Crossroads Africa: African Engagement in the Making of Early Modernity

International conference at Villa I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, 20-21 May 2019.

Convenors: Carlo Taviani and Ingrid Greenfield

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Crossroads Africa is a two-day conference that brings together art historians and curators, archaeologists, and historians of political institutions, economics, and the slave trade, interested in crossing historiographical and geographical frontiers to explore how Africans played active roles in shaping global histories (c. 1300-1700) and creating transnational spaces that continue to inform the circulation of people, goods, and ideas today. The conference builds on an exploratory seminar organized by Suzanne Blier (Harvard University), Alina Payne (I Tatti), and Gerhard Wolf (KHI-Florenz) at I Tatti in January 2017, which sought to address the deep and broad relationship between Africa and its continental neighbors, Europe and Asia, from the medieval through the early modern periods.

Focusing on a set of related geographies – West Africa, its Atlantic archipelagos, Ethiopia, and the Italian peninsula – papers explore: the exchange of materials (including ivory, coral, glass beads, textiles, and metalwork); the role of museums in prompting and disseminating new scholarship and promoting wider public appreciation of historical African material and expressive culture; circulation of knowledge and technologies; enslavement and the formation of creolized communities and cultures; representation and perception of kingship, sovereignty, and territorial power.

Crossroads Africa is an initiative intended to stimulate and support increased scholarship on cultural exchange with and within the African continent during the early globalization of trade relationships by creating and promoting opportunities for institutional and collegial cross-disciplinary collaboration, particularly between scholars working in African regions and those in European and American institutions.

DAY 1 — 20 May

10:00 Director’s Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Alina Payne (I Tatti/Harvard University)
Ingrid Greenfield (I Tatti) and Carlo Taviani (I Tatti/DHI)

African Kingship
Chair: Alina Payne (I Tatti/Harvard University)

10:30 Verena Krebs (Ruhr-Universität Bochum): Exotic Others. Flemish panel paintings, Madre della Consolazione Icons, and Limoges Painted Enamels at the Late Medieval Ethiopian Royal Court

11:00 Roberto Zaugg (Universität Bern): The Riches of Olokun. Routes of Red Coral from the Central Mediterranean to Atlantic Africa

11:30 Coffee

11:45 Herman L. Bennett (CUNY Graduate Center): Prelude to The Prince. African Sovereign Power in the Fifteenth Century

12:15 Discussion

1pm Buffet lunch

Materials in Conversation

I. Case Study: Glass Beads between Benin and Venice
Chair: Gerhard Wolf (KHI-Florenz)

2:30 Abidemi Babatunde Babalola (Cambridge University): “Pacheco’s Bead!”. Glass Beads, Atlantic Trade, and Local Agency in the Bight of Benin

3:00 Gerard Chouin (College of William and Mary): Glass Beads and Copper Alloys in the Gulf of Guinea, 14th-17th Centuries. Networks, Innovation, and Change in Early Atlantic Africa

3:30 Discussion

4:00 Tea

II. Translations, Transformations, Adaptations
Chair: Kate Lowe (Queen Mary University of London)

4:15 Sarah Guérin (University of Pennsylvania): Medieval Ivory, Material Translations

4:45 Kristen Windmuller-Luna (Brooklyn Museum & Princeton University Art Museum): The Robes of the Virgin Mary. Global Textile Networks in Ethiopian Christian Painting

5:15 Discussion

DAY 2 — 21 May

On the Slave Trade and Beyond: Atlantic Africa and Italian Contacts
Chair: Francesco Guidi Bruscoli (Università degli Studi di Firenze)

10:30 António Correia e Silva (Universidade Cabo Verde): From Continental Africa to the Cape Verde Islands. Enslavement and Creolization as Sociological Processes

11:00 Coffee

11:15 David Wheat (Michigan State University): A Genoese-Iberian Slaving Voyage to São Tomé and the Spanish Caribbean, 1526-1527

11:45 Cécile Fromont (Yale University): Material Encounters in Early Modern Atlantic Africa

12:15 Discussion

1pm Buffet lunch

Nodes and Corridors in the Circulation of African Knowledge
Chair: Avinoam Shalem (Columbia University)

2:30 Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University): A World in a Fragment. Visualizing Trans-Saharan Exchange through Object-Based Comparisons in the Exhibition ‘Caravans of Gold’

3:00 Vera-Simone Schulz (KHI-Florenz): Objects, Ornaments, and Mosques ‘like in Córdoba’ along the Swahili Coast. Transcultural Aesthetics and the Geopoetics of Coastal East Africa

3:30 Tea

3:45 Shamil Jeppie (University of Cape Town)
Ahmad Baba and Timbuktu at a Crossroads

4:15 Discussion

Final Roundtable
Mediated by Ingrid Greenfield & Carlo Taviani