African Women in the Atlantic World received an honorable mention for African Studies Review Best Africa-Focused Anthology or Edited Collection, 2019. In this Griot article from Volume 18, the editors provide an insight into the importance of their research for this book.
African Women in the Atlantic World. Property, Vulnerability and Mobility, 1660-1880 brings together the work of junior and senior scholars from Africa, North and South America and Europe examining African women’s roles in West and West Central Africa during the period of the Atlantic slave trade and its abolition.
Much of what has been written about the history of women and gender relations in the Atlantic world has come from historians with only limited knowledge of African history. Bearing this in mind, Mariana Candido and Adam Jones have assembled 11 case studies on Africa and produced a volume located at the intersection of two fields: the history of the Atlantic world and that of women in Africa. They move the focus away from unidirectional and Eurocentric interpretations while linking commercial / economic history to social history.
Stressing the importance of women in both African and Atlantic history, the contributions critically examine prevailing assumptions concerning women’s property (wealth in persons as well as in land and in things), their vulnerability in terms of sexual relations, violence and potential enslavement and their mobility both within Africa and across the Atlantic. These hitherto neglected perspectives make the volume indispensable reading for scholars and students interested in African-Atlantic societies in the centuries preceding the colonial partition of Africa.
The chapters demonstrate the exciting nature of research on women in Atlantic Africa before the Berlin Conference, exploring factors which fostered or restricted women’s mobility, both spatially and socially, as well as women’s economic power and its limitations. The contributors have employed a wide variety of sources, ranging from oral interviews to population censuses. The resulting African perspectives on Atlantic history shift attention towards a more people-centred kind of narrative, highlighting ways in which African women participated in economic, social and political spaces in Atlantic coast societies.
Building upon earlier research, the contributors analyse how women in Africa used the opportunities offered by the Atlantic commerce to negotiate their social and economic positions. From a more general point of view, the volume suggests methodological approaches which may be useful in understanding women’s insecurity and vulnerability in changing societies.
This guest post was written by Mariana P. Candido is Acting Associate Professor Department of History at Emory University; Adam Jones recently retired as Professor of African History and Culture History at the University of Leipzig. This article was originally published in the African Griot Volume 18.
African Women in the Atlantic World is available in paperback, hardback and digital format.