The Carter G. Woodson Institute, U.Va.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute

for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia

Woodson Fellows

Angelica Allen

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (African and African Diaspora Studies)
THe University of Texas at Austin
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Angelica Allen

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (African and African Diaspora Studies)
THe University of Texas at Austin
"Afro-Amerasians: Blackness in the Philippine Imaginary"

This dissertation focuses on the experiences of a community in the Philippines known as the Black Amerasians (a population born from the union of African American servicemen and Filipina women). Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork with Black Amerasians living near the homes to two of the largest former U.S. military bases, I examine how members of this community form and negotiate their identities while living near militarized zones, and I analyze how they grapple with racist and gendered mythologies that assign Blackness a marginalized space in the Philippine social hierarchy. I employ a range of methodologies including autoethnography, visual ethnography, and oral histories (conducted in Kapampangan and Tagalog) to describe how this population manifests agency and survival strategies in response to anti-Blackness in the Philippines. Afro-Amerasians: Blackness in the Philippine Imaginary is the first study to document the Black Amerasian experience in the Philippines. This project contributes to the growing body of scholarship on Blackness in the Pacific.

Dana Cypress

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (English)
University of Pennsylvania
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Dana Cypress

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (English)
University of Pennsylvania
"In the Time of Disaster: Representations of Hurricane Katrina in African American Literature and Culture"

My project, "In the Time of Disaster: Representations of Hurricane Katrina in African American Literature and Culture", explores African American post-Katrina cultural production that engages the political, cultural, and social effects of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. I read the spatio-temporal parameters of Black post-Katrina films, music, and literature to consider how these texts challenge and revise our cultural memory of the storm. I argue that together these texts, which include works by Jesmyn Ward, Patricia Smith, Mat Johnson, Kiese Laymon, among others, contextualize Hurricane Katrina as a process that unfolds on a continuum of ongoing Black freedom struggles rather than a discrete event. The temporal disruptions found in my archive expand the depth of historical knowledge about the affected region to make visible the social and political preconditions of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and aftermath. The spatial orientations of Black post-Katrina cultural texts bring the Mississippi Gulf Coast into view alongside New Orleans. I read this geographic pivot to Mississippi as an important intervention of Black post-Katrina cultural production that provides an expansive view of multiple souths in the region and the otherwise obscured histories of coastal Black communities adversely affected by the storm. Together, these spatio-temporal revisions offered by Black writers and artists reveal the figure of the Black mother as central to African American cultural and literary interpretations of the storm.

Amanda Gibson

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (History)
College of William and Mary
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Amanda Gibson

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (History)
College of William and Mary

Amanda White Gibson is a doctoral candidate at the College of William and Mary. Her research uncovers the credit market experiences of those most vulnerable to the externalities associated with the slavery-based capitalist economy. It describes enslaved and free African Americans’ use of credit from the American Revolution to the Civil War; how enslaved individuals borrowed to free themselves, what happened when they did not pay debts imposed on them by the jail system, and free and enslaved African Americans’ employment of credit at stores and banks. It also attempts to describe how African Americans in Virginia conceived of debt in their own lives, for example using debt, with varying degrees of success, as a tool to distance themselves from slavery and racial oppression.

Nzingha Kendall

Post-Doctoral (American Studies)
Indiana University Bloomington
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Nzingha Kendall

Post-Doctoral (American Studies)
Indiana University Bloomington

In a world that constrains black women's expression and their ability to live, how does experimental filmmaking allow for moments and spaces of liberation? "Imperfect Independence: Black Women & Experimental Filmmaking," looks to black women across the diaspora, from the late 20th century to the present, who use experimental techniques and practices in their films to answer this question. I argue that experimental filmmaking practices offer black women fleeting, yet profound sources of freedom; these moments of freedom constitute instances of imperfect independence.

F. Delali Kumavie

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (English)
Northwestern University
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F. Delali Kumavie

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (English)
Northwestern University
"Dreams of Flight: Literary Mappings of Black Geographies through Air, Airplane, and Airport"

My dissertation extends the vital loci of black critical and artistic work from the sea, ocean, water, and ship, to the air, airplanes and airports to reveal how slavery and its technologies intersects with modernity and its technology of travel. I argue that the contemporary literary works of African and diasporic writers at the center of this dissertation, Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang, Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nnedi Okorafor, complicate the entanglement of flight with possibility, fantasy, lightness, or escape, by showing how the structure and grammar of the slave dungeon and ship haunts the spaces of the air, airplane, and airport. In other words, I utilize an interdisciplinary framework to center blackness in my study to posit that black literary engagements with these sites uncover genealogies and temporalities of flight that undermine the progression-centeredness of travel and mobility. “Dreams of flight” examines this illusive coupling of freedom with flight by focusing on the specific technology and sites of flight (air, airplanes and airports).

Paul Joseph López Oro

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (African and African Diaspora Studies)
The University of Texas at Austin
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Paul Joseph López Oro

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (African and African Diaspora Studies)
The University of Texas at Austin
"Queering Garifuna: The Diasporic Politics of Black Indigeneity in New York City"

Gender and sexuality are central to the ways in which Garífuna New Yorkers negotiate migrations, build cultural movements, and transnational networks beyond multiple borders of nation-states and racial subjectivities. Garífuna are descendants of shipwrecked enslaved West Africans and Carib-Arawak indigenous peoples on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, their exile by British colonial forces in 1797 led them to the Bay Islands of Honduras, then subsequent migrations to Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and mainland Honduras. Their first Great Migration to the United States begins in the late 1950s due to the economic collapse of the United Fruit Company. New York City is home to the largest Garífuna community outside of Central America's Caribbean Coast. My dissertation, Queering Garifuna: The Diasporic Politics of Black Indigeneity in New York City, is an ethnographic and archival study on how gender and sexuality shapes the ways in which Garifuna New Yorkers negotiate and perform their multiple subjectivities as Black, Indigenous, and Latinx. Building upon Black Queer Diaspora theories to closely examine the processes of self-making, performance, ancestral memory, visual cultures, and hemispheric articulations of Blackness, Indigeneity, and Latinidad. Situating Garifuna New Yorkers as a political project of self-making Garifunaness vis-a-vis cultural and sociolinguistic preservation and restoration. I argue that Garifuna New Yorkers engage in a diasporic politics of Black Indigeneity that disrupt U.S. Blackness, Latin American mestizaje, and U.S. Latinidad. Queering Garífuna is a study of political movements, transgenerational migrations, and racial & ethnic negotiations. 

Claire Antone Payton

Post-Doctoral (History)
Duke University
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Claire Antone Payton

Post-Doctoral (History)
Duke University
“‘And We Will Be Devoured’: Construction and the Politics of Dictatorship in Haiti (1957-1986).”

I am a Caribbean historian who analyzes urban life to uncover the social, material, political and environmental history of the African Diaspora. I completed my Ph.D. in History at Duke University in 2018. My research, supported in part by a Fulbright-Hayes fellowship, is a history of construction in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that engages urgent questions about the relationship between politics, the built environment, and the historical foundations of disaster.

Two major transformations indelibly marked Haiti in the second half of the twentieth century: explosive urban growth fueled by rural-to-urban migration and the consolidation of state power into the hands of the Duvalier regime, an autocratic nationalist government that ruled between 1957 and 1986. Drawing on extensive archival research, I renarrate the dictatorship through the creation, destruction, and management of material and abstract urban spaces—from airports and aquifers to the political economy of cement. My analysis of these sites shows how the daily politics of authoritarianism were infused with the dynamics of rapid demographic and geographic change. The study brings to light the previously-unknown architects, planners, developers, investors, and local and international officials who enacted, contested, and revised the dictatorship’s ideological visions and pragmatic imperatives.  Ultimately, my research shows how the struggles between dictatorship and democracy in Haiti are deeply tied to neocolonial geographies of power and anxieties about citizenship and belonging in the city.

I have devoted my time at the Woodson to initiating the process of transforming my dissertation into a book manuscript, which I am tentatively calling "And We Will Be Devoured: Construction, Destruction, and Dictatorship in Haiti."

Sean Reid

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Anthropology)
Syracuse University
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Sean Reid

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Anthropology)
Syracuse University
“Continuity, Transformations, and Rupture in the Forests of Gold”

Sean H. Reid is a doctoral candidate in the Anthropology Department at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. He specializes in African archaeology, maritime archaeology, and the archaeology of the Atlantic world. His dissertation, titled “Continuity, Transformations, and Rupture in the Forests of Gold,” examines broad transformations over the past 2,000 years in the lifeways of the people inhabiting the coast and hinterlands of Central and Western Region, Ghana. He specializes in the use of remotely sensed imagery to aid archaeological survey, particularly satellite imagery. Sean was a Fulbright Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year affiliated with the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon. He is also a former Critical Language Scholar (Egypt '09) and has worked on archaeological projects in Sierra Leone, South Africa, The Gambia, Barbados, Maryland, Florida, and France. 

Jermaine Scott

Post-Doctoral (African American Studies)
Northwestern University
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Jermaine Scott

Post-Doctoral (African American Studies)
Northwestern University
“Black Teamwork: Football, Diaspora, Politics"

I received my PhD from the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University in 2019. While at the Woodson, I will be working on my manuscript, tentatively titled, “Black Teamwork: Football, Diaspora, Politics,” which analyzes how black footballers across the African diaspora used football (soccer) as a site of black politics and solidarity. Using two original concepts, namely, black teamwork and the coloniality of sport, I argue that black footballers of the African diaspora unsettled the racial and colonial constitution of modern sport. While the “coloniality of sport” is the establishment of sporting hierarchies that privileges whiteness through the subordination and disciplining of blackness, “black teamwork” consists of the decolonial formations of black sporting subjects (players and administrators) that critique, unsettle, and reveal the coloniality of sport, and football in particular. By interrogating a variety of diasporic spaces during a range of post-colonial contexts—the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the 1960s, Howard University soccer team in the 1970s, Corinthian Democracy Football Club in 1980s Brazil, and the Dutch National football team during the 1990s—I argue that black populations have used football as a vehicle to make political claims against colonial practices of exclusion, and create fields of diasporic conviviality that exceed the anti-black sensibilities of the nation-state. 

Brian Smithson

Post-Doctoral (Cultural Anthropology)
Duke University
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Brian Smithson

Post-Doctoral (Cultural Anthropology)
Duke University
"Piety in Production: Video Filmmaking as Religious Practice in Bénin"

Brian C. Smithson is a cultural anthropologist who studies the audiovisual cultures and religions of West Africa. As a Woodson Research Associate, Brian is completing a book titled Economies of Praise: Making Movies Religious in Benin—a story of cash-strapped movie producers, Christian–Muslim animosities, and professional rivalries in Yorùbá-speaking Benin. The book shows how moviemakers overcome these hurdles by championing Yorùbá indigenous religion, its ethical principles, and its moral demands. The movies they make borrow from African art cinema and Nigeria's Nollywood alike. Yet they do so to establish Beninese creators as local celebrities and to make Yorùbá spirits active presences for viewers. Video filmmakers and their traditional religious allies demand acknowledgement from the state, counterparts in Nigeria, and spiritual kin throughout the African Diaspora. The book thus argues that moviemaking itself has become essential to allowing indigenous Yorùbá religion to thrive. 

Brian's work draws from his experience as an apprentice video filmmaker in Benin, and his co-production of a full-length, Yorùbá-language movie under the guidance of several Yorùbá filmmakers. Brian earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and a master's degree in African Studies at UCLA. He has taught at Duke and Bowdoin College.

Halimat Somotan

Pre-Doctoral (African History)
Columbia University
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Halimat Somotan

Pre-Doctoral (African History)
Columbia University

"I am a doctoral candidate in the history department at Columbia University, and my research interests are in the social and urban history of Africa. My dissertation, “‘In the Wider Interests of Nigeria as a Whole’: Lagos and the Making of Federal Nigeria, 1941-76,” examines how working-class and elite residents of Lagos, as well as federal and local bureaucrats, negotiated the transition of Lagos from the colonial capital into the metropolis of independent Nigeria. It investigates how urban dwellers engaged policies such as urban planning and rent control from the late colonial period until the post-independent era. Residents from market women, indigenous groups to tenants, struggled with each other and with town planners, city council workers, and federal politicians to influence the administration of the city. I argue that the competing interests and initiatives of residents and state leaders shaped the implementation and outcomes of policies that satisfied the needs of some people to the detriment of others. For instance, while rent control laws of the 1950s and 1960s endorsed tenants’ advocacy for cheaper rents, the same rules marginalized landlords’ demand for reduced cost of building materials and property taxes. Even though rent control did not curb the soaring prices of rent, it forced landlords and tenants to reinvent different ways to secure housing. By studying the roles of the city dwellers in shaping urban policies, my research departs from the scholarly conclusions that state actors dictated the planning and administration of post-independent Lagos. This project draws from oral interviews, archival resources such as newspapers, petitions, novels, and photographs to illustrate how the actions of multiple people influenced the transformation of the city."

Tracey Stewart

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Music)
University of Virginia
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Tracey Stewart

Pre-Doctoral Fellow (Music)
University of Virginia
"Being Maroon: Music, Memory and Power in Articulations of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Jamaican Maroonage"

My dissertation Being Maroon: "Music, Memory and Power in Articulations and Representations of Jamaican Maroonage" examines the use of music as an implement of power and a mode of representation. Drawing from extensive field research with the Leeward and Windward Jamaican Maroon communities, I argue that music and cultural icons are used to articulate and contest various conceptions of Jamaican Maroonage. Maroons use their cultural authority to: authenticate performance practices, set the parameters for what constitutes acceptable cultural representation, passively and actively express approval of or dissatisfaction with community leadership, grant or deny access to cultural knowledge, and challenge persisting unequal power dynamics between themselves and the scholarly community. I analyze Jamaican Maroon cultural presence as firmly situated at the center of national public discourse, and how that presence is sometimes used in ways that are ideologically opposed to Maroons themselves. Jamaican Maroons and the Jamaican State respectively, strategically use Maroon music and cultural icons to give form to concepts such as nationhood, sovereignty, and cultural and ethnic distinction. This dissertation offers fresh insights into Jamaican Maroon cultural traditions—specifically the music and the social and political contexts from which it derives.  

Photo Credit: Keith Woodson