Significance and Impact of Project

Our collaborative research project seeks to reassess the historical presence and contributions of peoples of African descent to the national histories and identities constructed in Central America over the past two centuries. In choosing a color for the cosmic race, modern nationalist thinkers in the region systematically emphasized the European and Indigenous origins of its peoples, in terms of both historical fact and group agency. Thus they radically discounted not only the importance, role, and presence of any African heritage but also as the centrality of racial or ethnic conflict within the historical experience of non-indigenous sectors of society.

The nineteenth and early twentieth-century context of virulent anti-Black racism helps explain the reasons for sucha selective memory of the region's historical past and imagined future among those who sought admission to and respect within the Atlantic World brotherhood of then white-supremacist nations. However, in the late twentieth century these same ideologies increasingly came under attack, not only as part of the world-wide pattern of renewed conflict along ethnic lines, but in particular from within the Latin American nationalist tradition assertive of an ever more homogeneous, mixed-race majority population as the basis for national unity and international distinctiveness. This has been most highly visible in response to the challenges of contemporary indigenous nationalist thinking in the region. However, in neighboring Colombia and Mexico the reassertion of African American identities and historical contributions represents a clearly parallel process less well known abroad.

The contributions of people of African descent to the emergence of nation states in Central America were clearly central. However, the apparent triumph of their own and others' visions of a "race-blind," universal citizenship contributed mightily to erasing much of the historical memory of how this was achieved and what its complex dynamics and limits were. The impact on historical scholarship has been predictable. Rather than recognizing these processes and contributions, and the centuries-old African presence in Central America, scholars at home and abroad have seen as Black or African American only the history of more recent Anglophone or West Indian immigrant communities on the Atlantic Coast.

The collaborative research proposed here will powerfully contribute to a more sophisticated understanding of both the historical record and contemporary attitudes which systematically deny any African heritage in a population whose origins are powerfully intertwined with African roots at all social levels. We propose to carry out interdisciplinary research and innovative publication strategies that will involve both specialized audiences in the region and abroad, and broadly-based "public history" discussions utilizing new interactive web-based technologies and visual/autobiographical materials not traditionally part of archival historical research projects such as this. With the book, article, and web publication results of our project "Choosing a Color for the Cosmic Race: African Americans and National Identities in Central America," we hope to accelerate that social and intellectual process of rediscovery in the region, while offering our findings to readers in both Spanish and English world-wide.


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