A special issue of African Economic History, “Colonial Economic History in West Africa: The Gold Coast and Gambia in Comparative Perspective,” reconsiders the comparative place of economic frameworks in British colonies in West Africa. One of the issue’s important aims is to emphasize the difference in divergent spaces, between the “profitable” colony of the Gold Coast and the “economic drain” of The Gambia colony. Edited by George M. Bob-Milliar and Toby Green, the issue is also characterized by new and distinctive archival research from archives in the countries considered; this empirical detail places the economic impact of colonialism in an important new light.
While northern Arctic coasts have long been important sites for the study of cultures on a regional scale, the latest issue of Arctic Anthropology, “The Archaeology of Northern Coasts,” focuses on what coastal peoples can teach us about topics of a global scale, particularly climate change.
The peoples of northern coasts have created some of the longest sustained cultural traditions on Earth. However, over time, they have faced threats to coastal and marine ecosystems as well as colonial pressures. The ways in which these cultures have developed and adapted over millennia holds lessons for our shared future, special issue editor Christopher B. Wolff explains:
The regions that many people view as the margins of human civilization are becoming more central to our understanding of the evolution and development of humanity and are providing information about directions forward in a world with increasing cultural interactivity and global climate unpredictability. Understanding the role that northern coasts and marine ecosystems play in this is crucial.
Articles in this issue open a window into the many different ways northern people have built thriving cultures along the Arctic and Subarctic coasts. Topics include a community-based archaeology project to preserve Yup’ik cultural heritage against the effects of climate change; the relationship between foxes and humans during the Late Holocene period on Kodiak Island, Alaska; and Medieval Norse peoples’ use of marine resources in Greenland. We invite you to browse the table of contents for a full look at the articles in this issue, and read the editor’s introduction.
The latest volume of Ghana Studies features a special forum in memory of James Kwesi Anquandah, who was a pioneer in the field of archaeology in Ghana. Forum editor Ebony Coletu chatted with the editors of Ghana Studies to describe Anquandah’s legacy and support for interdisciplinary research.
Ghana Studies Editors: For readers who may be new to Ghana Studies or to the field of archaeology, can you tell us why James Anquandah was such a towering figure in the field?
Ebony Coletu: Professor Anquandah was the first student of archaeology at the University of Ghana in the sixties—and he went on to mentor five generations of archaeology students as a faculty member, along with countless others who were not working in archaeology or even students at the university. Because his research practice was deeply interdisciplinary, he attracted scholars beyond the department, many like myself just dropping in to his office to ask a few questions, but leaving with an exciting mandate to develop new approaches. You hear this in Kwasi Ampene’s article too, how conversations with Anquandah animated a speculative approach to researching musical practices in the Akan Stone Age and Early Iron Age. So Anquandah did not prescribe a method, he inspired methods, really from his energetic curiosity and commitment to telling new stories about the distant past. Also in this forum, Mohammed Mustapha and Wazi Apoh describe his “eclectic method”—which is a multi-disciplinary research protocol Anquandah used to answer complex questions. For him, it was not enough to write from a single discipline, or apply a single method consistently. Instead he wanted to synthesize history, policy, sociology, and art, to help reformulate and deepen the significance of a question and tell a better story about research findings, particularly for publics beyond the academy.
GS Editors: What distinguishes this special forum commemorating the work and legacy of James Kwesi Anquandah (1938-2017)?
EC: Soon after he passed, I circulated a call for papers that focused on mentorship as a way to map his influence across fields, thus “reframing the reach of archaeology.” The responses affirmed the call by capturing Anquandah’s marathon commitment to mentoring (training five generations of archaeologists in Ghana) as well as the ongoing work of decolonizing disciplines. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann addresses this directly in her essay, when she writes about autoarchaeology, a research practice that foregrounds direct descendants as researchers whose families have lived in or around the excavation site. She enlisted Danish-Ga descendants as researchers at Christiansborg Castle, unearthing artifacts and posing questions collaboratively. As a consequence of centering community-based knowledge production, the project inspires new pipelines for training in archaeology aimed at multilingual researchers who are gaining experience on site. She reframes the reach of archaeology by asking who can do this work and why? For Kwasi Ampene, Anquandah inspired a deep-time approach to Akan ethnomusicology, and in the process he challenges our dependence on sixteenth-century European traveler sketches typically used as evidence of musical practices. Questioning the explanatory power and the historical limits of these images, Ampene goes on to suggest a deep-time alternative: using archaeological research to speculate on the multipurpose use of agricultural instruments to make ancient music, inspired by those used for both purposes today.
GS Editors: You not only guest edited this special forum, you also contributed an essay to it in which you introduce the idea of “descendent epistemology.” Can you tell readers how your conversations with Anquandah helped you formulate this innovative methodology?
EC: I was fortunate to meet Anquandah in the early stages of my research on Chief Sam, an Akyem merchant who led a diasporic return movement that recruited support from thousands of African Americans to purchase a ship that set sail from Texas, arriving in the Gold Coast in 1915. I had narrow interests in that first conversation. I wanted to reconstruct a fuller version of Sam’s family tree and identify a plausible link to the Sams of Anomabo, who are part of my family. Chief Sam’s life was far from conventional, leaving traces and descendants in multiple countries, including multiple wives and stepchildren. I sought Anquandah’s help to make sense of a more complex family tree. But after reading his interview notes with descendants and talking with him over several years, he began to reflect my questions back to me, noting that my concern with kinship had widened to include the technical matter of diasporic return: what was the status of African Americans who pledged to live, work, and die in African communities? Were they also, in some sense, part of Sam’s family? Sam had proposed to adopt them en masse to facilitate the process of landownership and repair a spiritual wound from separation by slavery. While mass adoption was unsuccessful, those who remained quickly integrated into indigenous communities through other means. I found Sam’s proposal, and colonial attempts to block it, an important antecedent to contemporary debates about diasporic right of return, evidence of kinship, and different routes to Ghanaian citizenship.
GS Editors: Taken together, what does this collection of special forum essays tell us about the next generation of archaeological research coming out of Ghana?
EC: The last essay says much on this point. Mustapha and Apoh tell a story about Anquandah’s decolonial legacy, which has shaped their own research itineraries instead of resting on a citational model that preserves what previous generations of Africanist archaeologists prioritized. For example, Apoh’s research builds new sources for the understudied topic of German missionionization and colonization in historical archaeology. While Mustapha pushes back against an exogenous theory of social complexity in the Mamprugu Traditional Area in Northern Ghana by investigating indigenous innovations that led to large scale ancient ironworking. Engmann’s work also sharpens this point by challenging value assessments in the literature, which can determine which places are considered critical to research while marginalizing others. Her work at Christiansborg Castle is groundbreaking for the sheer number of artifacts excavated in a short period of time on a site previously considered marginal. This despite the fact that it served as the seat of several administrations, from Danish governors to Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings. Though this forum began in a memorial spirit, it was exciting to edit because it features forthcoming interdisciplinary work in Ghana Studies encouraged by Professor Anquandah’s pathbreaking example.
Ghana Studies Volume 22 is available on Project MUSE. Browse the table of contents, which includes the special forum along with other articles and reviews. And if you’re attending the African Studies Association Conference this week, stop by the University of Wisconsin Press booth (#314), where you’ll find Ghana Studies alongside many of our other titles in African Studies.
Ghana Studies Journal Publishes 20th Anniversary Special Issue
With the most recent volume of Ghana Studies, the journal celebrates its twentieth anniversary, as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the Ghana Studies Association, of which it is the official publication. Along with the usual articles and book reviews, the current issue features an anniversary forum, where scholars reflect on the history of the field of Ghana Studies as well as the progress of the journal and the association.
One of the forum’s notable offerings is a conversation with previous Ghana Studies editors Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Stephan F. Miescher, in which they discuss their editorial challenges and successes, as well as their thoughts on the journal’s potential future directions. Below is an excerpt from this conversation, centering on the ways in which Adomako Ampofo and Miescher cultivated a focus on Gender Studies in the publication’s pages. The full interview can be found in Ghana Studies Volume 21.
GS Editors: You are both noted Gender Studies scholars, who also brought your respective backgrounds in history and sociology to your term as editors of GS. Has your mark on the journal been shaped by your (inter)disciplinary orientations? Or by other commitments?
Akosua: I like to see myself more as an interdisciplinary scholar rather than as a sociologist. This is why I am attracted more to the works of sociologists like W. E. B. DuBois and Patricia Hill Collins—both authors who speak to questions of gender and race, as well as their intersections, which is where much of my own work is situated—than, say, to the works of Marx and Weber, albeit the latter certainly have their value. There are two ways I tend to respond to an article: If it’s in my field, I am looking for something new and refreshing, or new insights to a question that has puzzled scholars. So to that extent I tend to be more critical, but also, when it comes to a younger scholar, I’m more excited about pushing it to publication. However, if the work comes from an area outside my own area of expertise, then I am looking to be thrilled, sometimes to have my socks knocked off so I have that aha! moment, which I want the whole world to feel. Then I can proudly shout that it came out in a journal I am affiliated with. And then, yes, definitely I think that having spent my entire academic career in a multi- and interdisciplinary institute, I am very sympathetic to interdisciplinary work. And of course gender scholarship is so interdisciplinary. After almost thirty years of teaching, I have found that students respond much more enthusiastically, and tend to engage more with the class, when we have a multidisciplinary set of texts. In the gender classes I coteach at IAS, we have always included literary texts and films, as well as work in history, political science, economics, and so forth. It’s my view that especially for African Studies, this multidisciplinary approach is important since the nuances of our global history and contemporary realities often get lost in the cross-sectional or the single-approach analysis.
Stephan: My own research interests certainly had an impact on the type of work we pursued and published. Questions about gender have been important to me for a long time. As GS editor, I was pleased that issue 14 featured several pieces on gender including Ernestina Dankyi’s article on transnational families, Peace Tetteh on child domestic labor, and Josephine Beoku-Betts on women academics in neoliberal Ghana. In the same issue, we published two articles on same-sex intimacies, a topic then still marginalized in African Studies and in Ghana. The piece by Serena Owusua Dankwa deals with same-sex love and female masculinity; the one by William Banks explores the subjectivities among saso people, a community of men who engage in same-sex erotic practices. The special issue on health and health care (issue 15–16) also includes works with a gender analysis, such as Fidelia Ohemeng’s article on the gender dimension of trust and caregiving for HIV patients and Jo Ellen Fair’s piece on love and newspapers advice columns. My tenure as GS editor corresponded with a period when my scholarly interests expanded to the history of development and technology. For over a decade, I have been researching the history of the Akosombo Dam for my forthcoming book, A Dam for Africa: The Volta River Project and Modernization in Postcolonial Ghana. This interest also led to the “Revisiting Modernization Conference,” for which I wrote with Dzodzi Tsikata a paper that compared discourses and practices of modernization in relation to the Akosombo and Bui Dams. Our paper appeared in GS 12–13.
Akosua: I certainly had my favorites among the papers on gender; however, I’m not telling. What I will say is, all the gender issues that were addressed in the volumes mentioned by Stephan, which we coedited, brought fresh and important issues to the table.