Scholars from across America and France will gather at William & Mary April 22-23 to discuss the impact the bubonic plague may have had on Sub-Saharan Africa before 1899.
The event, to be held in Blair Hall, will be the first interdisciplinary workshop to explore the topic and was organized by Gérard Chouin, an assistant professor of history at William & Mary. The related research is one of three parts of GlobAfrica, a four-year project funded by the French National Research Agency to explore Africa’s connection to the world prior to the 19th century, Chouin said.
“Having this conference at William & Mary is significant because of the particular strength of our department in the field of African history,” said Chouin. “Combined with scholars of Africa from other departments, William & Mary has a unique opportunity to take intellectual leadership in this field. This will be done with projects such as the Plague in Africa Project that addresses long-lasting assumptions about the place of Africa in global history. This project has the potential to stand at the cutting edge of historical and interdisciplinary research and to seriously challenge the current state of the historiography of medieval and early modern Africa.”
The workshop will begin Friday at 8:45 a.m. with welcoming remarks by Philip Daileader, the James Pinckney Harrison Associate Professor of Medieval History at William & Mary, followed by an introduction from Chouin.
Throughout the next two days, scholars will discuss a variety of topics related to the overarching theme of the conference, including the plague and changes in regional settlement patterns, the plague in art, and African religions and the plague. The event is open to scholars and students, and a full schedule may be found online.
Along with Chouin and Daileader, other scholars from William & Mary who are expected to participate include: Joe Jones, director of the Center of Archaeological Research; Ann Cooper, digital archivist at Swem Library; Jeremy Pope, assistant professor of history; Neil Norman, assistant professor of anthropology; and Mei Mei Sanford, adjunct instructor of Africana studies. In addition, both undergraduate and graduate students from the university are expected to attend.
“This is what William & Mary stands for: research for the bold,” said Chouin, who hopes to organize additional workshops during the four years of the GlobAfrica project. “Can you imagine the history of Medieval Europe without the plague? Imagine what we would miss? Such is the situation with regards to African history, and we hope our workshop signals the beginning of a deep historiographical ‘shake.’”
The workshop is being funded by multiple offices at W&M, including the vice provost for Research and Graduate/Professional Studies, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, the Reves Center for International Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Biology, the Africana Studies Program through the Roy R. Charles Center, the Department of Art and Art History and the Department of Anthropology. GlobAfrica sponsored the airfare for participating scholars.