6 December 2023

Now You See Me

Black Women’s Defying Worlds During the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade and Indentured Servitude

Scholars of slavery, Africa, the Atlantic world, and the African diaspora have paid increasing attention to the central role of African women and their descendants in the development of the lucrative institution of slavery in the Americas (Morgan 2004, Johnson 2020, Morgan 2021). Several of these studies have also focused on Black women’s sexualities and how they conformed to or defied Eurocentric views. The new visibility of Black women in recent studies has also gained traction in popular culture with the release of documentary films, television series, and motion pictures, featuring African women as warriors and rulers such as the Agodjié of Dahomey and Queen Njinga in Angola. Yet, in their homelands in West Africa and West Central Africa, women played a greater variety of economic and social roles alongside their male counterparts. With the rise of the Atlantic slave trade, African women were victims of sexual violence perpetrated by European men stationed along the Atlantic coasts of Africa, and were also persecuted by the Inquisition. But even during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, African women had a variety of legal statuses as free, freed, and enslaved. They also performed several social, economic, and religious roles as wives, mothers, daughters, healers, merchants, and landowners. Some women also became slave owners and slave traders. Defying commodification, and religious persecution across the African continent and within the framework of the African diaspora, women created material and spiritual worlds of their own. Despite this recent recognition, when presenting histories of slavery museum exhibitions have rarely recognized the centrality of enslaved African women.

Drawing on the growing scholarship examining the central positions of African women in the continent and the important roles enslaved descendants in the Americas, this two-day academic conference will gather historians, art historians, and curators to explore the history of Black women in Africa and the African diaspora during the era of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and colonialism, with the aim of:

1) reevaluating recent scholarship about enslaved, unfree, freed, and free African women and their descendants in Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and the histories of their sexualities, in order to explore which fields, themes, and approaches have been underrepresented or overrepresented.

2) examining how African women, enslaved, freed, and freed, engaged with material culture, ideas, and spirituality during the era of the Atlantic slave trade.

3) assessing and revisiting the problematic nature of demographic data, as well as colonial written, oral, and visual sources related to the history of African women and their descendants.

4) exploring the connections between the experiences of enslaved African women and other unfree women who were submitted to indenture servitude.

5) discussing how the existing scholarship on African women and their descendants has informed existing representations of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and colonialism in the museum and other initiatives such as public monuments and memorials.  

Held at Framer Framed on December 5th, and Wereldmuseum Amsterdam on December 6th, where a new permanent exhibition Our Colonial Inheritance was unveiled in 2022, this conference will consist of paper presentations, followed by discussions in order to continue informing the ways of better engaging the history of Black women through written, visual, oral, and material historical sources.


Image Caption: Untitled, "Studio Portrait of an Afro-American Woman from Suriname," 1895-1920, from the Wereldmuseum collection,TM-69948017. ​


Ana Lucia Araujo, PhD, FRHistS, is a Professor of History. A social and cultural historian, her transnational and comparative research explores the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery and their present social and cultural legacies. She was trained in Brazil, Canada, and France with a PhD in History and Social and Historical Anthropology (2007), a PhD in Art History (2004), an MA in History (1998), and a BA in Visual Arts (1995). Her past and present research interests include reparations for slavery, as well as public memory, heritage, visual culture, and the material culture of slavery. She wrote and extensively published on these themes in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. She also lectures and presents her work in these languages in the United States and other countries including Brazil, Argentina, England, France, South Africa, the Republic of Benin, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Her work was translated into German and Dutch as well. 

A recipient of a Getty Residential Senior Scholar Grant, Professor Araujo was in residence at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA, US from January to June 2023. She was a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute of Advanced Study (funding provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation), Princeton, NJ in Spring 2022. She also received the Franklin Research Grant of the American Philosophical Society (2021/22). The fellowship and the grants supported the research for her book The Gift: How Objects of Prestige Shaped the Atlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in 2024). Her research was also supported by various other agencies in Brazil, and Canada, including the Fonds de recherche Société et Culture (Canada), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES, Brazil), and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Brazil). 

Carine Zaayman (she/her) is an artist, curator and scholar committed to critical engagement with colonial archives and collections, specifically those holding strands of Khoekhoe pasts in South Africa. She is a researcher at the Research Center for Material Culture. The main focus of her curatorial work is in the project Under Cover of Darkness, which included an exhibition staged at the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town, that explored the lives of women in servitude in the early Cape Colony. Zaayman obtained her PhD in Fine Art (Philosophy) at the University of Cape Town.   


Toby Green is a historian of inequality with a specific focus on West Africa during the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and on neocolonialism. He is the author of a number of books, including The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589 (Cambridge University Press), A Fistful of Shells (Chicago University Press, 2019), and most recently The Covid Consensus (C. Hurst & co.). He is a professor at King's College, London, and chairs the British Academy's committee for publishing sources on African history. He has organised conferences in collaboration with colleagues that have taken place in Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.

Dr. Filipa Ribeiro da Silva is Senior Researcher at the IISH. She has specialised in social and economic history of the Portuguese and Dutch overseas empires and interactions with Atlantic and Eastern Africa. Her current research interests focus on population, labour, migration, commerce in Enslaved Peoples and commodity trade and their related business networks. She is currently the PI of the NWO-funded project The Global Business of Slave Trade - Patterns, Actors and Gains in the Early Modern Dutch and Iberian Slave Trade in Asia. Ribeiro da Silva is also member of the editorial board of the International Review of Social History. She is also the author of Dutch and Portuguese in Western Africa. Empires, Merchants, and the Atlantic System (Brill, 2011), and co-editor of Networks and Trans-Cultural Exchange: Slave Trading in the South Atlantic, 1590-1867 (Brill, 2014) and African Voices from the Inquisition. Vol. 1 (OUP, 2021) Likewise, she has published extensively in journals such as African Economic History, History in Africa, Itinerario, Slavery & Abolition, among others. 

Mariana P. Candido is the Winship Distinguished Research Professor of History, at the Departament of History, Emory University. Prof. Candido is the author of , Wealth, Land and Property in Angola: A History of Dispossession, Slavery and Inequality (2022), a finalist for the 2023 ASA Book Best Book Prize in African Studies. She is also the author of  An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World (2013), is a social history of Benguela between 1600 and 1850; and , Fronteras de esclavización: esclavitud, comercio e identidade en Benguela, 1780-1850 (2011), which was translated into Portuguese and published in Angola in 2018. Besides these three monographs, Candido has organized African Women in the Atlantic World. Property, Vulnerability and Mobility, 1680-1880, with Adam Jones (James Currey, 2019); Laços Atlânticos: África e africanos durante a era do comércio transatlântico de escravos, with Carlos Liberato, Paul Lovejoy and Renée Soulodre-La France, Luanda, Angola: Museu Nacional da Escravatura/ Ministério da Cultura; and Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora, with Ana Lucia Araujo and Paul Lovejoy (African World Press, 2011).

Candido is one of the editors of African Economic History and the Encyclopedia of Slavery, Slave Trade, and the Diaspora in African History.

Candido is currently the Nina Maria Gorrissen Fellow in History, at the American Academy in Berlin, Fall 2023 and will be a member of the  School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, Spring 2024.


Lorelle Semley  is Professor of History at College of the Holy Cross where she teaches classes in African history, gender history, and on the African diaspora. She is the author of the award-winning book To Be Free and French: Citizenship in France’s Atlantic Empire (Cambridge, 2017) and Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass: Gender and Colonialism is a Yoruba Town (Indiana University Press, 2011). Her wide-ranging work has appeared in several journals including Radical History ReviewLaw and History Review, and Gender & History as well as in several edited volumes. She is the new Managing Editor of History in Africa, one of the two flagship journals of the African Studies Association. Her current book project titled “Bordeaux, Forgotten Black Metropolis” is supported by an ACLS Fellowship at RITM in 2021 and NEH Fellowship in 2022.

Karwan Fatah Black is university lecturer at the department of social and economic history in Leiden. He studies the Dutch colonial empire in the Atlantic world and specifically issues pertaining to economic development, slavery, emancipation and citizenship. In recent years he has assisted financial institutions, families, museums and government bodies to unearth and understand their ties to the colonial past. His current research teams study the transition from slavery to citizenship and are funded by the Royal Academy of Arts and Science fund Staatsman Thorbecke and the Dutch Research Council Vidi grant.

Jessica Marie Johnson  is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the Johns Hopkins University. She is also the Director of LifexCode: Digital Humanities Against Enclosure.

Johnson is a historian of Atlantic slavery and the Atlantic African diaspora. She is the author of Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, August 2020).



Daniel B. Domingues da Silva is an associate professor of history at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, and host of the renowned website His most recent book publication is The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Last year, Daniel succeeded as the third chief editor of "Slavery: An Annual Bibliographical Supplement," published since 1980 by Slavery & Abolition, the premier journal in the field. Daniel's first installment in the bibliography came out last September, containing works published during the 2022 calendar year.

Miguel Valerio is assistant professor of Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis. Prof. Valerio is a scholar of the African diaspora in the Iberian world. His research has focused on black Catholic brotherhoods or confraternities and Afro-creole festive practices in colonial Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil. He is the author of Sovereign Joy: Afro-Mexican Kings and Queens, 1539-1640 (Cambridge University Press, 2022) and a co-editor of Indigenous and Black Confraternities in Colonial Latin America: Negotiating Status through Religious Practices (Amsterdam University Press, 2022). He is currently working on his second book project, Architects of Their World: The Artistic and Ritualistic Spaces of Afro-Brazilian Brotherhoods (under contract with Cambridge University Press).  His research has appeared in various academic journals, including Slavery and AbolitionColonial Latin American ReviewThe Americas, the Journal of Festive Studies, and Latin American Research Review.

Inês Beleza Barreiros  is an art historian, cultural critic and curator working both inside and outside the academia. She is interested in the ways in which images migrate through time and space and are knowledge-producing objects, on the afterlives of colonialism and reparation processes in the Portuguese speaking world. Barreiros is currently a researcher at ICNOVA, Nova University of Lisbon, where she is also national committee manager of Cost Action TRACTS – Traces as Research Agenda for Climate Change, Technology Studies, and Social Justice. Editor at La Rampa – Art, Life & Beyond, she has been working in award winning documentary films that explore the relation of cinema to other arts, such as painting, landscape, and architecture. Barreiros holds a PhD in Media, Culture and Communication Studies from New York University, an MA in Contemporary Art History from Nova University of Lisbon, and a BA in History and Art History from the University of Lisbon. Her several publications include articles in international academic journals and book chapters. She is the author of the academic monograph “Sob o Olhar de Deuses sem Vergonha:” Cultura Visual e Paisagens Contemporâneas (2009) and is presently preparing the book manuscript Thinking Visually: The Afterlives of Portuguese Imperialism. 




December 5, Tuesday

Venue: Framer Framed

Oranje-Vrijstaatkade 71, 1093 KS Amsterdam


9:00 AM: Registration

9:30 AM: Welcome remarks

Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University, United States

Carine Zaayman, Wereldmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands

Wayne Modest, Wereldmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands


Panel 1: Multidimensional and Defying Roles of African and Black Women

Chair and Discussant: Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University, United States

9:40 AM

Merchant, Healer, Household Head, Queen: Daily Life for Women in Cacheu (Guinea-Bissau), 1630s-1660s

Toby Green, King’s College London, United Kingdom

10:10 AM

Black Women and the Portuguese Inquisition in the early modern Atlantic World: Cooperation, Defiance and Persecution

Filipa Ribeiro da Silva, International Institute of Social History, Netherlands

10:40 AM: Discussion


11:20 - 1:30 PM

Panel 2: Mobility, Resistance, and Freedom

Chair and discussant: Toby Green, King’s College London, United Kingdom

11:20 AM

Violence and Resistance: Capture, Enslavement and Sale of Girls and Women in West Central Africa, 1550-1880s

Mariana P. Candido, Emory University, United States and American Academy in Berlin, Germany

11:50 AM

Mapping an Eighteenth-Century Black Metropolis in France (But Not in Paris)

Lorelle Semley, Boston College, United States

12:20 PM

African Women’s Resistance in the French Slave Trade

Jessica Marie Johnson

Associate Professor, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, United States

12:20 PM- 1:30 PM: Discussion



December 6, Wednesday

Venue: Studio, Wereldmuseum Amsterdam

Linnaeusstraat 2, 1092 CK Amsterdam


9:00 AM: Registration


9:30 AM-11:45 AM

PANEL 3: Freedom and Agency

Chair and discussant: Lorelle Semley, Boston College, United States

9:30 AM

Manumission: The Social World of Waij Waij in Eighteenth-Century Suriname

Karwan Fatah Black, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands

Camilla de Koning, Historic Royal Palaces and the University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Ramona Negrón, Leiden University, Netherlands

10:00 AM

African Women and the Material Culture of the Atlantic Slave Trade: A Reassessment of the Lists of Imports at Luanda and Benguela, 1785-1864

Daniel Domingues, Rice University, United States

10:30 AM

Sisters and Queens: Women’s Material Agency in Afro-Brazilian Brotherhoods

Miguel Valerio, Washington University in St. Louis, United States

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM: Discussion


12:00 PM-1:30 PM

Panel 4: Visual Worlds

Chair and Discussant: Daniel Domingues, Rice University, United States

12:00 PM

Representing Black African Women: Erasure, Derogation, and Reification

Inês Beleza Barreiros, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

12:30 PM

African Women and their Descendants: The New Visual and Material Turn

Ana Lucia Araujo, Howard University, United States

1:00 PM to 1:30 PM: Discussion