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William & Mary to host international African Diaspora conference

  • Conference host:
    Conference host:  William & Mary will host the 10th Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. W&M's Sir Christopher Wren Building, built between 1695 and 1700, is the oldest college building still standing in the United States and the oldest of the restored public buildings in Williamsburg.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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William & Mary will host the 10th Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) Nov. 5-10, 2019, in the Williamsburg Lodge.

Featuring the world’s leading scholars of the African Diaspora, the conference will bring together a range of activists and artists and host community events, including an African Diaspora food festival. The conference will feature tours of local historical sites, including Point Comfort, the first landing place of Africans in 1619; Fort Monroe, the site of liberation for 100,000 blacks who escaped slavery during the Civil War; sites of the Underground Railroad and runaway slave maroon communities; the Nat Turner Trail; Hampton University; and Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, site of the Maggie Walker House, a National Historic Site. Registration is expected to open through ASWAD in September.

"I am absolutely thrilled that William & Mary will host ASWAD's 10th Biennial Conference in 2019,” said Robert Trent Vinson, Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Associate Professor History and Africana Studies at W&M and one of the organizers of the conference. “Williamsburg is the right place and 2019 is the right time for this historic event since the year 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the origins of slavery in what became the United States with the arrival of Africans who landed on the nearby shores of the James River in August 1619.”

This early 20th century drawing portrays the arrival of the first Africans as enslaved people in America in 1619. (Library of Congress image)Described in English records as “twenty and odd” Negroes, these captive Africans from West-Central Africa reflected the growing intensity of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the world’s largest forced migration that connected Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, and the centrality of slavery to the making of the modern world.

“This 400th anniversary brings renewed focus to the status of African-descended people in the contemporary world,” said Vinson. “It comes at a time when the legacy of slavery is prompting intensifying demands for reparations.”

The ASWAD conference also comes in the midst of a robust season of commemoration, reflection and action, he added. In tandem with the 2019 Making of America Summit at Norfolk State University on Sept. 26-28, 2019, the ASWAD conference continues the longstanding work of the William & Mary Middle Passage Project, which raises awareness of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to this region. It also is in conversation with the Lemon Project, William & Mary’s recent effort to document and redress its slave-owning and segregationist history dating back to its founding in 1693. As the William & Mary community celebrates this year the 50th anniversary of the first African American students in residence on campus, the university is delighted to announce that it will be hosting the 2019 ASWAD conference, Vinson said.

This 1702 sketch is the earliest known image of the Wren Building. Founded in 1693, W&M has been exploring its involvement in slavery and segregation through the Lemon Project (Special Collections Research Center image).“Hosting the ASWAD conference continues William & Mary's initiatives highlighting the black experience, including the Lemon Project, the longstanding effort to document and redress its slave owning and Jim Crow past; the Middle Passage Project, which has prepared for the 2019 commemoration for many years now; and the 50th anniversary of African-Americans resident on campus that is happening this academic year,” he said. “We will have about 1,000 people from all over the world coming to Williamsburg from November 5-10, 2019, showing once again why William & Mary is a 21st century global leader in higher education."

Principal hosts of the conference include the Middle Passage Project, the Lemon Project, the Institute for Historical Biology, the W&M Africana Studies Program, the W&M Department of History, the Reves Center for International Studies, the W&M American Studies Program and the W&M Department of Anthropology.

Co-hosts include the Institute for Historical Biology, the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Jamestown: Rediscovery, the Joseph R. Roberts Center for the African Diaspora at Norfolk State University, the Department of History and Interdisciplinary Studies Department at Norfolk State University and the African American Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

A call for papers is expected from ASWAD in September. For more information on the conference, email