Reexamining Mediterranean Histories with African Perspectives

The Getty Foundation sponsors an exploration workshop at the Nairobi Center to examine African influences on Mediterranean cultures.

May 16, 2024

Reexamining and reconsidering the histories and historiographies of the Mediterranean would undoubtedly uncover the profound African influences on Mediterranean cultures and provide deeper insights into past empires and colonial affairs. This critical approach challenges traditional narratives and emphasizes the interconnectedness of African and Mediterranean histories, enhancing our understanding of the region's intricate dynamics.

Through this renewed understanding, Professor Avinoam Shalem of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and Professor Alina Payne of Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, in collaboration with Professor Eva-Maria Troelenberg, Professor of Transcultural Studies/Art History at Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf are using the Black Mediterranean approach as a corrective methodological tool to reveal forgotten narratives and revisit historiographies of racial subordination. 

The Getty Foundation, a key supporter of this forward-looking project, made it possible for leading research experts to convene a third workshop at the Global Center in Nairobi. This workshop, focusing on the 'Wider Mediterranean' histories by using the Red Sea as the connecting path, aimed to provide deeper insights into the following areas:

  1. The mobility of goods and people along the corridor connecting the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean.
  2. The role of the East African coast and the Hijaz in establishing new connections between Africa and Asia.
  3. The visual politics of the colonial and modern eras focus on the Suez Canal project and other regional infrastructure projects.

The workshop's goals were met through impactful presentations, including From the Red Sea to Bilal al Sudan: Economic and social trajectories of Asian goods in West Africa (15th-19th centuries), The Horn of Africa and the Red Sea to 1500: Mobility of Sacred Ideas and Objects, Creating Nubia: How Colonialism, Tourism, and Archaeology Made a Region, a Past, and a People and a Film screening on Bernardo Bertolucci, Il Canale.