In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Food Legacy in the Atlantic World

Judith Carney

Wednesday, September 18, 2019, 7:00 pm
Folger Board Room
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Please note: This is a public event with limited seating. Reservations are requested.

As we struggle to come to grips with the human, social, and economic legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, we must also consider the biological legacy. No group has had a bigger impact on global flora, fauna, and foodways than the African diaspora, and we live in a world made by the efforts of African women and men to shape the environments through which they were compelled to move.

Join scholar Judith Carney for this free talk entitled "In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Food Legacy in the Atlantic World," in which she explores how enslaved Africans facilitated their survival and re-made biomes by carrying the ingredients, traditions, and foodways of Africa to the Americas and Caribbean.

A striking feature of plantation-era history is the number of first-person accounts that credit the enslaved with the introduction of specific foods, all previously grown in Africa. This lecture lends support to these observations by identifying the crops that European witnesses attributed to slave agency and by engaging the ways that African subsistence staples arrived, and became established, in the Americas.

In emphasizing the African crop transfers that occurred between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the discussion draws attention to the significance of the continent’s food crops as a crucial underpinning of the transatlantic commerce in human beings, the slave ship as a means of conveying African crops to the Americas, and the enslaved as active participants in establishing African foodstaples on their subsistence plots and in the foodways of former plantation societies.


Judith Carney is a distinguished visiting scholar with Before 'Farm to Table': Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, a Mellon initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute. Dr. Carney is professor of Geography at UCLA and conducts research in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Her research examines gender and food security in African agroecological change, and African contributions to New World environmental history. She has authored numerous research articles and two award-winning books: Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received the Melville Herskovits Book Award. In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (University of California Press, 2009), was awarded the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017, she was made a fellow of the Association of American Geographers (AAGs) in 2018. Other professional recognition includes the AAGs’ Distinguished Scholarship Honor, the Netting Award for bridging geography and anthropology, and the Sauer Distinguished Scholarship Award. Her research has been supported by the National Geographic Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.


Please contact Before ‘Farm to Table’ project coordinator Jonathan MacDonald (jmacdonald@folger.edu) with any questions.

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