Christopher C. Fennell

Sample Publication Abstracts on
African Diaspora Archaeology

dividing bar

diamond Broken Chains and Subverted Plans: Ethnicity, Race, and Commodities, University Press of Florida (2017).

This book examines the ways in which the large-scale development plans of Anglo-American governing officials and investors were subverted by the choices of individuals and social networks in the regions of Virginia and Illinois in the nineteenth century. The lessons from this study inform issues very current today, as economists and policy makers debate the best ways to create new markets and develop commodity chains of production and consumption spanning the globe. The backcountry of Virginia presents a story of German-American farmers utilizing ethnic social networks to take selective advantage of economic opportunities promoted by Anglo-American officials and investors. The region of Illinois illustrates the ways in which African Americans worked to overcome the overt and structural racism that shaped the availability of land and economic opportunities in the Midwest. These two case studies emerge from multi-year research projects in which I served as a principal investigator, analyst, and archaeologist.

diamond Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage, edited by C. Fennell, peer reviewed publication of Taylor & Francis Press.

This Journal provides a focal point for peer-reviewed publications in interdisciplinary studies in archaeology, history, material culture, and heritage dynamics concerning African descendant populations and cultures across the globe. The Journal invites articles on broad topics, including the historical processes of culture, economics, gender, power, and racialization operating within and upon African descendant communities. We seek to engage scholarly, professional, and community perspectives on the social dynamics and historical legacies of African descendant cultures and communities worldwide. The Journal publishes research articles and essays that review developments in these interdisciplinary fields.

diamond "Cultural Creativity, Rebellions, and Comparative Questions for Afro-Brazilian Archaeology," an invited chapter in Archaeology of Slavery and African Life in Latin America, edited by Pedro Paulo A. Funari, Charles E. Orser, Jr., and Aline Vieira de Carvalho, pp. 99-116, peer reviewed publication of Springer Press (2014).

This chapter examines a number of Afro-Brazilian cultural innovations uncovered in archaeological and historical studies. A review of recent archaeological studies of escape sites and rebellion communities in North America provides suggestions of interpretative frameworks and methodological strategies that could inform new projects in Brazil. I consider potential research questions and the prominence of Afro-Brazilian sites within current heritage politics in Brazil. The detailed histories of quilombos are particularly poignant today, as the Brazilian government has created new program incentives that have focused Brazilians on their African heritage.

diamond "Fighting Despair: Challenges of a Comparative, Global Framework for Slavery Studies," invited chapter in The Archaeology of Slavery: Toward a Comparative, Global Framework, edited by Lydia Wilson Marshall, pp. 391-399, peer reviewed publication of Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois (2014).

This compendium and the conference at which it originated raise a significant challenge by asking how we can implement a comparative framework for studying the impacts of slavery and captivity with an expanded temporal scope of millennia and a global geographic scale. In the individual case studies presented here we find some authors who are optimistic about such a comparative framework. We also find many who are quite cautious and who describe episodes of slavery and related racial ideologies and social structures that were historically contingent, context specific, and idiosyncratic in various dimensions. From a broad humanistic perspective, researchers also confront the question of whether to maintain a sense of analytic detachment while studying slavery, examining past case studies for the sake of general betterment through increased knowledge of world histories. Alternatively, analysts can focus on providing insights and evidence that facilitate the judgment and condemnation of particular societies that perpetrated systems of slavery and captivity. Such an activist approach also seeks to contribute to defeating bondage in the present.

diamond "Dexterous Creation: Material Manifestations of Instrumental Symbolism in the Americas," an invited chapter in Materialities of Ritual in the Black Atlantic, edited by Akinwumi Ogundiran and Paula Saunders, pp. 216-235, peer reviewed publication of Indiana University Press, Bloomington (2014).

This chapter examines the contours of expressive processes through a study of small hand figures discovered at several African American archaeological sites from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sample size in this exercise is quite small -- just twelve of these artifacts have been reported and documented in archaeological reports concerning African American residential and work spaces. Scholars in African Diaspora archaeology have viewed these artifacts as among “the most evocative,” the “most enigmatic,” and highly challenging to interpret. Due to the limitations of such a small data set, this chapter is not intended to offer conclusive explanations or interpretations of the meanings and uses of these particular artifacts. Rather, my goal is to open a series of research questions with which archaeologists can investigate these types of artifacts with more detailed and complex historical processes in mind.

diamond "Kongo and the Archaeology of Early African America," invited chapter in Kongo Across the Waters, edited by Susan Cooksey, Robin Poynor, and Hein Vanhee, pp. 229-237, peer-reviewed publication of University of Florida Press, Gainesville (2013).

The "Kongo Across the Waters" exhibitions and publications are very timely from the perspective of archaeologists. Researchers employing archaeology to obtain greater insights into the cultural lives of African descendant populations in the Americas are enjoying a period of great vitality and interdisciplinary collaboration. As a result, numerous archaeological studies have uncovered the impacts of Kongo culture on communities across the Americas over the past few centuries. Archaeologists find these legacies of the Kongo in the tangible remains of private spaces made sacred, in the material compositions that attended ritual and prayers, and on pottery transformed from the mundane to the profound. People who subscribed to cultural beliefs systems such as the Kongo experienced wrenching social upheavels and transformations in those time periods, as did their descendants in the Americas. Cultures evolved dynamically as well, in interactive encounters that analysts often refer to as processes of creolization. This chapter focuses on observable cultural connections that existed even within the currents of such dramatic changes.

diamond "Early African America: Archaeological Studies of Significance and Diversity," an invited synthesis and review article for Journal of Archaeological Research 19(1): 1-49 (2011) (.pdf).

This article examines archaeological studies of the cultural heritage and social dynamics of African descendant populations in the regions currently encompassed by the United States and Canada from 1400 through 1865 AD. European colonial enterprises expanded in Africa and the Americas during that time span, effecting an accompanying movement of free and captive Africans into North America. Archaeological investigations of early African America are remarkable for the diversity of analytic scales and research questions pursued. This diversity of research efforts has yielded a highly productive, interdisciplinary expansion of knowledge concerning African diaspora histories.

diamond "Damaging Detours: Routes, Racism and New Philadelphia," in "New Philadelphia: Racism, Community, and the Illinois Frontier," a specially edited thematic issue, Historical Archaeology 44(1): 138-154 (2010) (pdf).

The 19th-century impacts of racism and transportation developments on New Philadelphia, Illinois are explored by examining oral history, documentary, and archaeological evidence. This study fi rst addresses the region in which New Philadelphia was located, outlining the contours of a landscape torn by racial strife. Analysis of the history of the construction of a regional railroad that bypassed New Philadelphia is then provided. Evidence shows that the town was bypassed for reasons other than competition from other potential depot towns, engineering concerns with topography, or other rational business reasons. The impacts of aversive racism very likely diverted the railroad route around New Philadelphia, spelling its demise. Finally, the lessons that emerge from these past social, economic, and racial dynamics are considered.

diamond "African Diaspora Archaeology in Multiscalar and Multivariate Perspectives," introductory and overview chapter in African Diaspora Archaeology, an invited book compiled and edited by C. Fennell, Society for Historical Archaeology (2008).

Researchers and commentators have pursued a multiplicity of perspectives in a period of remarkable growth for African-American archaeology and African diaspora archaeology. Their work has also traversed spatial scales across the local, regional, inter-regional, and global. Some scholars call for a focus on the contours of racial ideologies and capitalist economies on a global scale. Other studies recommend rich, contextual analysis at the local and regional scales. A breathtaking diversity of research questions has been pursued by researchers over the past decades, often employing investigative strategies informed by the interests of local and descendant communities in addition to an engagement with ongoing theoretical debates concerning such themes as racism, power, agency, ethnicity, social group identity, class structures, and self-determination. This peer-reviewed book presents an overview introduction and three collections of studies drawn from the Historical Archaeology journal that present studies focusing on locations in (i) Africa, (ii) the Caribbean, Central and South America, and finally on (iii) research concerning sites in North America. Contextual commentary on the significance and implications of these studies is also provided.

diamond "Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World," University Press of Florida (2007, 2010).

This peer-reviewed book utilizes theories concerning modes of symbolic expression to analyze the past creation and use of material expressions of core symbols within the diasporas of European and African cultures, such as the BaKongo, Yoruba, Fon, and Palatine German, among others. I explore the divergent ways these creative processes played out at sites in North America, the Caribbean, and South America. Finding shortfalls in the current uses of creolization concepts, I define a concept of "ethnogenic bricolage" as a process involved in these cultural developments in locations of the New World. I also examine beliefs and practices among European Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, principally from archaeology sites in the United States, and the ways that forms of instrumental symbolism reflected in artifacts from those sites were shaped by dynamics similar to those seen in African diasporas. These independently developed beliefs and practices from Europe and Africa came to meet at "crossroads" of the New World.

diamond "BaKongo Identity and Symbolic Expression in the Americas," an invited chapter in The Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora, edited by Toyin Falola and Akin Ogundiran, pp. 210-50, Indiana University Press (2007).

This chapter analyzes the past creation and use of material expressions of core symbols within the diaspora of BaKongo religious beliefs in regions affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Utilizing theories concerning modes of symbolic expression, formation and maintenance of social group identities, and the role of individual creativity and innovation, this analysis examines an apparent divergence in the way these creative processes played out at sites in North America, the Caribbean and South America. The use of private, instrumental symbolism is prevalent in artifacts reflecting BaKongo religious beliefs uncovered at African-American sites in North America. This contrasted significantly with the material culture and symbolism of African-American groups in Caribbean and South American locations, such as Haiti and Brazil. In those locations outside the United States, new, highly embellished symbolism was developed out of the blending of diverse African religions, including the BaKongo, Yoruba and Dahomean belief systems. These embellished symbols were often displayed publicly and in ways likely intended to signal new social networks and group identities.

diamond "Molded Malevolence: Instrumental Symbolism Rendered in Clay," an invited article in Ceramics in America, Vol. 3, pp. 270-273, University Press of New England and the Chipstone Foundation (2003).

This article examines an example of the material culture of folk religion beliefs and practices in nineteenth century Virginia. Such archaeological interpretations of past meaning systems should be based on the closest fit possible with available evidence of the attributes of such material culture and the context in which it was most likely created and used. Applying such an interpretative framework, this article analyzes an example of instrumental symbolism uncovered at a northern Virginia archaeology site. This material culture is initially evocative of an interpretation that it was created in accordance with particular African-American beliefs and practices, but is most persuasively interpreted as a past expression of German-American folk religion beliefs.

diamond "Group Identity, Individual Creativity and Symbolic Generation in a BaKongo Diaspora," International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 1-31, Kluwer Academic & Plenum Publishers (2003) (.pdf).

This article applies theories of group dynamics and individual agency to past material expressions of core symbols within particular African-American religious beliefs. The past creation and use of such artifacts is analyzed using theories concerning modes of symbolic expression, the interplay of dominant and non-dominant religions, formation and maintenance of social group identities, and the role of individual creativity and innovation within those processes. This analysis demonstrates that changes in the form and use of BaKongo religious symbols in the material culture of African Americans resulted from the interplay of individual innovations and the creation of new social relationships.

diamond "Conjuring Boundaries: Inferring Past Identities from Religious Artifacts," International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 4, Issue 4, pp. 281-313, Kluwer Academic & Plenum Publishers (2000) (.pdf).

This article provides a detailed examination of commonalities between folk religion beliefs and practices of African-American and European-American ethnic groups. Interpretations concerning the ethnic group association of religious artifacts uncovered at eighteenth- and nineteenth-century archaeological sites in the mid-Atlantic region must be based on a clearer articulation of the interplay of three issues: the general dynamics of ethnic group boundedness; how material culture communicates such ethnic identities; and how religious practices support or subvert ethnic group boundaries. A variety of protective and malevolent folk religion practices likely functioned in different ways in intergroup and intragroup settings.

diamond African-American Archaeology Resources
diamond African Diaspora Archaeology Network
diamond New Philadelphia Archaeology Project
diamond Edgefield, SC Project

dividing bar

Faculty Archaeology Anthropology University

Please email any comments or questions to:
Last updated: Feb. 7, 2017