2023: Sixth Annual

The University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program created the annual Jan Vansina Lecture to honor the legacy of Jan Vansina, one of the world’s foremost historians of Africa.

September 13, 2023 at 12pm CST

The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ingraham Hall, Room 206

Jan Vansina. (Photo by Catherine Reiland / UW-Madison)

The Sixth annual Jan Vansina Lecture will be delivered by Edda L. Fields-Black, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University. She has written numerous scholarly studies on the trans-national history of West African rice farmers, including Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University: 2014, 2008). She uses a unique blend of interdisciplinary sources and methods to chronicle the development of tidal rice-growing technology by the inhabitants of the West African Rice Coast region, the region where the majority of captives disembarking in South Carolina and Georgia originated.

She is co-editor of Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (co-edited with Francesca Bray, Peter Coclanis, and Dagmar Schaeffer) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, 2017), which was awarded the Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2015 and translated into Chinese in 2023.

From 2012 to 2016, Fields-Black served as the consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s permanent exhibit “Rice Fields of the Lowcountry” located in the Power of Place Gallery.

Fields-Blacks’ latest book is titled COMBEE: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee River Raid, and Black Freedom during the Civil War (Oxford University Press, February 2024). This narrative history will tell the untold story of the Combahee River Raid from the perspective of Tubman and the enslaved people she helped to free based on new sources not previously used by historians. It is the story of the largest slave revolt in US history in which enslaved people who labored against their wills on nine rice plantations, ran for their lives, boarded the US gunboats, and sailed to freedom.

Lastly, Fields-Black is executive producer and librettist of Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice, the first full symphonic work about enslavement composed by three-time Emmy Award winning classical music composer, John Wineglass.

Her presentation for the Sixth Jan Vasina Lecture is titled, “New Methods and Sources for Recovering New Voices: West African Peasant Rice Farmers and Enslaved Laborers on Lowcountry Rice Plantations“.