Overview of Book and Workshop

The Global Africa Workshop will bring public intellectuals, journalists, artists, academics, and activists from Africa and elsewhere to discuss and “workshop” their draft chapters for the book Global Africa, co-edited by Dorothy Hodgson (Rutgers) and Judith Byfield (Cornell), for the University of California Press. The almost 40 short, innovative essays, interviews, poems, photo-essays and stories will be written for a broad readership – appropriate for classrooms, boardrooms, and the libraries of thoughtful readers. The purpose is to educate, surprise, excite and challenge readers, hopefully sparking them to seek further information.

Africa, of course, has a long history of global interactions that have shaped the rest of the world in significant ways - from the early migrations of our evolutionary forbearers, to the precious metals that supported international economies, to the forced displacements of enslaved adults and children, to contemporary circulations of people, music, ideas, and resources. Many of the world’s significant religions, ideas, art forms, diasporas, and material goods have their origins in the African continent. The deep history, vast geography, and complex local, regional, and global entanglements of people, ideas, and goods within and beyond the continent places Africa in the center of global historical processes rather than on its periphery.

In this volume we seek to disrupt narratives that frame the way reading publics conceptualize Africa. We begin that task by dispelling the geographical and political division of Africa into “North Africa” and “Sub-Saharan Africa.” These all too common distinctions ignore historical and contemporary connections and perpetuate troubling racialized divisions between “Arabs” and “black Africans.” We also challenge those narratives that contain African history and cultures to the continent. In the past, the migration of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea helped transform societies in these new locales and on the continent. New African diasporas are emerging as technological developments and shifting global economic powers inspire movement. Nigerians, among other African peoples, belong to far flung diasporas that move freely and frequently, in their case, between Nigeria, England, the US and South Africa.

Together, the chapters will also complicate conventional narratives of Africa as a place of violence, despair and victimhood – a place and space that other people, states, and organizations act on and steal from. Instead, our aim is to document some of the significant global connections, circulations and contributions that African people, ideas and goods have made in the world – not just in the United States, but in South Asia, Latin America, Europe and elsewhere. While we seek to foreground new framings of Africa, we will not romanticize the conditions and circumstances in which too many people on the continent currently live. The essays in this volume will amplify those voices that offer complex and insightful explanations, strategies for solutions, and inspiration for the future.

Chapters in Global Africa will be divided into the five thematic sections (history, power, science/health/technology, communities, and regional distinctions). The contributions will be short (no more than 3,500 words), engaging and accessible (suitable for readers of The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly) and represent a range of voices and expertise. Scholars will write for non-academic audiences (no jargon, minimal citations) and public figures and cultural producers will be able to reach a literate public – and to put their life’s work in conversation with scholars, political leaders and activists. Each chapter will conclude with a list of four to five suggestions of readings, films, or other material for additional information. The volume will also include a series of historical maps, charts, photos, and other visual materials to support and supplement the readings. Each section will also include a brief Profile about an African woman or man who has had a significant global impact in academia, politics, the arts or activism.

The Global Africa Workshop will showcase the work of about 25 of the 40 contributors to the volume to 1) provide an opportunity for contributors to come together to “workshop” their pre-circulated draft chapters in order to strengthen the clarity, coherence and impact of the volume; and 2) promote exchanges and interactions among African and Africanist scholars, artists, policymakers and activists committed to forging new ways of understanding the continent. We encourage all participants to read the paper drafts BEFORE the workshop, so that the discussion can focus on the substance of the work, including critical suggestions by a discussant and other participants for revisions.

As such, the workshop will provide a remarkable opportunity for students and faculty from many different departments and schools at Rutgers and elsewhere to meet with and learn from a broad range of activists and academics at this international, cross-disciplinary workshop ~ we hope that you will join us.

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