African Diasporas and the Atlantic
As a cursory consultation of any library catalog quickly confirms, the African diaspora as both concept and field of study is overwhelmingly defined by Atlantic scholarship. This is paradoxical in two respects. The Atlantic is one of three broad regions of African dispersion outside the continent. Between 650 and 1900 C.E., a comparable number of sub-Saharan Africans left their homes for destinations in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean as they did into the Atlantic (see table 1).1Second,African diaspora, a relatively new concept, is widely thought to have been introduced into academic discourse through a conference paper delivered in 1965 by George Shepperson.2The conference in question united scholars of African history to consider intellectual problems in their fledgling field. It was held at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a port on the Swahili coast of the Indian Ocean (map 1). From antiquity to the nineteenth century, Africans entered the Indian Ocean and its Red Sea extension as slaves from the continent’s eastern seaboard. First articulated at an African center of research and among scholars who taught about the departure of slaves into the Indian Ocean from their own shores, Shepperson’s notion of African diaspora found its intellectual home an ocean away, in Atlantic America.