Call for Papers


Roots/Heritage Tourism in Africa and the African Diaspora: Case Studies for a Comparative Approach

An International Conference
February 12-14, 2015
Ph.: 305 348-4156
Fax: 305 348-3270

(To read the entire Call for Papers, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

“Roots/heritage tourism” began developing in the 1980s and 1990s in West Africa following the emergence of a black middle-class in the Global North—mostly the United States and the United Kingdom—eager to spend newly acquired disposable income to “reconnect” with the land of their “ancestors.” The global success of Alex Hayley’s book and television miniseries Roots: The Saga of an American Family contributed to the beginning of this movement to Africa of black tourists, which intersects with the confluence of two different theoretical approaches to “the African diaspora”:

1) An approach that tends to be diachronic in orientation because based on personal, political/ideological, and analytical narratives that unfold exclusively in terms of both the conceptualization of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as the exclusive or most important African diaspora foundational event there is, and the unidirectional traveling of African peoples and cultures from one point in continental Africa to one specific location in the Americas. Here, continental Africa symbolizes the arguably romanticized diaspora past, its source and origin.

2) A more recent analytic and political/ideological approach, synchronic in orientation, which conceptualizes the African diaspora in terms of multiple trans-local and transnational networks of blackness, premised on an understanding of the Middle Passage as one foundational event among others. That second line of theorizing better incorporates a growing number of movements in this contemporary moment of intensified global circulation of peoples, ideas, and goods in all directions. It conceptualizes the Atlantic as a site, among others, of multidirectional traveling originating and going potentially anywhere and leading to multiple encounters, articulations, and “frictions” among black people in a variety of locations globally. Here, Africa and Africans are coeval to locations and peoples of the African diaspora, in a historically constituted global system characterized by white supremacy.


Left: An African American tourist being photographed at "Never Again" monument against slavery in Juffureh-Albreda, The Gambia (Summer 2013).

Right: An African American tourist visiting the slavery museum in Juffureh-Albreda, The Gambia (Summer 2013).


Left: A photograph taken from a photograph kept at the Kinteh compound in Juffureh-Albreda, The Gambia. Alex Haley, the author of the historical novel Roots visited the village several times. He determined that his ancestor Kunta Kinteh came from Juffureh.

Right: A photograph of a photograph kept at the Kinteh compound in Juffureh-Albreda, The Gambia. It is a photograph of the actor who played in the miniseries "Roots," LeVar Burton, which is re-presented to visitors as the actual photograph of Kunta Kinteh from Juffureh, The Gambia.

In the 1980s and 1990s, sites associated with Trans-Atlantic slavery in Ghana, Senegal, The Gambia, and Benin were transformed into roots/heritage tourist attractions. Roots/heritage tourism continued to grow in West Africa to the point of reaching high-level international notoriety (the last three U.S. presidents visited roots/heritage tourism sites in either Ghana or Senegal; President Obama visited such sites in both countries). Roots/heritage tourism locations associated with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade also emerged, more recently, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sites associated with a number of historical events of importance for those who participate in and contribute to the African and African diaspora networks also became the focus of roots/heritage tourism, and in turn attracted black and non-black visitors from across the globe. That is how the formation of roots/heritage tourism also emerged in association with specific communities of Africa and the African diaspora, their histories of resistance against anti-black racism, and the notoriety of their cultural productions. Famous cases here include, non-exhaustively, the many visits of U.S. residents to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, and to Northeastern cities and towns that have had some association with Afro-Brazilian cultures and history; the visits of African Americans and non-U.S. blacks to plantation sites in the U.S. South; the tours of “Black Miami,” in Florida, and “Black Paris,” in France.

Roots/heritage tourism provides a privileged lens for scholarship to engage anew the theorizing of the African diaspora in this contemporary moment of global circulations; it provides spaces wherein black individuals who have quite different trajectories within the networks of the African diaspora meet and interact in sometimes complex articulations that often involve different interpretations of historical events about which tourists, tour guides and the local population have disparate emotional investments that often lead to ostensibly inevitable and profound cultural misunderstandings, and to divergent understanding of what is to be considered “authentic.” Processes of hierarchization among black subjects following, for example, inequality of financial means among the stakeholders, and between sites’ staff and tourists can also be observed. And interactions with visitors of different origins who do not identify with the African diaspora and who might have a different interpretation of the significance of the sites they visit can occur.

This is a multi-disciplinary conference. We are particularly interested in papers about diverse sites of African and African diaspora roots/heritage tourism in continental Africa, the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere that have, and this is not an exhaustive list, the following foci:
- Multilateral and international agencies, nation-state and other governmental agencies’ involvement, or lack thereof, in the transformation of sites of memory into roots/heritage tourist attractions.
- Involvement of identified stakeholders in the construction of specific narratives to be served to roots/heritage tourists in specific sites; tourists’ reception of the narrative; local populations’ reception of the narrative; ...
- Roots/heritage tourism as a sustainable pro-poor or poverty reduction tourism initiative.
- The inclusion of roots/heritage tourism in U.S. study abroad programs.
- Ethnographic history of specific roots/heritage tourism sites.

Professor Boubacar Barry, from the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, will deliver the opening lecture: "What Happened to Us in Senegambia During the Slave Trade?"

The following scholars have accepted to give 30 minute-lectures at key moments in the conference’s schedule:
"Travelling Gods, Ritual Memory and Slavery in Contemporary Benin"
Jung Ran Annachiara Forte, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Africa Must be Seen to be Believed:” African Americans and the Roots of Heritage Tourism in the Age of Decolonization
Tiffany M. Gill, University of Delaware, USA
Afropolitans, Heritage Tourists, and Diaspora Returns to Africa
Jemima Pierre, Vanderbilt University, USA
African American Roots Tourism in Brazil: Encounters in Sameness, Difference, Solidarity, and Inequality
Patricia Pinho, State University of New York-Albany, USA
Exploring African and African Diaspora Losses to the Atlantic: Heritage tourism and future imaginations in Gorée Island (Senegal)
Ibrahima Thiaw, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal

The ultimate objective of the conference organizers is to publish an edited volume with a selection of the papers presented along with keynote presentations.

Please, submit your abstract (no more than 600 words) as an attachment in Word or pdf by September 30, 2014 to A committee will select the papers for inclusion in the conference program. Notices will be sent out by October 30, 2014.
We will accept abstracts in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese and will explore the possibilities of simultaneous translation during the conference, once papers have been selected.

After your abstract has been selected, you will need to register by November 30, 2014. Failing to register by that date will jeopardize your participation in the conference.

To register, please fill the Registration Form and send it to us either by e-mail at or by postal mail along with your check (see below).

Phone inquiry: 305-348-4156


To view the conference's flyer, please click here.