CFP: Medieval and Early Modern African Literature Panel (3/1/06; ASA, 11/16/06-11/19/06)

full name / name of organization: 
Wendy Belcher
contact email:

Medieval and Early Modern African Literature

Abstracts are invited for a proposed panel at the African Studies
Association Annual Conference in San Francisco, California, November 16-19,

The rich African literature produced before the nineteenth century has yet
to be considered by literary critics. While some literary scholars are
familiar with Black British or African American writers of the eighteenth
century, such as Equiano and Wheatley, they are rarely familiar with
African writers writing on the African or European continents before the
late 1800s. Many are shocked to hear that such texts exist at all.
Certainly, no book addresses their work at length and almost no literary
essays published outside of Africa individually address such medieval or
early modern works. This panel, pending approval of the ASA, has several
purposes: (1) to address a lacuna in literary studies by asserting that
medieval and early modern African literature exists, (2) to introduce
medieval and early modern African texts in need of further study, and (3)
to discuss methods for theorizing these texts. Papers may explore African
texts from the seventh through the fifteenth century (medieval) or
sixteenth through eighteenth century (early modern).

Suggested texts include, but are not limited to, the vast medieval and
early modern literature in Ge'ez from Ethiopia, including hagiographies and
the Kebra Nagast; the vast medieval and early modern literature in Arabic
across North and West Africa; the many early modern West African works
written in European and African languages, such as those eighteenth-century
works by Antera Duke (an Efik slave-trading chief who was a diarist), Anton
Wilhelm Amo (who became a distinguished academic in Germany), J. E. J.
Capitein (who studied and published in the Netherlands), Christian Protten
(a linguist who studied in Denmark), Frederik Pedersen (a memoirist who
studied in Denmark), William Ansah (source of The Royal African; or,
Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamaboe), Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (who
wrote a book on the "evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of
the human species"), and Philip Quaque (whose letters to England for fifty
years have been preserved).

Some of the questions that can be addressed:
*What bodies of medieval and early modern African literature exist and how
can we usefully describe and differentiate them?
*What extant critical theories best serve the study of this literature and
do we need to invent new theories to encompass them?
* What concerns and philosophies shape these literatures?
*How should "literature" be defined in this context?
*How do African authors from these periods construct their authorial
*How should the influence of European languages and amanuenses on medieval
and early modern African texts be understood?
*How should the historical context of the works be addressed?
*How can these works be introduced into the disciplinary curriculum of
*Google searches of "medieval African literature" and "early modern African
literature" return zero hits. Why is this? Are these terms useful in
thinking about African literature? Are there reasons for not describing
medieval African literature as African?

This panel is proposed, not yet accepted. Send an abstract and short bio
by March 1 to wbelcher at ucla dot edu.

Wendy Belcher
UCLA Department of English
2225 Rolfe Hall
Box 951530
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1530

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Received on Tue Feb 07 2006 - 13:17:27 EST

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