions by August 30, 2021, after which the symposium chair will circulate them among the speakers. Publication of the essays presented at the conference is anticipated.


LEC: “Negro Cloth” by Seth Rockman @ The New School

The New School History Department and the Market Cultures Group NYC
invites you to attend:

“Negro Cloth: Mastering the Market for Slave Clothing in Antebellum America”
Seth Rockman
Associate Professor of History
Brown University

Monday, May 6 @ 6pm
80 Fifth Avenue, Room 529

This talk considers the emergence of the American “negro cloth” industry in
the 1820s and 1830s. At the intersection of material culture studies,
business history, and comparative slavery, this talk traces the circuits of
social knowledge that complemented the circuits of capital in the
simultaneous expansion of the factory and the plantation. Enslaved men
and women played a collaborative role in the design of particular textiles,
and their preferences for some products and critiques of others structured
patterns of labor hundreds of miles away. The research is drawn from a
larger study underway on the inter-regional trade in plantation provisions:
Northern-made hats, hoes, shoes, shovels, and even whips manufactured
for use on Southern slave plantations.

Seth Rockman is associate professor of History at Brown University. His
2009 book Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early
Baltimore won several awards, including the Merle Curti Prize from the
Organization of American Historians. Rockman’s essay on the Jacksonian Era
appears in the recent American History Now volume published by the American
Historical Association. His findings on North-South economic ties have been
previewed in the New York Times “Disunion” blog and the Bloomberg News
“Echoes” blog. Rockman serves on the governing board of Brown University’s
Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

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