Women standing next to a car.
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

» Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs

Bold MamasWe are interested in the processes by which women build communication networks over large distances, and use them to create distribution networks. We define these distribution systems as ones that not only distribute tangible goods but also service users' demands for utility, broadly understood and expanded from neoclassical economic and political assumptions. We are particularly interested in research sites which have recently undergone transition in demographics, economics, political institutions, or extraordinarily violent circumstances. During transitions people eat, and women sell food. In the end, women find a way to eat. In these contexts, we focus on the continuities and ruptures in exchange at the interpersonal, which can be most straightforwardly tracked through socio-linguistic methodologies because it is at this instance we find these networks are disrupted, destroyed, or endure.

Conference Presentations

ASA, November 2010, Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs: The importance of understanding early African gender dynamics on the study of the African Diaspora. ASWAD, October 2011, Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs: The importance of understanding early African gender dynamics on the study of the African Diaspora.
- Western ideological assumptions in approaches to women’s/gender history often skew the meaning of women’s strength, power, and status in early African societies, which can lead to an inverting and undermining of their historical relevance in the African Diaspora. The common effect is that conclusions drawn end up pathologizing women of African origin as man-dominating matriarchal figures or silent and victimized African women. Both extremes are based on the belief that these roles are a result of the Atlantic slave trade. The latest research on early African social history acknowledges women’s respected and long-enduring roles in most pre-colonial African societies, and this new research opens an opportunity for new interpretations and appreciation for the persistence of African origin traditions throughout the African Diaspora. This panel emphasizes that we must aim to link pre-colonial social history with the African Diaspora so that claims about “African” origin can be set within the a solid foundation that considers the intertwined history of gender, economics, religion, kinship, hospitality, politics, and more.

AHA, January 2012, Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs: Early African Gender Dynamics and the African Diaspora
Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburg
- The Trail of the Mothers: African Gender Dynamics in the America by Christine A. Saidi, Kutztown University; Potions, Power, and Persecution: African Women and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Mexico City by Rhonda M. Gonzales, University of Texas at San Antonio;Well-Behaved Women: Hospitality as an Identity Marker by C. Cymone Fourshey, Susquehanna University; Spoken Like a Market Woman: Learning Language in Malanje by Carolyn Vieira Martinez, Chapman University

Africa Conference, UT Austin April 2012, Lifting the Loincloth: Interrogating Anthropological Spectacles
- This panel of historians will present papers that critique long-entrenched, and misguided interpretations and representations about Africans that were propagated in early anthropological literature. While acknowledging that as a discipline anthropological questions and methods are refined, the panelists contend that nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropological scholarship continues at best, to misinform, and at worst, to influence current thinking and the research of all disciplines engaging and interrogating the continent. Together these historians seek to expose the origins of familiar spectacles and to offer alternative ways of analyzing and using the ethnographic sources that created some persistent and erroneous images.

NERWHA September 2012, Listening to African Voices: Integrating early African History into World History--A Roundtable Discussion
- In the last decade significant new research on early African history, ranging from 300 to 12,000 years ago, has been published, yet rarely is any of this research found in recent world history publications or world history textbooks. Historians typically steer away from research areas without written sources. Historians of Africa too have followed this paradigm focusing almost exclusively on the very late precolonial when written sources from outsiders, both European and Arab, become more abundant. This round table addresses how research into earlier eras is feasible based on useful historical data through linguistic, archeological and oral tradition. These less commonly employed sources along with documents written in Arabic and European languages provide a tremendous wealth of evidence that challenges the notion that it is not possible to break the boundaries of early and pre-colonial African social history without an arsenal of written documents. Additionally the data from these sources place Africa and Africans back into world history. We will demonstrate the value of non-written sources in understanding early history as well as present teaching strategies that integrate topics such as gender, religion and migration patterns within and outside of Africa. Each of these approaches has applicability for African history, as well as other world regions and will provide insight how to engage students in oral, written, linguistic, and archaeological analyses in World History courses.

MAWHA November 2012, African Migration Stories
- The two most common ways that Africans have found their way into world history stem from historical migrations—the forced migrations of the Atlantic Age, and the myth and manner of the Bantu expansion. The sense that there was a world of migration experience in Africa beyond what was described in documents has led historians to explore other techniques of historical reconstruction alongside archaeology and oral traditions. In this round table the participants will discuss some of Africa’s lesser-known migrations, and offer new insights into the historical experience of Africans. Gonzales focuses in on the strategies enslaved and semi-free African women used to create opportunities to generate profit, to sustain community, and to shape diaspora medicinal and religious culture in early Colonial Mexico City. Saidi describes the matrifocal social institutions that placed migrating Bantu speakers in advantageous positions vis a vis newly neighboring settlements. Fourshey looks at how metaphors of hospitality were employed to regulate behavior between Bantu and Batwa, and the prescription of indigeneity. Weise explores the contradictions between Nupe, Igala and Ebira migration traditions and the linguistic evidence. Vieira-Martinez discusses how we know that matrilineality was already operational when western savannah language groups migrated into the Kasai and Kwanza river basins. Although these are more local and more constrained cases of historical migration in Africa than those widely known by non-specialists, each in its own way carries significant implications for the representations we use to teach about the migrations of Bantu speaking communities and Africans in diaspora.

ASA 2012 Roundtable, The Audacity of Gender: Power, Sex and Social Roles in Africanist Research on Early Africa
- In the last decade, new research on early African History prior to the Atlantic Age has shed light on gender dynamics over the last two thousand years, yet virtually none of this research has been incorporated into the recent publications of African gender, women’s histories or recent African history textbooks. Our goal is to produce a text that synthesizes some of this new research into an intellectually rigorous, multimedia resource for use in the undergraduate classroom. This type of text is critical because it adds depth to our understanding of Africa’s varied and diverse gender systems in at least the two millennia before colonial rule, but also because it will enable us to add nuance to our understandings of colonial era interactions and post-colonial developments. While it is clearly difficult to delve into such early eras and reconstruct social systems, it is possible to analyze Africa's gender histories prior to the late pre-colonial period, when there are more plentiful written documents from outsider observers - the explorers, missionaries and colonists. This new research on early African gender dynamics is based on evidence from historical linguistic, archeological, and oral traditions. These internally generated sources have added dimension and even challenged the perspectives presented by outside observers, and scholars of African gender and African women's history. This roundtable summarizes the recent research on gender and women in Africa, methods for unearthing early African gender history, cases from west, central and east Africa, and discuss with the audience ideas on how to situate the textbook and impact the prevalent historiography.

Vieira-Martinez, Carolyn, et.al. “Interrogating Anthropological Spectacles,” Critique of Anthropology, Sage, under review.
______. “Ubuntu not Ubantu” in Poverty and Empowerment in Africa. Toyin Falola, ed. Forthcoming.
______, et.al. Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs, proposal in discussion with Oyeronke Oyewumi, ed. Book Series: Gender and Cultural Studies in Africa and the Diaspora. Palgrave/ Macmillan
______, et. al. Bantu History (Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • Members
  • Research projects
  • Grants/funding
  • Student research
  • Active Members:

    Dr. Crystal Murphy, Political Science, Chapman University
    Crystal Murphy, political science, specialist in economic development programming in postwar transitions

    Dr. Catherine Cymone Fourshey, History, Susquehanna University
    Dr. Rhonda Gonzales, History, University of Texas San Antonio
    Dr. Christine Saidi, History, Kutztown University

    • Role of African woman in economic systems, past and present
    • Matrilineality in African history
    • What African women do
    • Reconsidering political and social leadership norms in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • NEH Collaborative Research Grant fall 2012 “Gender Expressions and Transformations in Africa’s Matrilineal Belt”
  • Teaching
    Spring 2012 Team Teaching “HIST273: Bold Mamas and Audacious Entrepreneurs: Women and Power in the African Past” across three campuses: Chapman University, Susquehanna University and Kutztown University. This course looks at the meaning of women’s strength, power, and status in early African societies. Students combine readings of recent scholarship with fieldwork to reconsider the meaning of literature that pathologized women of African origin as man-dominating matriarchal figures, or as silent victims. (Offered as needed). 3 credits.

    Undergraduate Research Assistants
    Diana Odero – 4th year, lexicographer, ASILI software
    Ashley Lovell –3rd year, Geospatial Historical Linguistics, Bibliographer
    Brittany Jones—2nd year, Geographic Information Systems
    Fernando Amador--1st year, Geographic Information Systems