The two-part roundtable Constructing Race and Architecture 1400–1800 consists of brief “think pieces” that examine issues related to the intersection of race and architecture from around the globe during the period 1400–1800. The first part of the roundtable appeared in the September 2021 issue of JSAH, and Part 2 appears in this issue, featuring contributions by Rachel A. A. Engmann, Laura Fernández-González, Mark Hinchman, Dana E. Katz, Khaled Malas, Peter Minosh, Garth Myers, Jason Nguyen, Ikem Stanley Okoye, Senam Okudzeto, and, Ünver Rüstem.
The collection of brief essays that follows constitutes the second of the two parts of the JSAH roundtable “Constructing Race and Architecture 1400–1800.” As I noted in my introduction to the first part of the roundtable, which appeared in the September 2021 issue, this project was conceived as a way to respond to the invitation extended in 2020 by the editors of Race and Modern Architecture, who asked architectural historians to consider a major topic that has long escaped attention in our discipline: the intersection of race and architectural history.1 This topic has special relevance in relation to the period 1400–1800, not only because this was a key period for the discipline but also because it was during this era, marked by unprecedented levels of interaction among communities and cultures across the globe, that modern race consciousness emerged.
Thanks to all of the roundtable’s contributing authors, who include both established and emerging scholars of architectural and urban history, JSAH readers now have the opportunity to hear a wide range of voices on the complex issues surrounding race and its relation to architectural history in the early modern world. Our intention in introducing the roundtable format is to enable authors to contribute to JSAH in a slightly different way. As brief “think pieces,” in line with the studies presented in the journal’s Field Notes and Findings sections, these investigations expand our discourse and offer valuable counterpoints to the full-length research articles that of course remain JSAH’s mainstay. This accommodation of different kinds of approaches demonstrates one of the many strengths of our organization, consistent with the open-minded, flexible, and innovative spirit that has driven the recent creation of new SAH affiliate groups and online programs such as SAH CONNECTS.
With that in mind, I would like to reflect on one of the many contributions to Part 2 of the current roundtable, Khaled Malas’s “Concerning the Observation of Other Corpses.” Already in the choice of title, this work probably strikes the longtime JSAH reader as very unlike other studies published in the journal. The accompanying drawing of a body floating at sea—an original work produced by the author—does not bear much resemblance to the kinds of drawings that we usually publish, which are of course much more explicitly architectural in conception. And yet for all of its apparent contrasts with long-standing JSAH tradition, this contribution offers us new and thought-provoking perspectives on the built environment. It not only resonates with the racialized themes of the roundtable, skillfully interrogating early modern source material to draw evocative parallels with the ongoing global refugee crisis, but, I would argue, it also highlights the very point where architecture reaches its outermost limits in two of its most essential roles: as protective shelter for the fragile human body and as a form of enduring commemoration of ephemeral human achievements. Our study of architectural history takes on new significance when we think about it in terms of our contemporary problems, when we ask it to illuminate our current ways of thinking, and when we consider its resonance for our experience and understanding of architecture today. Again I would like to thank our contributors for their provocative and inspiring investigations, which demand that we rethink our conventional assumptions about the relationship between the built environment and the human condition.
Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II, and Mabel O. Wilson, eds., Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020).
Unearthing Mixed Raceness at Christiansborg Castle
In the Atlantic world, archaeological contributions toward understandings of bondage, race, space, and architecture include studies of ports, fortifications, and plantations in West Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the American South.1 Scholarly reconstructions of the European and African entanglement often draw from European colonial texts, maps, architectural plans, paintings, and line drawings.2 Such sources, including those created by European men who married or had intimate relationships with African and Euro-African women and who had mixed-race children, invoke problematic racialized binaries that treat Africans and Europeans as isolated racial and ethnic categories.3 They also tend to analyze Euro-Africans as a distinct category, separate from indigenous society and allegedly “more European in character.” Fortunately, recent historical scholarship challenges these portrayals.4 Current archaeological work at Christiansborg Castle employs artifacts, texts, oral narratives, and ethnography to construct a counternarrative to the colonial archive.
From 1482 to 1787, Europeans of many different backgrounds—Portuguese, Swedes, Dutch, English, Danish, French, and Brandenburg-Prussians—constructed approximately one hundred lodges, forts, and castles along the West African coast. Among these is Christiansborg Castle in the district of Osu in Accra, Ghana. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle represents a valuable opportunity to investigate the ways in which the Euro-African experience was structured conceptually, spatially, and materially.5 The Swedes constructed Christiansborg Castle in 1652. In 1661, Denmark purchased the site from the Osu paramount chief in order to conduct trade. The Danes then constructed Fort Christiansborg (Christian’s Fortress), named for the king of Denmark, Christian IV. It comprised a courtyard, residential quarters, storerooms, cells/dungeons, a chapel, a space that was used as a “mulatto school,” a cistern, and a tower.6 A racially heterogeneous mix of Danes, Ga, and Danish-Ga, both free and enslaved, lived, worked, and slaved there, among a diverse population that included the governor, civilians, soldiers, “castle slaves,” and captive Africans, who were incarcerated in dark, damp, and unsanitary cells prior to deportation.7
At the castle, gold, ivory, and captive Africans were exchanged for guns, ammunition, liquor, iron, cloth, and beads. From 1660 through 1806, the Danish transatlantic slave trade transported between 100,000 and 126,000 captive Africans to the Danish West Indies.8 The castle played such a vital role in the Danish economy that from 1688 to 1747 Danish coinage featured an image of the castle with the inscription “Christiansborg.”9
Materializing Mixed-Race Individuals and Communities
During this period, commerce depended on strategic alliances. The Danes collaborated with the Ga to further their own political and economic ambitions. Similarly, the Ga exploited the sociocultural, economic, and political possibilities represented by the Danish transatlantic slave trade.
Danish-Ga social and familial relations played an instrumental role in the Danish slave trade. Danish men established relationships with Ga women and had mixed-race Danish-Ga children. They lived in European-style stone houses near the castle.10 Danish-Gas frequently acquired an elevated social status as mixed-race political and commercial elites, also forming prominent cosmopolitan coastal communities shaped by their Euro-African identity, culture, and social positioning.
Danish-Ga formed racially heterogeneous households and communities. Studying the private and public places and spaces that Danish-Ga slave traders inhabited offers us an important opportunity to gain a better understanding of the role of mixed-race identity in the transatlantic slave trade. I am the first researcher to be granted access to Christiansborg Castle, and the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project represents the first archaeological excavation of the site. As principal investigator and direct descendant of Governor Carl Gustav Engmann, who married Ashiokai, a Ga woman and chief’s daughter, I collaborate with other Danish-Ga direct descendants in studying the history and legacies of the Danish transatlantic slave trade. I term this work “autoarchaeology.”11 To date, our excavations have unearthed a precolonial settlement that includes house foundations and a kitchen as well as an extensive collection of local and foreign manufactured objects: Danish cannons; “African trade beads”; African, European, and Chinese ceramics; African and European smoking pipes; European glassware; writing slate; cowrie shells; and other small finds that speak to the thriving interracial culture in and around Christiansborg Castle.12
Places, Spaces, Shards, and Fragments
That different cultures create and employ objects differently requires no explanation. Artifacts are understood as “markers” of culture and status. Accordingly, this is how we learn about people who lived in the past. Yet an archaeological approach that uncritically assigns artifact associations and their distributions to certain identities, and that views particular objects as indicators of race and racial boundaries, is demonstrably problematic.
An object may be “African” or “European,” but its site of manufacture does not tell us who owned or used it, its role, or the meanings and values attached to it. Rather than searching for clear stylistic racial identity markers in certain places and spaces, then, it is more productive to think through how mixed-race identity was materially made through consumption—specifically, the processes of selection, adoption, integration, and adaptation. In other words, what objects were employed, in what manners, and for what purposes?
The transatlantic slave trade stimulated new needs and desires that influenced material, behavioral, and social change. In Osu, Danish-Ga identity, status, power, and wealth were enacted through social and material practice, material culture, and materialities.13 Consumption of imported exotic items, such as household items, furniture, clothing, and personal adornments—through purchase, exchange, and/or gifting—enabled the performance of social differentiation and self-identification as well as assertion of elevated social status. Danish-Ga consumption of goods previously reserved for Europeans challenged the boundaries of race and distinguished between those who profited from the transatlantic slave trade and those who could be enslaved, in a context where fears of violence and enslavement were ever present. Danish-Gas reconstituted and refashioned European objects as part of their own world making, using objects in ways consistent with local meanings, values, and intentions, which were often different from the original intended uses.
Framing the Material Vestiges of Mixed-Race Identity
Archaeology at Christiansborg Castle employs an Atlantic African perspective to shed light on bondage, race, space, and architecture against the backdrop of the transatlantic slave trade. In particular, our project’s interventions highlight the role and position of mixed-race Danish-Ga individuals, families, and communities. Archaeology provides new material evidence to be examined alongside existing written, oral, and ethnographic sources, to revise and expand current understandings of race “read” through the archaeological record. Together, these sources provide a critical corrective to simplistic archaeological correlations linking spatial distributions of artifact type, form, and style to identity and status. They also prompt us to think more creatively and to ask questions that we might not ask if we were using European textual sources alone.14
Further sustained research is required to theorize the European–African entanglement in and around the coastal fortifications, as well as to increase our understanding of the role of material culture in the articulation and maintenance of Euro-African identity and social relations, particularly how Euro-Africans viewed themselves in relation to others, African and European, free and unfree.
Excavation, analysis, and interpretation of the places and spaces inhabited by the Danish-Ga bring to life how objects traverse lines of difference. Through this work, we learn how objects are adopted, divested of preexisting associations, and reconstituted and recontextualized according to local meanings, values, and intentions. As expressions of specific sociocultural, political, economic, and historic circumstances, these processes are complicated not only by race but also by nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, culture, kinship, power relations, and social inequality. In this sense, archaeological investigations are in conversation with—and of value to—scholars from a broad variety of disciplines.
Grateful acknowledgment is due to the many people without whom the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (https://christiansborgarchaeologicalheritageproject.org) would not have been possible. Special thanks to Their Excellencies, the Presidents of Ghana: President John Jerry Rawlings, President John Agyekum Kufour, President John Atta Mills, President John Dramani Mahama, and President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo. My gratitude also to Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, Nii Bonne V, Nii Dzamlodza VI, Nii Kwashie Aniefi V, Nii Ako Nortei IV, Aawon Klotey, Aawon Opobi, Naa Ashorkor Obaniehi I, Nii Kwabena Bonnie IV, Saban Atsen, Nii Sorgla, Earl Teddy Nartey, and the Osu Traditional Council. I owe thanks to Raymond Atuguba, Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings, Mark Alo, Julius Debrah, Yaw Donkor, Prosper Dzakobo, Ebenezer Mantey, Larry Gbevlo-Lartey, Nana Asante Bediatuo, Akosua Frema Osei-Opare, Samuel Abu Jinapor, Ibrahim Mohammed Awal, John Agbeko, Hamidu Nuhu, Michael Opoku, Fritz Baffour, Henry Wood, and Ayiku Wilson. Thanks are due also to Kofi Amekudi, William Barnor, Edward Nyarko, Daniel Kumah, Ernest Fiador, Gideon Agyare, Raymond Agbo, Anokye and Samuel Nobah, and others who requested not to be mentioned by name. My thanks of course to the entire team. My deepest appreciation to the people of Osu. The research discussed here was made possible by grants from the Stanford Archaeology Center, the Stanford Anthropology Department, the Joukowsky Institute, the Whiting Foundation, the Rappaport Foundation, the Martha Joukowsky Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Embassy of France in Accra. Community outreach education was made possible by donations from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Clark Art Institute, the Embassy of France and British High Commission in Accra, Egality Law, Kadijah Amoah, Richard Appiah Otoo, Benjamin Elegba, and other donors who wish to remain anonymous. Finally, thanks are due to the Danish Maritime Museum, Danish National Archives, and British National Archives for their support.
On West Africa, see Fritz Biveridge, “A Historical Archaeology Perspective of Cross-Cultural Encounters at Dixcove and Its Neighbourhoods, Ghana” (PhD diss., University of Ghana, 2014); James Boachie-Ansah, “Archaeological Investigation at the Danish Plantation Site of Brockman, Ghana,” Afrique: Archéologie & Arts 5 (2009), 149–72; James Boachie-Ansah, “Excavations at Fort Amsterdam Abandze, Central Region,” in Current Archaeological Research in Ghana, ed. Timothy Insoll (Oxford: Archaeo Press, 2008), 37–61; Klavs Randsborg, “Fredriksnopel: Denmark’s First Plantation in Ghana,” Current World Archaeology 2, no. 8 (2006), 34–39; Yaw Bredwa-Mensah, “Global Encounters: Slavery and Slave Lifeways on Nineteenth-Century Danish Plantations on the Gold Coast, Ghana,” Journal of African Archaeology 2, no. 2 (2004), 203–27; Christopher R. DeCorse, An Archaeology of Elmina: Africans and Europeans on the Gold Coast, 1400–1900 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001); Yaw Bredwa-Mensah, “Slavery and Plantation Life at the Danish Plantation Site of Bibease, Gold Coast (Ghana),” Ethnographisch-Archaologische Zeitschrift 4 (1996), 445–58. On the Caribbean, Latin America, and the American South, see Alicia H. Odewale, Thomas Foster, and Joshua M. Torres, “In Service to a Danish King: Comparing the Material Culture of Royal Enslaved Afro-Caribbeans and Danish Soldiers at the Christiansted National Historic Site,” Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage 6, no. 1 (2017), 19–54; Stephen Lenik, “Mission Plantations, Space, and Social Control: Jesuits as Planters in French Caribbean Colonies and Frontiers,” Journal of Social Archaeology 12, no. 1 (2012), 51–71; James A. Delle, Stephen A. Mrozowski, and Robert Paynter, eds., Historical Archaeologies of Race, Class, and Gender (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000); Charles E. Orser, Race and the Archaeology of Identity (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000).
See, for example, Ole Justesen, ed., Danish Sources for the History of Ghana, 1657–1754, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2005); Ludewig Ferdinand Rømer, A Reliable Account of the Coast of Guinea , trans. Selena Axelrod Winsnes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); H. C. Monrad, Two Views from Christiansborg Castle, vol. 2, A Description of the Guinea Coast and Its Inhabitants, trans. Selena Axelrod Winsnes (Accra: Sub-Saharan Press, 2009).
One contemporary source, for example, describes mixed-race people as “malicious,” “villainous,” “half-castes,” “bastard people,” and “despised by blacks and whites,” and asserts that mixed-race women “all act like whores.” See Willem Bosman, A New Voyage to Guinea (1744; repr., London: Frank Cass, 1967).
Natalie Everts, “Incorporating Euro-Africans in Akan Lineages and a Modest Development towards a Euro-African Identity in Eighteenth Century Elmina,” Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, n.s., no. 14 (2012), 79–104.
The castle is also a former British colonial seat of government and the former site of the Office of the President of Ghana.
The octagonal baroque rainwater cistern, commissioned by Governor Carl Gustav Engmann, features this inscription: “This water bank whose depth is 28 feet and length 28 feet while the width is 32 feet. Was begun in the year 1753 the 25 March and completed on the 31 May Anno 1753. Carl Engmann.”
Inside the castle, the governor’s residence, the chapel, and the “mulatto school” overlooked the captives’ cells. Restrained by iron neck and ankle collars, the captives were chained to heavy wooden or iron blocks that hindered their movement. They slept on wooden planks in these dark vaults with minimal ventilation. During the daytime, they were brought out into the courtyard for exercise. Hans Christian Monrad, the castle chaplain from 1805 to 1809, wrote about the “extremely abhorrent, mephitic [noxious] stench” that pervaded the courtyard and “corrupt[ed] the air.” Monrad, Two Views from Christiansborg Castle, 222. The smell was so offensive that the Danes burned anise leaves and twigs to conceal it. Because of the castle’s small size, captives were also incarcerated in town.
The Danish West Indies included the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas (today the U.S. Virgin Islands).
Holger Weiss, “The European and Eurafrican Population of the Danish Forts on the Eighteenth-Century Gold Coast,” African Economic History 46, no. 1 (2018), 36–68; Per O. Hernaes, Slaves, Danes, and African Coast Society: The Danish Slave Trade from West Africa and Afro-Danish Relations on the Eighteenth-Century Gold Coast (Trondheim: University of Trondheim, 1998); Albert Van Danzig, Forts and Castles of Ghana (Accra: Sedco, 1980); A. W. Lawrence, Trade Castles and Forts of West Africa (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963); Georg Nørregåd, Danish Settlements in West Africa 1658–1850 (Boston: Boston University Press, 1966).
Contemporary illustrations of the area surrounding the castle also depict African dwellings composed of mud walls and thatched roofs, but these structures rarely survive in the archaeological record.
Rachel A. A. Engmann, “Autoarchaeology: Decolonizing Thought, Method, and Praxis,” Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage 6, no. 3 (2019), 204–19.
So-called African trade beads were actually of Italian or Dutch manufacture. On the items found during excavations at the castle, see Rachel A. A. Engmann, “Archaeological Fieldwork at Christiansborg Castle,” Nyame Akuma 89 (2018), 14–20.
Objects have particular properties—experiences, ideas, needs, desires. In other words, the immaterial becomes materialized in object form.
For instance, temporally seriated data sets generated through archaeological investigation can provide new insights into continuities and discontinuities.
Architecture, the Building Trade, and Race in the Early Modern Iberian World
Joaquim Pinto de Oliveira (ca. 1721–1811), known as Tebas, was an important architect of African descent active in São Paulo, Brazil, in the mid-eighteenth century.1 Yet for some time, many scholars questioned his existence, citing colonial Brazil’s legislation on architectural activity, which prohibited members of racial and religious minority groups from engaging in the building trade. However, Tebas had an extraordinarily successful career, including his work as designer and builder of the tower of the Cathedral of São Paulo between 1750 and 1755.2 Recent studies illuminate the vital role of African and indigenous populations in the construction of individual buildings as well as whole cities across colonial Central and South America. As Susan Webster’s work on Quito demonstrates, Quiteño architects of Amerindian descent not only dominated the building trade but also designed and built some of the most prominent buildings in the city. Similarly, Barbara Mundy’s study of Mexico City reveals the significant role played by the Mexica in the architectural and urban development of the viceregal capital of New Spain.3
Indigenous and African architects and their descendants helped to build cities across the early modern Iberian world—that is, the African, Asian, American, and European territories of the early modern Portuguese and Spanish Empires. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, African and indigenous people and descendants thereof made up some 10 to 15 percent of the populations of the port cities of Seville and Lisbon.4 The records constantly report their involvement in construction, even if their names are often silenced. Families of Morisco descent, known as New Christians following their conversion from Islam, dominated the building trades in the city of Valladolid. King Philip II of Spain directly supervised the design and development of the Plaza Mayor of Valladolid, including all of its buildings. Following the devastating fire of 1561, expert New Christian masons rebuilt the city center with the distinctive “Austriaco” or Habsburg-style edifices created during Philip’s reign.5
The archive contains notable silences: for example, innumerable colonial records use the indigenous names of architects and masons with the Spanish or Portuguese names they were given when they converted to Christianity. Indigenous and African knowledge is everywhere: the construction materials and technologies of the bajareque in New Spain and the quincha in Peru are only two examples among many. What social compositions and hierarchies structured the teams working on these sites? To understand architecture in a connected world, created by the labor—intellectual and manual—of enslaved, freed, indigenous, and settler people, we must study trade organizations and social structures as well as the material evidence conveyed by the buildings themselves. Rather than upholding idealized Vasarian notions of the architect, we need to adopt a more multidisciplinary approach, especially in cases like that of Tebas, but also in cases such as those that Webster has uncovered at Quito, where surviving records still document the lives and work of early modern architects and master masons in the building trade.6
When researchers encounter a European name in early modern Iberian records, do they assume that the architect or master mason is of a particular race? I explore such questions in my research on early modern Iberian ports known as the “ports of the Indies,” namely, Seville, Havana, Lisbon, and Goa. As the “Rome of the East” and as a major evangelical center in India, Goa was renowned for its rich markets, diverse population, and high-quality architecture. Some of the records on Goa, such as the Livros dos termos das obras, include building contracts that record individual names. When I came across these names, I wondered if some or all of the architects, masons, and artists were Goan—that is, descendants of people who lived in the region before the arrival of the Portuguese. Where can we search for further evidence of the “hidden hands” of Goan artists and architects who contributed to the building of the city?7 The multicultural population of Goa is well documented in period accounts. For example, signatures in various European and Asian languages appear in a 1565 contract for an altarpiece in the Church of Santo Agostinho.8 The work of cultural and social historians such as Ângela Barreto Xavier, Ines G. Županov, and Ananya Chakravarti provides critical assistance to architectural historians who seek to understand the prominent role played by Goans in the making of the city and the region, as well as its multicultural diversity.9
Evidence of the forced labor of enslaved people survives everywhere: for example, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century records for the City Council of Havana reveal that enslaved people of African origin built all the major works in that port city. At a meeting held in 1554, the city councillors discussed prohibiting Black enslaved men and women from building their own independent dwellings or huts. The councillors termed these constructions bujíos, which translates as “huts” (chozas), or alternatively bohíos, a name derived from the Taíno term for wooden and thatched-roof dwelling construction techniques. Of the estimated 5,200 people working in the building trade in Cartagena in Spain in the mid-eighteenth century, only around 1,900 were not enslaved.10
Although the Vasarian history of art privileges the biographical narrative and intellectual pursuits over manual traditions, in premodern architecture, the cutting of a stone and its positioning in a vault, the preparation of a mixture for a rammed-earth wall, or the construction of the quincha or the bajareque was as crucial to the success of a building as its architectural design. Such work cannot be defined as “unskilled” labor—a fact that underscores the problems that emerge when we assign such conventional hierarchies in architectural history. Often conservation teams are in awe of the ingenuity of premodern builders, whose construction techniques they find nearly impossible to replicate. African and indigenous intellect, knowledge, and labor are everywhere evident in both colonial and European settings, and given the crucial importance of architecture in shaping our understanding of past societies, a better understanding of these contributions will enable us to write both a more accurate and a more just history of architecture.
Many thanks to David Karmon, Iris Kantor, Carmen Fracchia, Jesús Escobar, and Alex Bremner for the ideas discussed. The research and fieldwork for my project on port cities of the Iberian world were made possible by the generous funding and support of the 2018 Edilia and François-Auguste de Montêquin Senior Fellowship awarded by the Society of Architectural Historians and a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Research Grant (2017–19).
Abilio Ferreira, ed., Tebas: Um negro arquiteto na São Paulo escravotra (São Paulo: Instituto para o Desenho Avançado, 2018).
Susan V. Webster, Quito, ciudad de maestros: Arquitectos, edificios, y urbanismo en el largo siglo XVII (Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala, 2012); Barbara E. Mundy, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015).
Carmen Fracchia, “Black but Human”: Slavery and Visual Arts in Hapsburg Spain, 1480–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 1.
María del Mar Gómez Renau, “Alarifes Musulmanes en Valladolid,” Al-Andalus Magreb: Estudios árabes e islámicos, no. 4 (1996), 223–38.
Barbara E. Mundy and Aaron M. Hyman, “Out of the Shadow of Vasari: Towards a New Model of the ‘Artist’ in Colonial Latin America,” Colonial Latin American Review 24, no. 3 (2015), 283–317.
See Heta Pandit, Hidden Hands: Master Builders of Goa (Porvorim, Goa: Heritage Network, 2003).
Livro dos termos das obras, 1654–55, Senado de Goa, 7832, Historical Archive of Goa; “Contract for Work in the Altarpiece, of Santo Agostinho, 1565,” Papeis dos Conventos Extintos, fol. 5, 3057, Historical Archive of Goa.
Ângela Barreto Xavier and Ines G. Županov, Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th–18th Centuries) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Ananya Chakravarti, The Empire of Apostles: Religion, Accommodatio, and the Imagination of Empire in Modern Brazil and India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Actas del Cabildo, 28 Jan. 1554, original vol. 1, fols. 99–100, transcribed vol. 1, fols. 88–89, Archivo de la Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana; María Teresa Pérez-Crespo Muñoz, El arsenal de Cartagena en el siglo XVIII (Madrid: Editorial Naval, 1992), 67.
Race, House, and Household in Eighteenth-Century Senegal
It was thrilling to be a doctoral student at the University of Chicago as postcolonialism took the academic world by storm in the 1990s: like many, I was both dazzled by its brilliance and confounded by its opacity. I was completing my coursework when I happened to see Coup de torchon, a 1981 film directed by Bertrand Tavernier. The film’s setting of Saint-Louis, Senegal, an urban environment resembling the French Quarter of New Orleans, challenged my uninformed view of African cities. Initially drawn to Senegalese architecture by its aesthetics, I began to study it, and in the process I learned about conducting research in West Africa: what materials to study, and how to fund this work. Deciding on eighteenth-century domestic architecture, I eventually focused on the slave and trading center of the island of Gorée (Figure 1).
Homi Bhabha’s 1994 book The Location of Culture established its author as a major force of postcolonialism.1 Bhabha taught at the University of Chicago from 1997 to 2001, putting the university at the vanguard of postcolonial studies. Bhabha’s joint appointment in art history raised questions regarding the disciplinary ownership of postcolonialism: Did these approaches apply to the study of the visual and material world as well as to text-based theory? My attitude was, to use one of the catchwords of postcolonial theory, ambivalent. While I was interested in theoretical approaches that could help me to understand and interpret historical architecture and its representations, I found those theoretical postures that referenced buildings but failed to engage their designs and forms merely irritating.
My doctoral committee members included Ikem Stanley Okoye, Barbara Stafford, and Ralph Austen. Methodologically, I owed much to Okoye’s work on the African architecture of colonial Nigeria, which described houses at the nexus of Nigerian, British, and Brazilian traditions using the metaphor of mixed marriages. Then, as now, scholars had made little headway on the architectural history of Africa, and I noted that art historians seemed to respond to the postcolonial challenge with greater urgency than did most architectural historians (with exceptions such as Tony Vidler). Architectural history arrived late to the postcolonial party.
Once in Senegal, I grappled with what to do with the historical sources. I found abundant information about eighteenth-century Gorée, but it did not fit the conventional categories of architectural documentation. No records documented the work of architects—it is unclear if architects were even involved in building designs—and there were no historical plans. Yet numerous documents—records of baptisms and marriages, birth announcements, sales, wills, probate inventories, rental contracts, records of legal disputes—provided evidence of the various users of these buildings. From the start, I began to focus on the relationship between building and identity, considering the house as a biography not of the architect but of its users. While I had few models to turn to in developing my project, the task would be easier today.
One example shows how my study foregrounded complex racial identities in Senegal. A series of documents recorded that a petty French trader, Jean-Baptiste Levau, accompanied by his two slaves, Bellard and Kekama, rented rooms in the house of Anne Pépin, a wealthy mixed-race woman who was (perhaps) the companion of Chevalier de Boufflers, the French governor. As I read these accounts, the act of renting rooms acquired a cinematic quality: Levau examined the rooms; he and Pépin concluded their financial arrangements; Pépin informed her servants; the new tenants moved in, Levau upstairs, Bellard and Kekama downstairs. I imagined the experience of the slaves as they entered the grand house and unpacked their modest belongings. They must have interacted with other servants and slaves: Did they speak the same languages? Who prepared meals, who did the laundry? When Levau died, the plot thickened: What did this mean for Bellard’s and Kekama’s futures? In addition, the story involved complex social dynamics, where one building housed people variously identified as white, mixed-race, and Black; rich, middle-class, and poor; free and enslaved. Although Levau was white and French, his mixed-race African landlady enjoyed higher social status.
For the past two decades, scholars have taken different approaches in responding to the call to diversify architectural history. One is theoretical; in Architecture in Black, published in 2000 (the same year I finished my dissertation), Darell Wayne Fields states: “Architectural history is White. Architectural theory is White. And architecture practice, no matter what color the ‘owners’ and ‘workers,’ is White.”2 Fields’s seminal work deconstructs canonical Western theoretical texts to expose their barely concealed racist foundations. Others have sought to expand the geographic range of the architectural canon. Lesley Naa Norle Lokko’s White Papers, Black Marks (2000), conceived as a “challenge to the hegemony of the white, male and European subject,” is a vibrant collection of studies, ranging from Nigeria to Australia, that have critically broadened the horizons of architectural history.3
Architectural history can record Black voices in multiple ways. One valuable approach is to study the work of Black architects. Mario Gooden’s 2016 book Dark Space dedicates a chapter to little-known African American architect Amaza Lee Meredith; other studies have highlighted pioneers such as Norma Merrick Sklarek, John Saunders Chase, and Julian Abele.4 Another strategy is to ask new questions of well-known monuments; examples include such work as Reinhold Martin’s close study of a section drawing of Thomas Jefferson’s dumbwaiter at Monticello—a device that rendered labor silent and invisible—which offers key insights into questions around race in the early modern period, and Mabel Wilson’s study of the ways that slavery shaped the design and construction of the Virginia State Capitol.5
Historical topics are perfect for exploring present-day issues, such as the ways in which racial and ethnic identity form part of a social continuum. Teasing out constructions of race often involves distinguishing historical concepts from those commonly accepted today. West Africans in the eighteenth century used a number of terms that blended race and class, many of which are no longer in use, such as signare and mulâtre. Today we encounter different lexicons: when I described Colin Powell or Barack Obama as noir (Black) in speaking with Senegalese, they pointed out that to them, both men are métis, or mixed race. Gender is now at the center of animated debates. In my research, I focused primarily on race, ethnicity, nationality, and class as social constructions, but there is a wealth of materials that relate to gender; at one point, African women owned the majority of the houses on Gorée. Such work will expand our knowledge of historical sites and the ways in which these sites have shaped—and continue to shape—race and gender identities both in Africa and around the world.
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).
Darell Wayne Fields, Architecture in Black (London: Athlone Press, 2000), 45.
Lesley Naa Norle Lokko, “Introduction,” in White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture, ed. Lesley Naa Norle Lokko (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 33.
Mario Gooden, Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016); see also Patricia Morton, “Norma Merrick Sklarek,” Pioneering Women of American Architecture, ed. Mary McLeod and Victoria Rosner, https://pioneeringwomen.bwaf.org/norma-merrick-sklarek (accessed 16 Aug. 2021); “John S. Chase,” oral history, 1 Nov. 2004, The HistoryMakers, https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/john-s-chase (accessed 16 Aug. 2021); “Julian Abele,” Duke University, https://spotlight.duke.edu/abele (accessed 16 Aug. 2021).
Reinhold Martin, “Drawing the Color Line: Silence and Civilization from Jefferson to Mumford,” in Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, ed. Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II, and Mabel O. Wilson (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020); Mabel O. Wilson, “Race, Reason, and the Architecture of Jefferson’s Virginia Statehouse,” in Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals, ed. Lloyd De Witt and Corey Piper (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum of Art, 2019).
Architecture and Alterity in Early Modern Venice
Religious difference elicited fear in medieval Christian Europe.1 In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council introduced legislation to mitigate that fear by controlling relations between the Christian majority and the Jewish and Muslim minority. Canon 68 required Jews and Muslims to wear distinguishing garb to mark them physically with signs of difference: “It sometimes happens that through error [per errorem] Christians may have intercourse with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such as these [i.e., Jews and Saracens], of both sexes, in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in public from other peoples through the character of their dress.”2 The fear of miscegenation incited the Fourth Lateran Council to legislate distinctive clothing for Jews and Muslims that inscribed inferiority onto their bodies and subjected them to persecution. According to Geraldine Heng, Canon 68 in effect politicized Christianity in the Latin West to inculcate fear through racial governance.3 Along with other scholars of premodern Europe, Heng examines how authorities, both sacred and secular, deployed religion to essentialize difference and hierarchize social groups, thus establishing discriminatory practices based on race.4
In contrast to studies of race in the premodern world that focus primarily on social, political, and biological divisions, in this essay I explore how vocabularies of race took architectural form. Specifically, I examine the ghetto of early modern Venice as a demarcation of racial difference. Early modern Venetian officials enacted anti-Jewish sartorial legislation in response to the medieval conciliar canons of Lateran IV. To prevent sexual interaction between Christians and Jews, the law required the Jews of Venice to wear yellow or red caps, or barettas. Similar to the anti-Jewish sartorial restrictions, ghettoization evolved as a discourse of difference that visibly and publicly subjected Jews to subordinate status. Whereas the conspicuous head coverings drew attention to Jews within a Christian crowd, the Jewish ghetto functioned to minimize the presence of Jews in Christian Venice by confining them to residences on the city margins.5 On 29 March 1516, the Venetian Senate ordered all Jews residing in the city to move behind the walls of the Ghetto Nuovo in the northernmost district of Cannaregio (Figure 2). The mandate stipulated that they would be watched by Christian guards twenty-four hours a day and that their movements would be restricted by a nighttime curfew. Over time, authorities expanded the ghetto complex into three distinct spaces with the establishment of the Ghetto Vecchio in 1541 and the Ghetto Nuovissimo in 1633, both on land adjacent to the Ghetto Nuovo.6 Ghettoization for all Jewish residents required the imposition of curfews and compulsory confinement from 1516 until the final collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797.7
The ghetto was a paradoxical space that made Jews outcasts for their religious difference without physically casting them out. Unlike England, France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal, which expelled or executed their Jewish populations, the Venetian Republic permitted Jewish settlement on the city’s northern margins.8 The ghetto offered Jews a home. The forced segregation of Jews into walled enclosures was a physical expression of the republic’s policy of tolerance. The early modern conception of tolerance, which circulated in the works of canon law and scholasticism, permitted Jews and members of other social out-groups to dwell among the communities of Latin Christendom provided their deviance proved no threat to Christianity. Tolerance offered limited social forbearance to Jews while opposing massacres and expulsions.9 The ghetto thus functioned as an architectonic “compromise between acceptance and expulsion.”10
To immure social difference, city magistrates built racism into the urban fabric of Venice with the construction of the Jews’ compulsory, segregated, and surveilled accommodations. The haphazard form of the ghetto tenements marked Venetian urbanism with signs of Jewish inferiority. Overcrowding, the result of natural population growth and immigration, caused the Jews to expand their tenements vertically, constructing buildings up to nine stories high around the central campo or public square. These elevations, anomalous in Venice given the fragility of the soft terrain of the lagoon, produced architectural instability. Founded on a pliable substructure of silt, sand, and clay, Venice could not easily accommodate multistory structures. These poorly constructed hovels underscored the structural debilities inherent to Venice’s ghettoized space and exposed Christians’ discrimination against the city’s Jewish inhabitants.
The Jews were not the only out-group affected by segregation. Greeks, Turks, Germans, Albanians, Dalmatians, and Armenians preserved their own identities in separate districts of the city.11 While Greeks and Dalmatian Slavs voluntarily settled in the Castello district near their work at the Arsenale, as early as the thirteenth century Venetian magistrates required all German merchants to live in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in order to oversee their money and merchandise (Figure 3). In the seventeenth century, growing anxieties about the presence of Muslims in the city led officials to oblige Muslim Turks, including “the Turks of Asia [Minor] and Constantinople” and “the Turks of Bosnia and Albania,” to move to the Fondaco dei Turchi (Figure 4).12 The regulations of fondaco life followed the model of Jewish ghettoization in that the Muslims were locked in at night and monitored by Venetian officials. Unlike the Fondaco dei Turchi, which functioned as a warehouse and living quarters for itinerant Muslim sojourners traveling between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires and their posts in Venice, the ghetto housed families of Jews who settled permanently in the Christian cityscape of Venice.13 Segregation was not temporary for the Jews as it was for Muslims, but rather an ongoing condition of confinement and surveillance.
The racialized policy of Jewish ghettoization in Venice informed the creation of ghettos throughout the Italian peninsula in cities such as Rome, Florence, Siena, and Verona in the sixteenth century, as well as Padua, Rovigo, Mantua, Ferrara, Modena, Genoa, Reggio Emilia, Turin, and beyond in the seventeenth century (Figure 5). In contrast to other parts of medieval and early modern Europe that purged themselves of their Jewish populations, Venice allowed Jews to preserve their status as a legally constituted community by establishing the ghetto. Ghetto architecture offered Jews a home. However, it did so by spatializing Jewish inferiority within the corpus Christianum.14 The ghetto constructed race within the built environment of early modern Italy through an architecture of inherent subordination that disenfranchised Jews from privilege and power for hundreds of years.
I would like to thank David Karmon for the invitation to participate in this roundtable on race and architecture in the premodern world. For their conversations and insights, I am grateful to Mark Jurdjevic, M. Lindsay Kaplan, and Akihiko Miyoshi.
Quoted in Irven Resnick, “The Jews’ Badge,” in Jews and Muslims under the Fourth Lateran Council, ed. Marie-Thérèse Champagne and Irven M. Resnick (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), 67.
Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 32.
See, for example, Kim Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995); Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); M. Lindsay Kaplan, Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019); Ayanna Thompson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Race (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).
On the sartorial restrictions placed on the Jews of Venice, see Benjamin Ravid, “From Yellow to Red: On the Distinguishing Head-Covering of the Jews of Venice,” Jewish History 6, nos. 1–2 (1992), 179–210, reprinted in Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382–1797 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003). On dress and social marginalization, see also Diane Owen Hughes, “Distinguishing Signs: Ear-Rings, Jews and Franciscan Rhetoric in the Italian Renaissance City,” Past & Present 112 (Aug. 1986), 3–59; Flora Cassen, Marking the Jews in Renaissance Italy: Politics, Religion, and the Power of Symbols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
The word ghetto, now used to refer to a densely populated slum area inhabited primarily by members of a minority group, has its origin in sixteenth-century Venice. Its etymology recalls the foundry (getto in Italian) on the outskirts of Venice where authorities established the Jewish ghetto complex. On this etymology, see Benjamin C. I. Ravid, “From Geographical Realia to Historiographical Symbol: The Odyssey of the Word Ghetto,” in Essential Papers on Jewish Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy, ed. David B. Ruderman (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 373–85. See also Kenneth Stow, “The Consciousness of Closure: Roman Jewry and Its Ghet,” in Ruderman, Essential Papers on Jewish Culture, 386–400, reprinted in Jewish Life in Early Modern Rome: Challenge, Conversion, and Private Life (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007); Sandra Debenedetti-Stow, “The Etymology of ‘Ghetto’: New Evidence from Rome,” Jewish History 6, nos. 1–2 (1992), 79–85; Mitchell Duneier, Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016); Daniel B. Schwartz, Ghetto: The History of a Word (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2019).
With the fall of the Venetian Republic to Napoléon Bonaparte came the demolition of Venice’s ghetto gates in 1797. The Jacobins were determined to “remove that mark of separation between the Jewish Citizens and the other Citizens, where no such mark should exist.” Following the Treaty of Campo Formio (signed 18 October 1797), the Austrian acquisition of Venice led to the reinstatement of restrictions on the city’s Jews. Robert C. Davis, “Introduction,” in The Jews of Early Modern Venice, ed. Robert C. Davis and Benjamin Ravid (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), vii–viii.
For a fuller discussion of the Venetian ghetto, see Dana E. Katz, The Jewish Ghetto and the Visual Imagination of Early Modern Venice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
On tolerance in the late medieval and early modern period, see Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scribner, eds., Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); István Bejczy, “Tolerantia: A Medieval Concept,” Journal of the History of Ideas 58, no. 3 (July 1997), 365–84; Cary J. Nederman, Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration, c. 1100–c. 1550 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000); Hans Oberdiek, Tolerance: Between Forbearance and Acceptance (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Dana E. Katz, The Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
Schwartz, Ghetto, 31.
In the late fifteenth century, the French ambassador Philippe de Commynes commented that in Venice, “most of their people are foreigners.” Philippe de Commynes, The Memoirs of Philippe de Commynes, ed. Samuel Kinser (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973), 2:493.
See David Chambers and Brian Pullan, eds., Venice: A Documentary History, 1450–1630 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 350–52. Through the use of the term “Mohammedan Nations,” the Cinque Savi alla Mercanzia (Venice’s board of trade) required Muslims of Turkish and Persian descent to move to the Fondaco dei Turchi. In 1662, the Cinque Savi declared, “There is no doubt, that the commission of the House of the Fondaco was decreed by the Most Excellent Senate for no other purpose but to have the Mohammedan Nations required to live there separately from Christians, as required by public and private utility and the benefit of Religion, as was considered.” Quoted in E. Natalie Rothman, Brokering Empire: Trans-imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012), 207.
As Stefanie Siegmund argues in the context of the Florentine ghetto of 1571, “Ghettoization produced—and seems to have been intended to produce—a semi-autonomous community of families in permanent, self-perpetuating residence in a spatially designated location.” Stefanie Siegmund, The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence: The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006), 12.
See also Dana E. Katz, “Ghettos and Jewish Spaces,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of the Renaissance World, gen. ed. Kristen Poole, “Religion” sec., ed. Jeffrey Shoulson (London: Taylor & Francis, online, forthcoming).
Concerning the Observation of Other Corpses
Attentive observers perceive the images of brutalized bodies strewn upon either land or sea as undulatory, incessant, and cyclical (Figure 6). This essay takes as its point of departure the observation of flotsam corpses by two early modern Mediterranean chroniclers: a Spanish corsair sailing in a Maltese fleet and a North African jurist of Andalusian origin. Derived from battlefield accounts, these narratives exemplify operations of coercive rhetoric bound to brute force deployed across the continuities of bodies and souls. The suffering caused by war exposes slippages between religious discrimination and racism. To these self-righteous observers, unprepared human remains displayed degeneracies as visible and visualizable distinctions.
Close your eyes and imagine a battle being waged, over land or sea, in the early modern Mediterranean. Afloat, picture yourself between decks: the heaving of timbers streaked with tar and excrement; the jangle of chains against ankles and wrists; the crackling of whips; the exclamations of imprecation and abuse. A wasted body, shapeless and brittle, is hurled overboard unceremoniously. Onshore, gauge the resilience of bastions upon which waves and munitions crash; inhale the clouds of sulfur, charcoal, sand, and salt enveloping the beach; survey the demonstrably ineffective weapons and amulets scattered among desperate beasts and men. From a pool of fetid blood, witness a corpse as it is stripped of its possessions. Listen to the audible voice of the deceased. To supercilious observers, the performance of the dead confirms all assumed hierarchies, for that naked corpse, or the one thrown overboard, could have been yours. You may open your eyes now, for you too will soon be dead, the hermeneutics of your passing likely preserved in a hand other than your own.
The memoirs of Alonso de Contreras (1582–1641) record a raid on an Ottoman vessel that occurred when the author was a young conscript in the navy of the Order of Saint John. De Contreras described the theft of belongings, the capture of slaves, and the hasty discarding of hundreds of the vanquished dead at sea. Yet he noted that the postbattle mayhem was interrupted by the solemn observation of a marvelous Christian sign manifested in the water: while the floating corpses of “the Moors and Turks” remained facedown, those of all who had been baptized rotated upward.1 Just over a century later, the Sufi chronicler Muhammad b. al-Tayyib al-Qadiri (1712–73) posited a comparable opinion regarding strewn corpses following a siege on Sabta in 1720.2 As looters stripped the clothing of the fallen, the Muslim corpses fixed their gazes to the sky with beaming smiles, while the infidels glowered balefully at their own feet.3
Both de Contreras and al-Qadiri offered what amounted to exegeses of corporeal remains. Through these accounts, readers could bear witness to the interrogation of the malleable corpse with the aim of legitimating aggression as pious performance, including the violence that befell the corpse itself. The spectacle of faces revealed or hidden in death represented the transmutation of ephemeral flesh into the measure of an identity fixed across space, theology, and observable matter. Embodied by the corpse itself, the expression and orientation of the dead body demonstrated the truthful standing of the community. While architectural frameworks such as tombs, cemeteries, and temples fixed the alignment and positioning of human remains in static terms, within the space of the battlefield, and particularly at sea, the body’s bearings encountered conditions of constant flux that demanded grounding, even if only discursively.
Attempts to elucidate accounts of historical violence toward specific bodies may appear anachronistic, yet we inhabit at least as many pasts as we experience presents and imagine futures. Scholars of bondage in the early modern Mediterranean have increasingly attended to the visualizations of corporeal violence on armaments and monuments—tattered clothing, bound limbs, hunched backs, and contorted faces—as projections of one people’s moral and martial superiority over another.4 Contemporary historians, artists, and publics have also suggested other ways in which such images (and bodies as images) should be treated.5 More so than the representation of a living body, but seldom scrutinized, the corpse inhabits a liminality between personhood and object.6 One could reframe the orientations of flotsam corpses visualized by de Contreras and al-Qadiri as manifestations of racialized truths occurring upon and within the landscape. Exhuming the specters of discriminatory epistemologies that they contain not only reveals the theological and political dynamics we have inherited from the past but also may help to explain our persistent, resounding indifference to the flotsam bodies of today.
Alonso de Contreras, Vida del capitán Contreras, ed. Juan Estruch (Barcelona: Fontamara, 1982), 40. For a succinct introduction to de Contreras that includes the relevant passage in translation, see Peter Earle, “Alonso de Contreras,” in Corsairs of Malta and Barbary (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970), 197–208. Further, while de Contreras conceived of the stowage of human remains in the hold of the Ottoman ship as subterfuge, it more likely represented juridical expectations that such remains be maintained on the ship until landing permitted interment. For an overview of Muslim anxieties concerning the particularities of rites following death on the high seas or in battle, see Leor Halevi, Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 103, 160–61, 190. On the prominent position of Maltese corsairs in medieval and early modern slavery, see Godfrey Wettinger, Slavery in the Islands of Malta and Gozo ca. 1000–1812 (San Gwann, Malta: Publishers Enterprises Group, 2002).
In the interest of decolonizing English, I adopt the Arabic toponym Sabta rather than the Portuguese/Spanish orthography Ceuta. See also Halima Ferhat, Sabta des origines au XIVème siècle (Rabat: Ministère des Affaires Culturelles, 1993).
Muhammad b. al-Tayyib al-Qadiri, Nashr al-Mathani, trans. and ed. Norman L. Cigar (London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1981), 54. For a concise biography of al-Qadiri, see Muhammad b. Jaafar Kattani, Kitab salwat al-anfas wa muhadathat al-Akyas min man Uqbir min al-Ulama’ wa al-Sulaha’ bi Fas (1316; Fez: n.p., 1898–99), 2:396–97. On Muslim martyrdom, see E. Kohlberg, “S̱ẖahīd,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 2012), https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/shahid-COM_1025?s.num=0&s.f.s2_parent=s.f.book.encyclopaedia-of-islam-2&s.q=S%CC%B2h%CC%B2ah%C4%ABd (accessed 6 May 2021).
Recent treatments of such phenomena include Meredith Martin and Gillian Weiss, “A Tale of Two Guns: Maritime Weaponry between France and Algiers,” in The Mobility of People and Things in the Early Modern Mediterranean: The Art of Travel, ed. Elisabeth Ann Fraser (New York: Routledge, 2020), 27–48; Nabil Matar, Mediterranean Captivity through Arab Eyes, 1517–1798 (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 229–52. For Matar’s reading of the use of religious difference to justify violence in the accounts of de Contreras and al-Qadiri, see Matar, Mediterranean Captivity through Arab Eyes, 30.
Matar, Mediterranean Captivity through Arab Eyes, 253–56; Caroline Bynum Walker, “The Presence of Objects: Medieval Anti-Judaism in Modern Germany,” in Dissimilar Similitudes: Devotional Objects in Late Medieval Europe (New York: Zone Books, 2020), 149–82. See also Rachid Koraïchi’s Le Jardin d’Afrique (2021), the work of Forensic Oceanography (2011–), and the intensifying popular reactions to colonial monuments and associated iconoclasms throughout the global North since the summer of 2019.
Recent scholarship on the (primarily Christian European) corpse includes Romedio Schmitz-Esser, The Corpse in the Middle Ages: Embalming, Cremating, and the Cultural Construction of the Dead Body, trans. Albrecht Classen and Caroin Radtke (Turnhout: Harvey Miller, 2020).
Architecture, Race, and Enlightenment in France
Architecture critically facilitated the transformation of the notions of human variety that emerged in the late seventeenth century into what became by the early nineteenth century hierarchically determined ideas of race. By resituating eighteenth-century architectural ideas usually treated as autonomous and uniquely French—such as character, disposition, and convenance—within a history of colonialism, we can consider the ways in which this architectural discourse contributed to racial formulations. In this essay, I argue that modern notions of race have gained resilience by drawing upon diverse currents of Enlightenment thought, and I offer a set of markers across the architecture of the French Enlightenment in an effort to make this racial configuration more legible.
Architectural commissions demonstrate the degree to which the development of a French eighteenth-century “culture of taste” rested on the institutions of colonialism and slavery.1 Many of the colonial bourgeois owned hôtels particuliers in Paris. Notably, Jules Hardouin-Mansart’s Hôtel de Massiac at Place des Victoires served during the French Revolution as the location for the pro-slavery Club de l’Hôtel de Massiac, which represented colonial interests in the Assemblée Nationale. Jean-François Blondel’s 1736–40 Manufacture des Tabacs at Morlaix functioned as an integral component of colonial exchange by transforming a plantation commodity (tobacco) into metropolitan consumer goods. The digitization of the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer’s extensive holdings on colonial architecture and urbanism has recently allowed new access to these materials, and Gauvin Bailey’s road map to these sources describes the adaptation of French architectural and urban typologies to the colonies. Bailey shows, for instance, how experiments in classical planning at Place Vendôme and Place des Victoires informed the designs for colonial centers in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and how French monuments, including châteaus, churches, and fountains, reappeared across the West Indies, Louisiana, and New France. François Mansart’s 1752 Church of the Minimes reappeared as René-Gabriel Rabié’s Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Cap Français on Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1774.2
The logistics of colonialism also drove iconic architectural projects of the French Enlightenment. The Paris Observatory by Claude Perrault, begun in 1667 to house the French Académie des Sciences, also served as a media apparatus for the French colonial project. Through astral declinations and lunar transits tabulated at the observatory, navigators could determine their location by projecting upon the heavens a parallax vision of the Parisian sky. This was just one aspect of Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s efforts to modernize France’s colonial engagement that included the reorganization of the East and West India companies in 1664 and the codification in 1685 of the Code Noir, which regulated the slave trade. The Code Noir not only governed the family organization and religious practices of enslaved people but also stipulated prohibitions and punishments—including dismemberment and death. Perrault employed the observatory to illustrate the section of his translation of Vitruvius that discussed architectural ordonnance, disposition, decorum, and distribution—perhaps this document compels us to read those terms back through the colonies.3
The colonial economies of building also transformed architecture’s representational capacities. Jason Nguyen argues that the inflationary “Mississippi bubble” created by speculation in Louisiana tobacco fueled a housing boom that created new tensions between the theories of convenance—“form and decoration … suitable to the rank, dignity, and opulence of its patron”—and fast-moving capital fluctuations. Through the example of Armand-Claude Mollet’s Hôtel d’Évreux (now the Élysée Palace), one of the hôtelsparticuliers not at the time associated with the colonial enterprise, Nguyen explains how materials and forms representing the stability of values functioned simultaneously as commodities in a transatlantic speculative market that disrupted the proper delimitations of convenance.4
The formal experimentation of neoclassical architecture inevitably relied on colonial exchange. Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s Salines de Chaux, a factory for evaporating saline water to produce commercial salt, appeared at a moment when sheds for evaporating sugar cane syrup proliferated across the West Indies. As Louis Nelson has shown, the organization of labor that marked modern European industrialization originated in the enslaved labor of the plantations: the spatial organization of work, the sequencing of processes, the fungibility of labor, and the adherence to clock time all bear its enduring imprint.5 By transplanting the architectural technologies and labor efficiencies that the plantation entailed, the Salines de Chaux built the logistics of the plantation into a neoclassicism that historians have long taken to be “autonomous.”6
The very theorizations seeking to prove architecture’s autonomy likewise found their origins in the colonies. In his analysis of notions of the primitive in French architectural thought, Anthony Vidler demonstrates that developments in French Enlightenment architectural theory depended on the colonial encounter. For example, Vidler connects Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture to the proto-anthropological theories of Joseph-François Lafitau, a Jesuit priest based in Quebec who studied the Iroquois people. Vidler compares the frontispiece designed for Laugier’s Essay on Architecture with that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality—both works published in 1755 and likely prepared in parallel—to describe the two authors’ competing notions. Where Laugier focuses on architecture’s internal logic, Rousseau emphasizes the social roots of dwelling.7 Both use racial coding: Rousseau’s Hottentot wants to leave the court to return to his presocial state, and Laugier’s universalized white primitive carries classical virtues with him out into nature.
Centering the architecture of the French Enlightenment in the colonies necessarily puts both the terms and the representational capacities of that architecture into crisis. In the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, waged with the goal of prying the promise of enlightenment from the racial constructs within which Enlightenment thought developed, Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s 1805 constitution addressed the incommensurability between the particularity of Blackness and the universality of enlightenment. This document did not simply declare freedom for all enslaved people, or state that all Black people were to be full citizens of Haiti. Instead, it declared all Haitians, whatever their origins, to be Black. Rather than resorting to the universalism of enlightenment, Dessalines’s Haiti generalized the particularity of Blackness as the foundation of the state. This radicalization of the Enlightenment privileged the excluded, where those without proper access to Enlightenment thought possessed a particularity—racial Blackness—that preceded the universal.8 Henri Christophe’s Sans-Souci Palace, a neoclassical edifice built for a Black sovereign of the new world in Milot, Haiti, might provide an architecture for this particularization of the universal. There remnants of a racialized Enlightenment defeated by those whom the Enlightenment excluded were gathered to configure a new mode of Black sovereignty.9 In such a setting, neoclassical architecture offered a lens through which to examine the racial violence advanced by the Enlightenment itself.
Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011).
Gauvin A. Bailey, Architecture and Urbanism in the French Atlantic Empire: State, Church, and Society, 1604–1830 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018).
I am developing this topic in my book in progress Atlantic Unbound: Architecture in the World of the Haitian Revolution, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Jason Nguyen, “Building on Credit: Architecture and the Mississippi Bubble (1716–1720),” Grey Room, no. 71 (Spring 2018), 40–67. The definition of convenance here comes from Augustin-Charles d’Aviler, Dictionnaire d’architecture civile et hydraulique et des arts qui en dépendent (Paris: Charles-Antoine Jombert, 1755); see Nguyen, 48.
Louis P. Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2016), 118–22.
Emil Kaufmann was the first to tie Ledoux to a Kantian autonomy. Emil Kaufmann, “Three Revolutionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, and Lequeu,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 42, pt. 3 (1952).
Anthony Vidler, “Rebuilding the Primitive Hut: The Return to Origins from Lafitau to Laugier,” in The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), 7–21.
On the distinction between a “moderate” and a “radical” enlightenment, see Jonathan Israel, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010). For discussion of these terms in reference to the Haitian Revolution, see Nick Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008). On the notion of the particularity preceding the universal, see Jacques Rancière, “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?,” in Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. and ed. Steven Corcoran (London: Continuum, 2010), 62–75.
Peter Minosh, “Architectural Remnants and Mythical Traces of the Haitian Revolution: Henri Christophe’s Citadelle Laferrière and Sans-Souci Palace,” JSAH 77, no. 4 (Dec. 2018), 410–27.
The Intersection of Race and Architecture in the Swahili City-States
In the Swahili city-states of East Africa, race and architecture met in complex ways. The so-called classic age of Swahili city-states dates from around 1000 CE to around 1500 CE.1 Following this period, a succession of outsiders (from Portugal, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Oman, depending on the city and the time) ruled Swahili cities until the early 1960s. Colonial rule and the scholarship it inspired read Swahili urban space and architecture in racial terms.2
Urban society on the Swahili coast already contained a sociospatial duality, strongly expressed in architectural terms, prior to colonization.3 Swahili towns of the classic age consisted of a core of structures built of coral and stone and a larger periphery of nonpermanent mtomo (wood-framed, mud-packed) houses.4 The former had a strong association with waungwana (older, more prestigious families), in contrast with the latter, which were associated with ordinary residents, peasants, fisherfolk, and workers.5 By the nineteenth century, this loose division along class lines had become—literally—set in stone, as well as racialized. Stone houses, particularly under Oman (the predominant power from the late 1600s to the late 1800s), came to be associated with the Arab and South Asian elite and were segregated from the mud-thatch houses where African “Natives” lived. Twentieth-century European archaeologists and historians then reframed the history of Swahili city-states to credit their political and social formation as well as their architecture to Arabs and foreign, non-African cultures.6
The Swahili urban world is vast and diverse, extending from southern Somalia to central Mozambique, from the Comoro Islands and Madagascar to lacustrine western Tanganyika (modern mainland Tanzania). Some settlements, such as Lamu in Kenya, suffered relatively few visible alterations at the hands of colonizing invaders. Others, however, such as Kilwa in Tanzania, were destroyed or abandoned as a result of colonization. A few, such as Mombasa, grew into major cities as central nodes of colonial rule. There is no one single “Swahili” urban story of 1400–1800, and thus race and architecture did not intersect in a uniform manner across the Swahili world.7
Nevertheless, it is possible to make some general claims about the precolonial early modern context. First, the dual nature of Swahili urbanism, from Lamu to Kilwa, was firmly rooted in the historical-material context of mercantilism. Swahili urban geography in the classic age featured a divide between haves and have-nots rather than a racial divide.8 This basic division was spatially constituted, especially in the kinds of homes people built and where they built them. Merchants and plantation owners, the holders of wealth in the regional economy, typically built residential areas of coral and limestone.9 As the plantation economy, slave trading, and long-distance trade grew, the areas built using stone masonry also grew, as did the need for industrial workers and services. The housing required for day laborers, servants, domestic slaves, peasants, and fisherfolk either could not be accommodated in these elite neighborhoods or was not permitted there. Hence the laborers built the only kinds of homes they could, typically at some remove from the town “proper,” using wood frames and mud with thatch roofs.
Although the split between mjini (downtown) and ng’ambo (other side) endures in many of these cities, even colonial rule could not remove the complexity and variety that shaped both of these “sides.” There are still many kinds of “stone houses,” just as there are many kinds of “mud huts.” The races, religious beliefs, social origins, and economic status of those on either side in these cities have always constituted more of a mélange than what was approved by colonial racism. Certainly the modes of production and the elitism of the stone-house dwellers played critical roles in distancing the haves from the have-nots in geography as in house form. Yet neither these spaces nor the towns “proper” were wholly defined by the elite. The residents of “other sides” themselves always played a substantial role, not only in creating their own communities but also in building the “proper” side.
Zanzibar provides an intriguing, if unique, example of the transitions experienced by many coastal cities from the 1400s through the 1800s. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Zanzibar, located on the Shangani Peninsula of Unguja (the largest island in the Zanzibar archipelago), was a minor fishing town.10 Unguja’s most significant towns were Unguja Ukuu in the south-central zone and Tumbatu on the small island of that name just northwest of Unguja. Both are ruins now, the stone-built core of the latter abandoned by 1450 and the former burned by the Portuguese in the early 1500s. Tumbatu’s monarchy remained, however, and in 1690 its ruler, Queen Fatuma, broke an alliance of nearly two hundred years by inviting Oman to evict the Portuguese. In return, the Omanis received permission to build a fort on top of the minor Portuguese fort on Shangani. From 1698, Shangani became the center of the medina of modern Zanzibar, and Mji Mkongwe (literally “old town,” although its common English name is Stone Town) was from 1690 to 1890 the most significant port of the Swahili world. Although the city was a colonial imposition, not a Swahili city-state of the classic age, from the outset the majority of the urban population were Swahili people and mainland Africans. As it grew, this modern Zanzibar replaced the fluid class-based duality of Swahili urbanism with the strongly divided, racist forms of the “colonial” city. Stone Town was recast as an Arab, South Asian, and European zone built of stone masonry, while in Ng’ambo, what the British officially termed the “Native Location” on the “other side,” no stone houses were permitted. Ironically, it was in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ng’ambo that Zanzibar manifested the greatest architectural and cultural diversity ever seen in urban East Africa when it became the biggest and best example of a cosmopolitan early modern Swahili city.11
Chapurukha Kusimba, The Rise and Fall of Swahili States (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1999).
James Kirkman, Men and Monuments on the East African Coast (London: Lutterworth Press, 1964).
Abdul Hamid M. el Zein, The Sacred Meadows: A Structural Analysis of Religious Symbolism in an East African Town (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1974).
Mark Horton, Shanga: The Archaeology of a Muslim Trading Community on the Coast of East Africa (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1996).
James de Vere Allen, Swahili Origins (London: James Currey, 1993).
Felix Chami, “Kilwa and the Swahili Towns: Reflections from an Archaeological Perspective,” in Knowledge, Renewal and Religion: Repositioning and Changing Ideological and Material Circumstances among the Swahili on the East African Coast, ed. Kjersti Larsen (Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, 2009), 38–56.
Michael Pearson, Port Cities and Intruders: The Swahili Coast, India, and Portugal in the Early Modern Era (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
Randall L. Pouwels, Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
John Middleton, The World of the Swahili: An African Mercantile Civilization (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).
Abdul Sheriff, Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar (London: Heinemann, 1987).
Department of Urban and Rural Planning and African Architecture Matters, Zanzibar, Ng’ambo Atlas: Historic Urban Landscape of Zanzibar Town’s “Other Side” (Leiden: LM Publishers, 2019).
Sites of Exchange: Architecture, Trade, and Racial Capitalism in the Early Modern Atlantic World
The racial reckoning under way in the humanities urges us to rethink how we research and teach the architecture of global trade during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.1 This period witnessed the expansion of European commercial and imperial networks across the world and the broadening of a modern form of consumer culture in metropoles like Amsterdam, London, and Paris.2 Plantations, ports, cargo ships, stock exchanges, and marketplaces served as the infrastructure of a burgeoning system of global capitalism. By studying these kinds of built spaces, I seek to discern how architecture conditioned the flow of capital and, in the process, formalized a web of power relations between different human and nonhuman entities for the purposes of economic and political gain.3 The enslavement, trade, and labor of racialized people played a foundational role in the construction of early modern economic networks in the Atlantic world.4 In this essay I highlight some of the ways that race (specifically Blackness) and capital intersected in the building and management of sites of exchange, or the physical and inhabited spaces where economic transactions occurred. I focus on three specific topics within the British imperial context of the so-called Black Atlantic: cartography, maritime architecture, and the plantation system.5 My aim is to illustrate the architectural contingencies and human conditions of the market during this formative moment for the development of modern commerce. Throughout, I spotlight some of the key authors who have guided my thinking on the relationships among architecture, trade, and racial capitalism.6
Visual and architectural material serve as evidence of the Atlantic slave trade and its enduring systems of racial capitalism. A map by the British cartographer Herman Moll illustrates this racialized network of trade and exchange that generated wealth for London investors (Figure 7).7 Moll’s print was incorporated as part of a book advertising the South Sea Company’s slaving activities in the south Atlantic to potential shareholders.8 On the right side of the map, he labeled Sherbro Fort (now in Sierra Leone), Cape Mezurado (in modern Liberia), and Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle, and Fort Christiansborg (all in modern Ghana), identifying them as ports of departure for European slaving ships destined for the Americas.9 Curving lines and arrows depict the direction of the trade winds—the prevailing equatorial easterlies that facilitated early modern sea travel by sail. On the left side of the map, he included a scene depicting the silver mines at Potosí in modern-day Bolivia, where Spanish settlers subjugated thirty thousand Africans to extract ore from the mountain. In the cartouche at the lower right, the engraver used allegory to visualize the commercial relationship between Europe (left) and South America (right). Tellingly, he placed silver coins and bars in the foreground, emphasizing the material resources to be gained by the partnership, and kept the signs of human labor in the background.
The operation of global trade relied on developments in maritime architecture and technology.10 As Christina Sharpe affirms in her groundbreaking study In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016), any discussion of the origins and operations of global capital must contend with the early modern slave trade and the horrors of the Middle Passage, as well as its enduring legacies.11 Using the ship as both historical evidence and metaphor, Sharpe advocates for what she calls “wake work,” invoking the path left in water by a moving vessel as well as the aftermath of trauma in which Black people continue to live.12 These forms of practice refuse the denial, minimization, and erasure of slavery in an effort to conceive possible ways to persist and find joy amid its ongoing reverberations.13 Another work of particular relevance to historians of art and architecture is Cheryl Finley’s Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon (2018), which traces the development and use of a late eighteenth-century abolitionist print by historical and contemporary actors and artists to visualize the dehumanizing conditions of the slave ship’s hold (Figure 8).14 In this regard, the ship functions not only as a technology that fueled a racialized network of global capital but also as a potent symbol for Black liberation and political action.
The plantation brought ecological, economic, and racialized labor into dialogue through cultivation of the land. Its design and operation structured the local ecosystem around a primary agricultural product for trade on the global market (Figure 9).15 In 1625, Francis Bacon compared English colonization to the tilling and exploitation of the landscape, as critical acts with implications that extended well into the future: “Planting of countries is like planting of woods, for you must make account to leese almost twenty years’ profit and expect your recompense in the end.”16 Following the work of Sylvia Wynter, Anna Arabindan-Kesson interrogates the early modern plantation as a contested site that bound architecture and landscape, Black and indigenous bodies, and agricultural ecologies into a global commercial network fueled by racial and imperial capitalism.17 Her scholarship highlights the agency of Black voices and forms of Black liberation even despite this history and features contemporary projects by Black artists that engage the history and legacy of slavery as a way to position Black activism and advocate for political emancipation through creative practice.18
This essay has addressed only a few of the visual and architectural instances in which categories of Blackness and capital intersected in the early modern Atlantic world. Scholars in Black and indigenous studies have shown how the enduring systems of social, economic, and geopolitical inequality have perpetuated the violence of early modern colonization and slavery. This explains the decision of scholars such as Sharpe, Finley, and Arabindan-Kesson to study historical materials alongside contemporary sources. Sites like slaving castles, ships, and plantations remain potent symbols of racial capitalism, and artists and architects continue to engage with them in an ongoing effort of historical reckoning. We hope that architectural scholars will actively contribute their knowledge of the early modern world to help chart a more just and equitable future.
Much of this essay stems from a graduate seminar titled Sites of Exchange: Architecture and Capital Flows, which I directed at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto in winter 2021. For information on the course, see “Daniels Students Learn about the Architecture of Global Capitalism,” News & Events, 7 June 2021, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto, https://www.daniels.utoronto.ca/news/2021/06/07/daniels-students-learn-about-architecture-global-capitalism (accessed 9 Aug. 2021). I am also grateful for conversations with a group of architectural historians organized around the collective TARAH, or Teaching an Anti-Racist Architectural History, including Caitlin Blanchfield, Elijah Borrero, Irene Brisson, Nushelle de Silva, Gary Fox, Curt Gambetta, James Graham, Jia Yi Gu, Lisa Haber-Thomson, Sarah Hearne, E. Seda Kayim, Elis Gabriela Mendoza Mejia, Jess Ngan, Bryan Norwood, Ana Ozaki, Rafico Ruiz, Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió, Eldra Walker, and ElDante’ Winston.
During the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England witnessed extraordinary growth in luxury consumption by individuals from different social and economic backgrounds; see Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660–1760 (London: Routledge, 1996), esp. 1–22. See also Neil McKendrick, “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb (London: Europa, 1982), 9–33; John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (London: Routledge, 1995); Ann Bermingham and John Brewer, eds., The Consumption of Culture 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text (London: Routledge, 1995).
Jason W. Moore, “Anthropocene or Capitalocene? On the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis,” in Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (New York: Verso, 2015), 169–92.
Cedric Robinson draws on world-systems theory to propose an interpretation of global capitalism that unfolded along racial lines tied to the capture and enslavement of Africans in the development of the Atlantic economy. Robinson, with whom the term racial capitalism is most associated, locates the roots of the Black radical tradition in early acts of resistance such as marronage (or fugitivity, in regard to which he notes the establishment of Palmares by the formerly enslaved) and revolt (of which the Haitian Revolution remains a touchstone). Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).
On the Black Atlantic as a condition of modernity, see Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
The conventional approach to the study of capitalism is to focus on the means and methods of production, which in turn tends to privilege industrial forms of labor and manufacturing. However, following the work of Fernand Braudel and, more recently, Jonathan Levy, I want to try to think about capitalism as a process of trade and exchange that generates different forms of value across local, regional, and global scales. Such an approach allows one to assess the systemic impacts of capitalism in the era before modern machinery and mass production, notably in regard to issues tied to colonization and the development of racial capitalism in the early modern Atlantic world. Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, Vol. 2, The Wheels of Commerce, trans. Siân Reynolds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 232–49; Jonathan Levy, “Capital as Process in the History of Capitalism,” Business History Review 91 (Aug. 2017), 483–510.
On the relationship between Moll’s cartographic enterprise and the transatlantic slave trade, see Jason Nguyen, “Handheld Cartography: Herman Moll’s Pocket Globes and Speculative Capital in the 1710s,” Journal18, no. 10 (Fall 2020), https://www.journal18.org/5331 (accessed 9 Aug. 2021); Gillian Hutchinson, “Herman Moll’s View of the South Sea Company,” Journal of Maritime Research (Sept. 2004), 87–112.
Gregory E. O’Malley, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 219–63; Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 56–63; John Carswell, The South Sea Bubble (Dover, N.H.: Alan Sutton, 1993), 50–64; Carl Wennerlind, Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620–1720 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011), 197–234.
Christian R. DeCorse, “Landlords and Strangers: British Forts and Their Communities in West Africa,” in British Forts and Their Communities: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives, ed. Christopher R. DeCorse and Zachary J. M. Beier (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2018), 206–30.
It is hardly a coincidence that the “age of sail” that witnessed important developments in navigation, cartography, and shipbuilding also coincided with the expansion of capital networks and the growth of European empires. For a recent theorization of maritime technology and global capitalism, see Liam Campling and Alejandro Colás, Capitalism and the Sea (London: Verso, 2021). On the slave ship in particular, see Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (New York: Penguin, 2007), esp. 41–72.
As Sharpe writes, “I have been thinking about shippability and containerization and what is in excess of those states. What I am therefore calling the Trans*Atlantic is that s/place, condition, or process that appears alongside and in relation to the Black Atlantic, but also in excess of its currents.” Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016), 30. For Sharpe, the capitalized “Trans” reinforces the temporal dimension of becoming. The asterisk, by disrupting the flow of an otherwise fluid “transatlantic,” introduces a space to meditate on the historical forces that have acted on Black bodies and that have in turn influenced the formation of Black subject positions.
The Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea are important sites for scholars in Black and Black diaspora studies because of their association with the Middle Passage. In addition to works by Gilroy and Sharpe, see Antonio Benítez-Rojo, The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Post-modern Perspective (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996); Kamau Brathwaite, Conversations with Nathaniel Mackey (Staten Island, N.Y.: We Press, 1999); Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989); Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2019); Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987), 64–81; Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14, nos. 2–3 (2008), 191–215.
According to Sharpe, “The question for theory is how to live in the wake of slavery, in slavery’s afterlives, the afterlife of property, how, in short, to inhabit and rupture this episteme with their, with our, knowable lives.” Sharpe, In the Wake, 50.
Cheryl Finley, Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018).
Edgar Tristan Thomas, The Plantation, ed. Sidney W. Mintz and George Baca (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010), esp. 1–22. On the architecture and landscape of the early modern plantation, see Louis P. Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016) and Jill Casid, Sowing Empire: Landscape and Colonization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).
Francis Bacon, “Of Plantations,” in The Essays, or Counsels Civil and Moral of Francis Bacon (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1885), 193.
Anna Arabindan-Kesson, “Seeing Empire,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 6, no. 1 (Spring 2020), https://doi.org/10.24926/24716839.10057 (accessed 9 Aug. 2021). See also Sylvia Wynter, “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation,” Savacou, no. 5 (June 1971), 95–102, referenced in the virtual symposium “The Global Plantation,” organized by Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Clare Courbould, Jarvis McInnis, and Jessica Womack, Princeton University, 2020, https://globalplantation.princeton.edu (accessed 9 Aug. 2021).
On the art and materiality of cotton in the British Atlantic world, see Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Black Bodies, White Gold: Art, Cotton, and Commerce in the Atlantic World (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2021).
Race, the Matrilineal Unseen, and African Absence in the History of Architecture
Of the illustrations in Thomas E. Bowdich’s 1819 Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, “The Oldest House in Coomassee” is the most intriguing (Figure 10).1 The colored plates accompanying this work by the first British emissary to the Asante Empire, an inland state in modern Ghana, provided Europe with its first views of Africa’s interior.2 Rather than present the street-facing front of the Oldest House, Bowdich provided a side view in which the house’s upper level shows one flank of a covered balcony with European-style balusters. Adjacent to the balcony is a windowless bay from which drops a bell-shaped form. This bay represented an interior closet and its discharge into a subterranean cesspit below.3 The Oldest House probably dated to around 1804, at the time of the ascension of Asantehene (i.e., King) Osei Bonsu Kwame.4 As I will argue, the Oldest House signaled the creative reinterpretation of a style already fully formed during the reign of Bonsu’s two predecessors, but that was nevertheless still receptive to influences from beyond the local, both near and far, even during Bonsu’s time. Yet, by not taking at face value the idea that for Asante this was already an old architecture (as Bowdich’s depiction insists), by instead rendering it more or less contemporary with Bowdich’s presence, the history of architecture in the unspoken name of authenticity bears the mark of race and its deformations even today. The absence of the architecture of Asante from the canon, like that of many other significant architectures of Africa, was, in other words, inaugurated by this view of Asante’s buildings as impure, inauthentic, not African at all—contaminated by a distant (coastal) European presence.
This historiographic outcome attests to the prior emergence of a European intellectual history that we increasingly recognize as having produced both race as an idea and racism as its effect, informed by political theory and natural history, as well as a certain provincial outlook that insisted on European exceptionality and superiority.5 A fantastic illustration published in Archibald Dalzel’s 1793 The History of Dahomy, titled “Victims for Sacrifice,” conveyed such ideas (Figure 11).6 While Dalzel’s imagery depicted a different (socially nonheterarchical) reality from that of Asante, it worked to substantiate the unilineal hierarchy of Enlightenment racism.7 Grounded on a notion of race that identified Africans as inferior, such imagery extended into the work of Marc-Antoine Laugier, whose “primitive hut” invoked a constructed specificity akin to the idea of race.8 Dalzel’s illustrations of Dahomean buildings insisted that architecture could function as a visible index of racial difference: these buildings, immersed within highly ritualized ceremonies that were perhaps innocent of their cruelty, suspiciously recalled the forms of Laugier’s hut (Figure 12).9
If eighteenth-century Europeans conceived of Africans as incapable of appreciating, let alone producing, beautiful things, by the nineteenth century the classificatory view of culture based on difference came closer to natural history—admitting similarity and theorizing its possibility through notions of monogenesis and degeneration.10 Bowdich’s folio, enthusiastically received in Parisian salons, circulated in the discursive company of Georges Cuvier, whose notions of scientific racism claimed empirical proof in Bowdich’s imagery of the Asante people.11
And yet, while Bowdich portrayed only a small part of the architectural imagination of West Africa, I argue that such buildings played a central role for the Asante state long before Europeans set foot on its expanding territory.12 This has crucial implications for assumptions that appear to be made in the history of architecture that shore up Africa’s (non)place in its accounts. Asante architecture was intensely hybrid from its foundations. Its experimentation with selected aspects of European architecture was not a product of European domination, but merely de rigueur. Our historiographic inheritance of racialized patriarchal visions and normative patrilineal concepts has resisted recognition of the African contribution to the always already hybrid phenomenon of architecture. The failure to cede a space of significance to Asante buildings in global architectural history, the inability to imagine how to incorporate other African architectural pasts, marks a critical and intentional failure of the history of architecture. We need to develop new approaches that will reconfigure the history of buildings and their surroundings in radically new ways that are not founded on racial hierarchies.
Among nineteenth-century European audiences, Bowdich’s representation of the sophisticated indoor plumbing system at the Oldest House triggered uncertainty and disbelief.13 At a time when Europeans relied on outhouses to manage their waste, the Oldest House depicted a level of decorum and civility hardly available even to the elite of Europe.14 Yet from the perspective of the Asante Empire, the innovation of the Oldest House lay in its architectural imagination. The structure incorporated a wide-ranging variety of ideas into established indigenous ways of building; for instance, its arched colonnade indicates familiarity with European architecture on the Fante coast.15 And yet the Oldest House did not engage with historical European vocabularies in the straightforward way of the later 1822 Stone Palace, another building in the palace precinct (no longer extant) with pinnacles and a turret (Figure 13).16
In fact, African buildings that echoed European vocabularies generated a naming conundrum for architectural history.17 Architecture is always entangled with ideas from beyond its geographic locales. But following the genealogical models of Linnaeus and Laugier, the study of African coastal architectures generated quixotic hyphenations like “Afro-Portuguese,” “Afro-Dutch,” and “Afro-Brazilian,” and even outright conversions like the popular “Brazilian” for West African buildings of the 1930s.18 These nomenclatures are in marked contrast to those outside Africa, which operate according to an inverse logic: thus we say a Linnaean “English baroque,” not a Cuvierean “Anglo-Italian,” when we refer to the architecture of Inigo Jones.19 But we have trouble doing the same for the early modern architecture of Africa. Why?
The European naming of African architecture imposed, in the service of the canon, the privileged possessive of the white father’s name on both mother and offspring. Yet architecture itself reinforces matrilineal allegiance (matrilocality) in the sense that buildings usually cannot be carried away from their birthplaces. When V. Y. Mudimbe explored the problem of genus in the confrontation between traditional and modern art, he conceived of popular contemporary artists as “maternal,” thus implying the everyday, the undisciplined, the nonacademic, the messy.20 And yet as Mudimbe himself seemed to acknowledge later, in Africa the maternal, in the form of matriliny, in fact assumes greater significance than he had admitted.21 Matriliny was the historically preferred social model for Akan societies, including the Asante Empire.22 Could matriliny allow us to envision an African architecture liberated from these cumbersome hyphenated terms, in support of a decolonial architectural history? By reading Bowdich through such a lens, and thus disclosing the effects of matriliny and its frameworks (of which Bowdich was oblivious), we can challenge the restrictions imposed on Asante architecture by racialized thinking.
During a remarkable royal audience with Bowdich, Asantehene Osei Bonsu described plans for a lavish royal residence, with a metal roof, ivory columns, and windows and doors encased in gold leaf. Yet instead of claiming authorship of this magnificent structure, the king attributed the idea to someone whom Bowdich parsed as “Sai Cudjo … the king’s Asante architect.” A different meaning is revealed for us, however, through the lens of Asante oral tradition and matriliny as this is progressively recouped and understood by its scholars: “Sai Cudjo” referred in fact to Osei Kwadwo, the king’s classificatory maternal granduncle, who had been king until 1777.23 Asantehene Osei Bonsu therefore cited the design of a deceased designer-king, or even that ruler’s own Queen Mother.24 Although their demise meant the structure remained unbuilt, Asantehene Osei Bonsu’s own elevation as king, supported by a formidable Queen Mother closely connected to Kwadwo’s matrilineage, Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom, revived a dormant architectural ambition.25 Matriliny, then (and in all likelihood Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom herself), resurrected a culture of architectural grandeur imagined generations earlier.26
Although British imperial interference meant that dream remained unrealized, and no comparable building exists anywhere in the world today, Bowdich’s well-known depiction of the Oldest Building takes on new dimensions when we exchange our masculinist, patriarchal, and invisibly racialized lens for a matrilinist and materialist lens that also draws upon oral histories and traditions. The authoritative social presence of women not only drove politically important building projects but also underscores the symbolic significance architecture had in the Asante Empire, and much earlier than we imagined.27 Matriliny, where fierce politics extended over generations of aristocratic women, conscripted architecture as a medium to convey particular ambitions across time. This Asante politics of architecture, subtly vested in women, has completely escaped the racialized patri-archive and its history.28
Thomas E. Bowdich, A Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1819; repr., London: Frank Cass, 1966). Ashantee, also sometimes spelled Ashanti, but now commonly written as Asante, was one of a few magnificent West and Central African precolonial inland states, founded in its fledgling imperial mode near the end of the seventeenth century from smaller kingdoms. For the dating of the founding of the Asante state to 1701, see Tom McCaskie, “Kwaduenya: Three Hundred Years of Land Tenure in Asante,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 50, no. 2 (2017), 189–204.
While previous authors generated views of inner Africa nearby (the capital of Benin, or Mbanza Kongo, for instance) based on textual or oral descriptions, Bowdich provided the first views of the interior by someone who had experienced the worlds beyond the coast in person. African polities and states prevented European travel inland, even after Bowdich’s journey. For the most thorough scholarly critique to date of Bowdich’s residency in Kumasi, including critical biography and detailed textual comparisons with other European descriptions of the same period (although with no commentary on the Oldest House as such), see Fiona Sheales, “Sights/Sites of Spectacle: Anglo/Asante Appropriations, Diplomacy and Displays of Power 1816–1820” (PhD diss., University of East Anglia, 2011).
The surface of the house is eroded, suggesting that it had already been through a few Kumasi rainy seasons.
Tom McCaskie, “Telling the Tale of Osei Bonsu: An Essay on the Making of Asante Oral History,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 84, no. 3 (2014), 353–70. Also see Tom McCaskie, “KonnurokusΣ M: Kinship and Family in the History of the OYoko KƆKƆƆ Dynasty of Kumase,” Journal of African History 36, no. 3 (1995), 357–89.
David Bindman, Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the 18th Century (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002).
Archibald Dalzel, TheHistory of Dahomy, an Inland Kingdom of Africa (London: T. Spilbury and Son, 1793). The building depicted in the foreground of this image does not resemble other Dahomey architecture known from the colonial archive or from buildings that have survived into the present thanks to the work of conservators such as the Getty Trust. Unlike Bowdich, Dalzel did not travel into the interior of the region he wrote about, so his depictions of buildings in Dahomey’s capital must be understood as fanciful.
Asante and Dahomey were neighboring states, and at one point they exchanged embassies. Although both maintained the institution of the Queen Mother, Dahomey, unlike Asante, maintained a battalion of female warriors while it also, perhaps unexpectedly, operated as a strictly patrilineal and patriarchal system. This produced a kind of strict hierarchy and route to power, in contrast to the multiplex routes to power created by matriliny in Asante. See also note 23, below. For the most recent study of the female warriors of Dahomey, the so-called Amazons, see Robert B. Edgerton, Warrior Women: The Amazons of Dahomey and the Nature of War (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000). See also Edna G. Bay, Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998); Stanley Alpern, Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey (London: Hurst, 1998).
The necessary and supplementary obverse of the notion of African inferiority, architecture as a sign of racial superiority, is the basis from which the notion of the indigenous is theorized and then enacted. See Kenny Cupers, “The Invention of Indigenous Architecture,” in Race and Modern Architecture:A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, ed. Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II, and Mabel O. Wilson (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), 187–202. Laugier, whose 1750 Discourse invented the idea of a primeval, natural human state of being, was in fact a dilettante, notwithstanding his admiration for Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the following century specialists in ethnography and cultural history, as well as other scholars of material culture and artifacts, dominated writing on non-European architecture. Likely influenced by ethnography, such writing aimed increasingly to eschew obviously racialized theoretics, but given the rise of European colonialism in Africa, such racialized theorizing was submerged rather than eradicated. This new writing asserted a detached objectivity in its interpretation of African buildings as well as in its dry narrative style. Many of these authors viewed the anthropological method of observation, recording, and writing as a chore, and their pseudoscientific language scarcely masked their embedded evaluative ambiguity toward the objects of their studies. Only since the late 1950s has writers’ critical consciousness of their own cultural bias produced a different approach; see, for example, Jean-Paul Lebeuf, L’habitation des Fali, montagnards du Cameroun septentrional: Technologie, sociologie, mythologie, symbolisme (Paris: Hatchette, 1961).
The shallow, rectangular form (one or two bays at front, and a much longer series of bays at the side) seen in Dalzel’s illustrations is unfamiliar as Dahomean architecture, though it corresponds to Laugier’s notion of the primitive hut as a rectangular building on four columns. See Marc-Antoine Laugier, “Il en choisit quatre des plus fortes qu’il élève perpendiculairement et qu’il dispose en carré,” in Essai sur l’architecture (Farnborough: Gregg Press, 1966), 9. Also, buildings in Dahomey used clay walls, not the stocky tree trunks shown by Dalzel (trunks seemingly about to sprout branches and leaves, like Laugier’s primitive hut). Dalzel’s depictions substituted Laugier’s reclining classical female in the foreground with gesticulating Africans caught in motion while dancing and drumming.
See Bindman, Ape to Apollo. Eighteenth-century writers such as John Locke, David Hume, the Comte de Buffon, Carl Linnaeus, Voltaire, Johann Gottfried Herder, G. W. F. Hegel, and, finally (and of course for history of architecture), Immanuel Kant and Johann Joachim Winckelmann all concluded that nations (such as Asante) inhabited by people with very dark skins (increasingly referred to as Negro) were culturally inferior. In particular Georges Cuvier’s racialized—and from an African perspective racist in fact—classificatory model (based on Buffon’s notions of natural history) argued for the political and cultural theory of monogenesis. Members of those by-now declarative “other races” who shared a common ancestry with Europeans needed to be converted back to the kinds of civility Europeans supposedly evinced.
For Cuvier, it is likely that the common human legacy could still be glimpsed in the Asante. Bowdich also engaged the likes of Alexander von Humboldt, Vivant Denon, and Jean-Baptiste Biot, all of whose natural histories opened models for locating the cultures produced by dark-skinned peoples.
Although archaeology and oral studies are still in their infancy, we can now list not just the neighboring Dahomey of Dalzel’s text but also those earlier polities of the Inland Niger Delta (Djenné-Jeno, Gao, Mopti, and later the Timbuktu of Mali) and those near eleventh- through thirteenth-century Ile-Ife, too, as well as the kingdom of Benin. We now know that Ile-Ife’s sculpture and its implications for architecture-enhanced statecraft provided an important influence for the perhaps better-known imperial state of Benin, whose “bronze plaques” evoke an architectural aesthetics allied to these thirteenth-century Ile-Ife (Yorùbá) architectural sites. There were many others, such as the only minimally excavated Ancient Nri, from which the ninth-century CE Igbo-Ukwu bronzes come, not to mention ancient Ghana, Mossi, or the seven Hausa city-states, all of which existed for centuries within range of Islamic civilization.
See, for instance, Radhika Mohanram, “White Water: Race and Oceans Down Under,” in Imperial White: Race, Diaspora, and the British Empire (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 89–121, esp. 96.
The technological sophistication of handsome two-story buildings in Kumasi would have surprised European audiences, as would the order of the city’s streets and buildings, the rhythm of its façades, and the intentional asymmetries and limited color palette of individual buildings, as well as singular architectural elements such as rectilinear columns, intricate interlocking screen-like panels, and paired or running arches and colonnades. If centuries-long contact on the coast produced hybrid buildings that by the 1820s would hardly surprise Europeans, the circulation of Bowdich’s images of inland Kumasi in both England and France within a few years of his book’s publication suggests that these astonished them. Several of the plates have been republished; see Ivor Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); Suzanne Blier, Royal Arts of Africa: The Majesty of Form (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998). However, the illustration of the Oldest House has rarely been republished, perhaps because the building’s asymmetry subverted the visual ideals of Enlightenment neoclassicism.
In 1806–7, Asante briefly occupied the coast under Osei Tutu/Osei Bonsu as king, gaining the opportunity for direct contact with coastal architecture, including that erected by Europeans. Such brief Asante imperial forays into Fante territory resulted in agreements with the Europeans, who paid a kind of tax to preempt invasions in the future. Otherwise, the coast was not under Asante control, nor was it traditionally considered part of Asante territory by the coast’s indigenous Fante and Ga communities.
The Stone Palace was built by locals exclusively for the display of royal artifacts, though it is unclear whether or not the word museum is applicable. See Joseph Dupuis, Journal of a Residence in Ashantee: Comprising Notes and Researches Relative to the Gold Coast, and the Interior of Western Africa (London: H. Colburn, 1824), 138. Its construction dated to 1819–22; see Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 178n65.
The designs of such hybrid buildings, created for elite members of a privileged coastal merchant class, owe much to fort residences. See Courtnay Micots, “Status and Mimicry: African Colonial Period Architecture in Coastal Ghana,” JSAH 74, no. 1 (Mar. 2015), 41–62; Courtnay Micots, “Age of Elegance: An Italianate Sobrado on the Gold Coast,” African Studies Quarterly 16, no. 1 (Dec. 2015), 1–31.
On genealogical models, see Bindman, Ape to Apollo. The label “Portuguese colonial” encompasses Kerala (India), Luanda (Angola), and even Salvador de Bahia (Brazil). See Françoise Doutreuwe Salvaing and Jacques Soulillou, Rives coloniales: Architectures de Saint-Louis à Douala (Marseilles: Éditions Parenthèses, 1993); Marianno Carneiro da Cunha, From Slave Quarters to Town Houses: Brazilian Architecture in Nigeria and the People’s Republic of Benin (São Paulo: Nobel EDUSP, 1985). Regarding the “Brazilian” label, I have argued elsewhere that “the ‘Brazilian’ architecture of Africa is this region’s founding modern architecture,” but acknowledging this “requires … [that] we first cease to understand it as Brazilian.” See Ikem Stanley Okoye, “African Reimaginations: Presence, Absence and New Way Architecture,” in A Companion to Modern African Art, ed. Gitti Salami and Monica Blackmun Visonà (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 112–34.
We also say “English Gothic,” not “Anglo-French.” Buildings in Brazil exhibiting metropolitan Portuguese influence are termed “Brazilian baroque,” occasionally “Portuguese colonial,” but never “Brazilo-Portuguese.” This apparently power-infused binomial logic names equivalents in Africa not “Brazilo-Béninoise” or “Brazilo-Dahomean,” but “Afro-Brazilian.” See Salvaing and Soulillou, Rives coloniales, 230.
V. Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 175. Mudimbe wrote at a different hybrid moment, addressing the modern and contemporary African “popular art” of the end of the twentieth century, which presented difficulties for art history similar to those that coastal African architecture currently presents for architectural history.
V. Y. Mudimbe, Parables and Fables: Exegesis, Textuality, and Politics in Central Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 73, 79–81. Although Mudimbe did not emphasize his Luba ancestry as part of his scholarly identity (preferring a cosmopolitan self-representation in public), these peoples of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo remain a matriliny-preferring culture. By contrast, Mudimbe’s hardly less cosmopolitan fellow philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah does occasionally foreground his own ethnicity in projecting an Asante identity, although he argues for patriliny as a necessary anchor of modernity. See Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Appiah’s last name renders him ethnically Asante following patrilineal logic. However, matrilineal logic might prioritize his maternal English ancestry, leading some scholars to wonder about this lapse. See Nkiru Nzegwu, “Questions of Identity and Inheritance: A Critical Review of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s In My Father’s House,” Hypatia 11, no. 1 (1996), 175–201.
The Asante are a constituent ethnicity of the Akan peoples, now part of modern Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
Compared to European dynastic histories, Asante’s matrilineal social organization has a structural logic that seems impenetrable, given that in recognition of the importance of affinal patrilateral solidarities it does not completely disavow the patrilineal, which is why I refer to heterarchy. See Timo Kallinen, “Some Chiefs Are ‘More Under’ Than Others: Kinship, Ritual, and the Concept of Political Hierarchy among the Asante” (PhD diss., University of Helsinki, 2004); Timo Kallinen, Divine Rulers in a Secular State (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2018), 40–42. In 1770, Kwadwo oversaw the appointment of Konadu Yaadom as Queen Mother, or Asantehemaa (an official position not necessarily filled by the biological mother of a king), and in this role she then oversaw the appointment of her biological son to the kingship, the position that he occupied during Bowdich’s visit. My term classificatory granduncle does not mean that Kwadwo was literally Bonsu’s biological maternal granduncle; rather, it means that they belonged to the same house (that of the state’s founder, Osei Tutu I). That Kwadwo thus traced his matrilineal relation to Osei Tutu I is analogous to saying “the king’s mother’s grandfather on the mother’s side,” as opposed to “the father of the king’s mother.” Between the kingships of Kwadwo (Sai Cudjo) and Bonsu there were two more kings, one who died after only four months in the position. Osei Kwadwo (Sai Cudjo) is also sometimes known as Osei Kwadwo Okoawia. Biologically, however, Kwadwo was one of many grandsons of the state’s founder, Osei Tutu.
Asantehemaa Akua Afiriye, Kwadwo’s biological mother.
Bowdich reported not only the relatively new king’s enthusiasm but also that of his courtiers for this project, deploying terms like “ardently” and “often” to communicate the regularity of these conversations. On Asantehemaa Konadu Yaadom, see Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 336. Kwadwo was succeeded by Osei Kwame Panyin, who in the polygamous matrilineal system (a system that sometimes supported serial marriages for women yielding children from different fathers) successfully claimed the kingship, thanks to a complex set of matrikin allegiances different from Kwadwo’s. Because Asante succession was not structured by primogeniture, it appears the heterarchical structure enabled Konadu Yaadom’s sons to lay claim to the Golden Stool, with the support of their politically powerful mother. Yaadom, Kwadwo’s Queen Mother, did not die until 1809, and she was thus Asantehemaa when her biological son Osei Tutu (Bonsu) ascended in 1804. See McCaskie, “KonnurokusΣ M,” 373.
Recent study suggests there may be a hitherto unacknowledged Asante connection between architecture and stools (i.e., architecture and capital or provincial “thrones”). This would suggest that architecture itself functioned as a cipher for stools, and that women’s interest in specific buildings indicates a suppressed interest in obtaining political power. See Catherine Meredith Hale, “Asante Stools and the Matrilineage” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2013), 95–96, 101–5. Even though Bowdich recognized the technical skill and prowess of Asante blacksmiths and goldsmiths, he nevertheless succumbed to the racialized narrative that ascribed the imagination of marvelous building to a distant and supposedly Muslim Arab elsewhere. This reiterated the impossibility already emplaced by racial thinking, thus allowing Africans hardly any architectural imagination at all. Architectural innovation, again already everywhere hybrid, here is once again not acknowledged to be truly of its place, simply because it is African. Asante architecture can be innovative only if it is hyphenated to its white other.
Scholars of colonial architecture often see hybridity in Asante architecture as a more recent phenomenon than it is; see Tony Yeboah, “Phoenix Rise: A History of the Architectural Reconstructions of the Burnt City of Kumase, 1874–1960,” Journal of West African History 5, no. 1 (Spring 2019), 53–82. My earlier work on modern Ghana also prevaricated around a similar question where it focused on contemporary video and filmmaking’s use of modern courtyards; see Ikem Stanley Okoye, “Fetishism from the Space of Bowdich’s Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee to the Time of Erasmus Osei Owusu’s (film) Obidie Abaa: Time Will Tell,” in Art History and Fetishism Abroad, ed. Gabriele Genge and Angela Stercken (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2014).
Wilks summarizes the successions from Kwadwo (1764–77) to Bonsu (1800–1823)—as opposed to two earlier phases that he characterizes as the period of divine kings and the period of wars—as the period of “essentially constitutional monarchs … who pressed through the reforms which transformed Asante from a predominantly military power into a civil polity.” Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century, 372. The architecture addressed in the present study reflects this final phase.
Race as Trope of Erasure, Refusing the Tautological Return
I begin at the final resting place of the only known African Enlightenment philosopher, Anton Wilhelm Amo, at Fort San Sebastian in Shama, Ghana, built by the Portuguese in the period 1520–26 (Figure 14).1 Amo was something of an Enlightenment experiment, taken from West Africa as a child in 1707, most likely sold into slavery, and then presented as a “gift” to Duke Anton Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who sponsored his formal classical education.2 Amo earned a doctorate in philosophy and played a prominent role in the philosophical circles of Saxony as a professor at universities in Halle, Wittenberg, and Jena. He was accomplished in “Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, High and Low German … skilled in astrology and astronomy, and was generally a great sage.”3 However, when his patron died, his investigations in the philosophy of the mind fell from favor. Against all odds, Amo managed to return to Axim in Nzima, the region of his origin on the Gold Coast, where he acquired a reputation as a learned hermit and soothsayer.
While Amo’s death can be dated no more precisely than sometime between 1759 and 1784, scholars suspect that he died as a prisoner under arrest at Fort San Sebastian, given that his antislavery writings posed a threat to regional Dutch slave trading.4 The siting of Amo’s grave at the fort subverts the architectural legacy of a building constructed to erase the presence of Black bodies, turning it into a monument to the resilience of the enslaved. In preserving the memory of one such survivor of slavery, whose scholarship is repeatedly resurrected across epochs and continents, the fort’s physical presence refuses the conceptual void attributed to Africa and its intellectuals in the early modern period of Enlightenment philosophy.5
Ghana is the site of a number of remarkable structures constructed in the early modern period, not just the remains of the approximately eighty fortifications and castles built over three hundred years by Africans for Europeans, but also forts built by Africans for themselves, such as the Richter Fort in Osu (Figure 15).6 In many of West Africa’s historic civic centers, surviving physical evidence makes it possible to reconstruct earlier forms of historic structures across sub-Saharan Africa. Ongoing use and habitation have contributed to preservation (including that of Ghana’s slave forts), and ironically poverty has assisted in this process as well, because occupants often cannot afford to demolish or replace older buildings. Franklin House in Jamestown, for example, built on the ruins of the first sixteenth-century Portuguese trading fort in Ghana’s capital city Accra, is inhabited to this day (Figures 16 and 17). Traditional religious shrines have survived for centuries in such settings but remain largely unremarked, in part because of cultural taboos that prohibit devotees from discussing the shrines with outsiders, and in part because of the ambivalence of a predominantly Christian scholarly world.7
The discourse of race focuses on the restrictive spaces of slave trading posts, slave ships, plantations, and zones of legally enforced racial apartheid as structures that have enforced the historically subjugated position of people of African descent. But architectural discourse has only very recently realized that a concentrated narrative on race lies within its archives.8
European travelogues not only provide valuable documentation but also illustrate how racializing responses to other human beings often originate in anthropological judgments based on material culture. If the scant architectural descriptions and drawings in Paul Erdmann Isert’s Journey to Guinea and the Caribbean Islands in Columbia (1788) are often more confusing than helpful, the text still yields important details. For example, Isert, a botanist, recorded the genus of palm fronds used for walls as well as the type of thatch used for roofs of early modern buildings in the Gold Coast; he also noted that a group of African soldiers apparently volunteered to haul stones imported from Europe to build the slave fort at Ada.9 Thomas Bowdich’s colonial travelogue Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1819) shows how the study of the built environment grounds both cultural assessment and conquest.10 Bowdich presented Kumasi as a golden El Dorado while also providing precise architectural illustrations of the Ashanti court (photographs later confirmed their accuracy).11
As Craig Wilkins has argued, Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, G. W. F. Hegel, and Immanuel Kant contributed to the subliminal encoding of racial superiority into architecture by defining “all things white as normative and anything non-white as the anomaly.” It is not by coincidence that important texts on the topic of race and architecture are founded on the discourse of space, in particular the philosophical notion that defines language, space, and matter by the punctuation of silence, emptiness, and the space between. Juxtaposed against “whiteness,” the Black body (and by extension the Black intellect) could read as a cultural void in an equally empty architectural landscape.12 Kant and Hegel extrapolated racist ideologies from this concept of emptiness, presenting Africa as “that unhistorical and undeveloped land which is still enmeshed in the natural spirit” and establishing Africa as the cultural wasteland by which Europe defined its own presence.13
Rendering Africa in terms of a “negative” space absolved Europeans of the desire for conquest, enabling them to conceive of their invasion as a gift rather than the cause of Africa’s destruction and erasure.14 Such a dangerous ideology implies that no architectural achievement exists for sub-Saharan Africa, that it has no architectural records, and regards the millennial existence of its architectural wonders as impossible, even though local communities continue to use countless remarkable structures (for instance, the indigo wells of Kano, dying pits that date from 1498 and continue to produce prized textiles).15 Of course, there is substantial evidence for architectural achievement throughout the region, before, after, and during the period 1400–1800 CE.16
Reexamining the discourse around race and architecture also means reassessing sources and contexts. V. Y. Mudimbe has called for African language–based knowledge production as an antidote.17 While scholars gain valuable evidence by investigating non-African artifacts found within African contexts, they also urgently need to reevaluate architecture from the perspective of African cultural frameworks, looking for clues in the cultural idioms expressed by language. During a private site tour of Sekondi in 2018, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, the omanhene, or paramount chief, of Essikado (British Sekondi) and former chair of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, used a folk saying in the Fanti dialect to convey to me the Ghanaian view that the life of a building is entwined with its residents: “Nyimpa na o ma edan ahom” (It is the human who gives breath to a house).18
This phrase provides a clue to an understanding of historic preservation that is remarkably different from that of much of the rest of the world. For centuries in Ghana, preservation was founded on use. Buildings exist in symbiosis with people, but the fraught legacy of slavery complicates this concept and demands better forensics in relation to African social histories.19 Aside from traditional palaces, shrines, and mosques, the most numerous buildings to survive from the period 1400–1800 in Ghana relate to the transatlantic slave trade. These are monuments to complex narratives that underscore the genesis of ideological racism through the epochs of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid, which deliberately denied Black humanity. A sinister legacy lingering even today, which grounds a refusal of Black humanity and renders Black lives and, by extension, Black architectural spaces vulnerable, reading them as inconsequential or incomprehensible: thus, like the grave of Anton Wilhelm Amo at Fort San Sebastian, Black history and its archives lie hidden in plain sight. If humans are not recognized as human, how can we value the house that they give breath to?
Kwesi J. Anquandah, Castles and Forts of Ghana (Atalante: Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, 1999), 64–70.
While Amo’s academic life in Germany is reasonably well documented, the sole documentation of his later life, after his return to West Africa in adulthood, appears in the writing of David Henri Gallandat, a Swiss medical surgeon who published a disturbing medical manual on slave trading. For an account of Amo’s life and discussion of the significance of Gallandat’s report, see William Abraham, “The Life and Times of Anton Wilhelm Amo,” Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 7 (1964), 60–81; Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (New York: Liveright, 2018).
Abraham, “Life and Times of Anton Wilhelm Amo,” 60. See also Justin E. H. Smith, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015), 220–21.
Amo’s dissertation title was “De jure Maurorum in Europa,” or “On the Rights of Moors in Europe.” Hallische Frage-und-Anzeigen Nachrichten, 1747, cited in Abraham, “Life and Times of Anton Wilhelm Amo,” 69; see also Abraham, 80.
On the historic significance of Amo’s European contribution to Enlightenment thinking and subsequent antislavery treatises, see the once highly revered publication by Abbé Henri Jean-Baptiste Gregoire, De la littérature des nègres, ou Recherches sur leurs facultés intellectuelles, leurs qualités morales et leur littérature (Paris: Maradan, 1808).
See Justesen Ole, “Heinrich Richter 1785–1849: Trader and Politician in the Danish Settlements on the Gold Coast,” Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, n.s., no. 7 (2003), 93–192; Senam Okudzeto, “Emotive Histories: The Politics of Remembering Slavery in Contemporary Ghana,” Atlantic Studies 9, no. 3 (2012), 337–61. For several years I have worked with architectural historian Nat Nunu Amarteifio to conduct architectural heritage tours of Accra; see Senam Okudzeto, “Remembering African Cities: Rethinking Urban Conservation as Radical Public History,” in Historic Cities: Issues in Urban Conservation, ed. Jeff Cody and Francesco Siravo (Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2019), 434–38.
In 1482 the Portuguese built Castelo de São Jorge da Mina, also known as Elmina Castle, despite sometimes violent attacks by the local community. Its vaults contain a shrine built to pacify local deities for “disturbing a sacred place.” Albert van Dantzig, Forts and Castles of Ghana (Accra: Sedco, 1980), 5.
While this text focuses on the people and diasporas of Africa who identify as “Black,” the trope of erasure extends well beyond Black experiences: architecturally and spatially engineered policies of erasure not only led to the creation of Jewish ghettoes in the early modern period but also contribute to the persecution of Uyghur communities in the present.
It was common practice for ships to carry such stones from Europe to West Africa as ballast; the stones were then replaced with cargoes of humans and gold for the return journeys. For a description of the stones shipped from Europe to Accra and then later used to build fortifications at Ada, see Paul Erdmann Isert, Letters on West Africa and the Slave Trade: Paul Erdmann Isert’s “Journey to Guinea and the Caribbean Islands in Columbia” (1788), trans. and ed. Selena Axelrod Winsnes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 37–38. Slaves also served in the military; see Akosua Adomi Perbi, A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana from the 15th to 19thCenturies (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2004), 96–99.
Bowdich was sent by the Royal Africa Company “to deprecate these calamities, to conciliate so powerful a monarch, and to propitiate an extension of commerce.” Cited in Alan Lloyd, The Drums of Kumasi: The Story of the Ashanti Wars (London: Longmans, 1964), 28; see also Lloyd, 28–35. For more on architecture and colonial conquest, see Victor Buchli, An Anthropology of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), esp. chap. 1.
Thomas Edward Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1819; repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). (See Figure 10 in the preceding contribution to this JSAH roundtable.) Steven Nelson makes rich use of historic travelogues in From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture in and out of Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). Among the works he cites are Heinrich Barth, Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1857–59); Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa , 3rd ed. (London: Frank Cass, 1965); Olive MacLeod, Chiefs and Cities of Central Africa: Across Lake Chad by Way of British, French, and German Territories (1912; repr., Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971). See Nelson, 52–80, esp. 68.
Craig L. Wilkins, The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture, and Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 11; see also Darell Wayne Fields, Architecture in Black (London: Athlone Press, 2000).
G. W. F. Hegel, quoted in Fields, Architecture in Black, 25. Fields observes that Hegel deliberately displaced Egypt from Africa to Asia to reinforce this argument.
Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 20–22; on colonialism as a “civilizing mission,” see Cooper, 144.
The sophisticated medieval ruins of Great Zimbabwe suffered extensive damage as the result of European plunder and archeological excavations seeking proof that these intimidating structures were in fact built by “white” Europeans. See Mawuna Koutonin, “Lost Cities #9: Racism and Ruins—the Plundering of Great Zimbabwe,” Guardian, 18 Aug. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/aug/18/great-zimbabwe-medieval-lost-city-racism-ruins-plundering (accessed 20 June 2021). On the dying pits at Kano, see the augmented video installation Deep Blue Wells (2019), by Nigerian American artist Fatimah Tuggar, in Amanda Gilvin, ed., Fatimah Tuggar: Home’s Horizons (Wellesley, Mass.: Davis Museum at Wellesley College, 2019), 24–29.
The Islamic architecture of West Africa includes several ancient mosques still in use, including the lesser-known Larabanga Mosque in Ghana (founded 1421, according to the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board; this date remains under debate). The remarkable map Historical Sites of Nigeria, published in 1999 by the Legacy Management Committee of Nigeria, identifies 129 historical sites, 48 national museums, and 15 national parks, hinting at the breadth of this discourse and the many understudied ancient sites across the region. A short list of sites dating between 1400 and 1800 CE in this region includes the 10,000-mile-long Benin Iyala Earthworks, Edo State, dating between the eighth and fifteenth centuries (Edo State records also show the Palace of the Oba of Benin as it existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries); the Zaria city walls in Kaduna State, dating from the 1200s to the 1400s; the remarkable Gobi Rau minaret, the destroyed remains of an impressive mosque dating from the late 1300s to the 1500s; Gidan Makana Museum Kano, Kano State, begun in the fifteenth century; Iga Idunganran Palace of the Oba of Lagos, Lagos State, begun in the fifteenth century; Surame Defensive Wall, dating from the early sixteenth century; Habe Mosque Maigana, Kaduna State, ca. 1700; and the eighteenth-century Gongoram Walled Town, Jigawa State.
See Manthia Diawara, “Reading Africa through Foucault: V. Y. Mudimbe’s Reaffirmation of the Subject,” October 55 (Winter 1990), 87.
This tour took place during film production for my traveling art installation Geomancy, Modernity, and Memory: Unofficial and Unrecognized Historic Civic Centers in Ghana; The Frigidaires of Justice / She Was a Test Pilot / In the Name of the King I Command You / The Chickens of Empire (2018–19). For information about the installation, see Graham Foundation, Grantee Projects, 2017 Grantees, http://www.grahamfoundation.org/grantees/5578-geomancy-modernity-and-memory-unofficial-and-unrecognized-historic-civic-centers-in-ghana (accessed 27 Aug. 2021).
The problematic history of Ghana’s slave castles—in particular their various uses following the abolition of slavery, during European colonization, and in the postindependence period—remains under debate. Fort Orange in Sekondi (ca. 1670) continues to be used as a lighthouse by the Ghana Navy, while other forts have functioned as law courts, post offices, and, until 2008, the official seat of the government of Ghana. See Okudzeto, “Emotive Histories,” 348.
Baroque beyond Boundaries: Identity and Alterity in Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Architecture
Civilizational taxonomies have cast a long and troubling shadow on the study of later Ottoman architecture. Framed less with reference to race per se than in ethnoreligious terms, these taxonomies entail a number of simplistic binary classifications—East versus West, Christian versus Islamic, modern versus traditional—that are only partially reflected in, and more often challenged by, the buildings and contexts they purport to explain. My discussion here will touch on this issue as I have encountered it in my own work on the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, which in the eighteenth century was reshaped through the introduction of a new style of architecture distinguished by its selective but overt adaptation of European baroque forms (Figure 18).1 Deeply appreciated by contemporary observers, this architecture—like other cultural products of the Islamic world that have engaged with Western models—has fared less well among modern scholars frustrated by its taxonomic indeterminacy.2 Where should one situate a tradition that so freely combines established Ottoman motifs with novel foreign borrowings?
The label “Turkish baroque”—later revised to “Ottoman baroque”—found favor in the twentieth century as a way of capturing this hybridity, but in many scholars’ hands, the term became a sort of antidescription for a style considered to have forfeited its authentic Ottomanness without quite managing to assimilate its Western models.3 Until rather recently, it was therefore usual to regard eighteenth-century Ottoman architecture as an ill-judged attempt at Westernization prompted by the Ottoman Empire’s dwindling confidence, a view embedded in a larger narrative that brands the (early) modern Islamic world the West’s backward alter ego.4 This “us and them” setup, its contours determined above all by religious factors, ignores the Ottoman Empire’s long history as a European cultural player while applying a different standard to the equally “Eastern” entity of Romanov Russia, whose own embrace of the baroque has been treated as far less unexpected.5
Such reductive perspectives are not limited to Eurocentric Orientalism. Indeed, the earliest written condemnation of eighteenth-century Ottoman architecture as “foreign” came from within the empire itself in the 1870s, coinciding with a revival of supposedly local aesthetics (ironically informed by Moorish revival trends in Europe).6 While modern Turkish scholars have softened this position and generally come to accept the Ottoman baroque as a legitimate if inferior successor to the earlier “classical” mode, some have continued to struggle with another defining aspect of this building style: its leading architects and craftsmen belonged to Istanbul’s once-vibrant Greek and Armenian communities (Figure 19).7 Embarrassed at the prominence of individuals whose religious and ethnic identities do not qualify them as “Turkish,” more nationalistically minded scholars have sought to minimize the role of these artists by claiming that their efforts were directed by a succession of Muslim (read: Turkish) chief architects.8
This misrepresentation is helped by the fact that, until the later nineteenth century, the Ottoman state itself generally denied the title of miʿmār (architect proper) to non-Muslim architects, who were instead termed ḳalfa (master builder) and placed under the nominal headship of the chief imperial architect.9 In the face of such discriminatory measures, Ottoman Greek and Armenian artists utilized their religious alterity to gain a professional edge: because their communities had long served as the main mercantile intermediaries between the empire and Western Christendom, they were ideally positioned to access European models through imported objects and printed materials, and some may even have traveled abroad.10 It is significant in this regard that the earliest known examples of Ottoman baroque design, predating by up to a decade the style’s architectural rise in the early 1740s, belong or point to the visual culture of Istanbul’s Armenians (Figure 20).11
Despite their Eurocentrism and colonial inflection, then, the modern civilizational biases described at the start of this essay intersect with—and may to some extent have grown out of—certain ethnic, religious, and cultural points of tension that were already present in late Ottoman discourse and that arguably go back to the very advent of the Ottoman baroque.12 What is a fitting response to so much historical and historiographical baggage? Scholarly interventions of recent decades offer new, recuperative perspectives on eighteenth-century Ottoman building, but in seeking to demonstrate—quite correctly—the architecture’s continued vitality and local relevance, these studies have tended to downplay the extent of its relationship with Western models.13 My own approach has been to confront this relationship more directly and see how far we might get if we view the Ottoman responsiveness to the European baroque with the same lack of unease that we do the Romanov. Taking our lead from eighteenth-century Ottoman and Western sources, none of which question the Ottomans’ entitlement to adapt foreign styles, we arrive at a compelling set of circumstances that allow us to explain the Ottoman baroque’s distinctive cross-cultural quality without falling back on simplistic ideas of ill-advised Westernization.14 These include the timing of the style, launched in the cityscape soon after the empire defeated the Austrians in war; the far reach of the baroque by this period, when its various manifestations already enjoyed transregional currency; the deep and sustained interest of elite Ottomans in the visual arts of Europe, pursued through a stream of imported luxury wares, books, and prints, and reciprocated (albeit not symmetrically) by the Western fashion for turquerie; the shared admiration that Ottoman and foreign observers expressed for the new building manner, whose novelty and syncretism they acknowledged and welcomed; and the enduring presence in Istanbul of the Byzantine architectural tradition, which formally anticipated, and thus provided a local anchor for, the baroque’s classically derived vocabulary.15
Reassessed in light of these observations, the Ottoman baroque emerges as a self-assured, self-determined move that fully absorbed Western features even as it maintained their cross-cultural resonances (Figure 21).16 It is an architecture that complicates and nuances, rather than outright defies, the paired categories of “Western” and “Ottoman,” for its power—as recognized even during the eighteenth century—lay precisely in its ability to combine elements of both traditions into a new synthesis.17 The issue is not in accepting the broad utility and at times historical validity of certain cultural categories that obtain in scholarly analysis; it is in imposing onto them overly rigid borders that would have made little sense to the actors of the periods we are investigating.
A key strategy in my approach has been terminological: as readers of this essay will have noticed, I have maintained—or rather reclaimed—the label “Ottoman baroque” in my discussion, although other scholars have rejected it as a Eurocentric coinage with no basis in eighteenth-century Ottoman discourse.18 But it is precisely because of the term’s difficult history that I have found it so methodologically fruitful.19 To take a phrase that once signified a perceived aberrance—that is, the Ottomans’ adoption of a supposedly alien style—and use it instead to highlight the deliberateness and success of this selfsame phenomenon is to undermine the very assumptions on which the former judgment was built. By treating the label’s constituent parts as complementary rather than contradictory, I hope to lay bare the arbitrariness of a framework that would have us believe that there is anything paradoxical about an Ottoman baroque.
Ünver Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque: The Architectural Refashioning of Eighteenth-Century Istanbul (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2019). For a summary of my arguments, see Ünver Rüstem, “Ottoman Baroque,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Baroque, ed. John D. Lyons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 334–69. For discussion of the illustrated mosque, see Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 111–69; Selva Suman, “Questioning an ‘Icon of Change’: The Nuruosmaniye Complex and the Writing of Ottoman Architectural History,” METU Journal of the Faculty of Architecture 28, no. 2 (2011), 145–66.
For contemporary responses to the architecture, see the works cited in note 15, below. For examples of the more dismissive attitude of modern scholars, see Aptullah Kuran, “Eighteenth Century Ottoman Architecture,” in Studies in Eighteenth Century Islamic History, ed. Thomas Naff and Roger Owen (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977), 303–27; Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 137, discussed in Nebahat Avcıoğlu and Finbarr Barry Flood, “Introduction,” in “Globalizing Cultures: Art and Mobility in the Eighteenth Century,” ed. Nebahat Avcıoğlu and Finbarr Barry Flood, special issue, Ars Orientalis 39 (2010), 27.
For historiographical overviews, see Shirine Hamadeh, “Westernization, Decadence, and the Turkish Baroque: Modern Constructions of the Eighteenth Century,” Muqarnas 24 (2007), 185–97; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 4–9, 15. For examples of such scholarship, see note 2, above.
The classic analysis of this narrative is, of course, Edward Said’s famous 1978 study, for the most recent edition of which see Edward W. Said, Orientalism, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2003).
James Cracraft, The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 159–62.
Ahmet A. Ersoy, Architecture and the Late Ottoman Historical Imaginary: Reconfiguring the Architectural Past in a Modernizing Empire (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), esp. 156–58; Ahmet Ersoy, “Architecture and the Search for Ottoman Origins in the Tanzimat Period,” in “History and Ideology: Architectural Heritage of the ‘Lands of Rum,’ ” ed. Sibel Bozdoğan and Gülru Necipoğlu, special issue, Muqarnas 24 (2007), 117–39.
The work of Doğan Kuban, author of the first major study of the Ottoman baroque, is paradigmatic of the softening attitude noted. See Doğan Kuban, Türk barok mimarisi hakkında bir deneme (Istanbul: Pulhan Matbaası, 1954); Doğan Kuban, Ottoman Architecture, trans. Adair Mill (Woodbridge, England: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2010), 499–550; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 6–7. On the architectural profession in eighteenth-century Istanbul, see Maurice M. Cerasi, “Town and Architecture in the 18th Century,” in “Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium,” special issue, Rassegna 72 (1997), 49–51; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 46–54, 82–96. For discussion of the illustrated album painting, see Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 210.
See, for example, Selman Can, Bilinmeyen aktörleri ve olayları ile son dönem Osmanlı mimarlığı (Istanbul: Erzurum İl Kültür ve Turizm Müdürlüğü, 2010). For discussion of this problematic strain of scholarship as it relates to the nineteenth century, see Alyson Wharton[-Durgaryan], The Architects of Ottoman Constantinople: The Balyan Family and the History of Ottoman Architecture (London: I. B. Tauris, 2015), 3–4, 19–23.
Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 47–49, 280–81n99; Wharton, Architects of Ottoman Constantinople, 19, 21, 26–27, 42–43.
Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 84–92.
For discussion of the illustrated cartouche, see Ünver Rüstem, “Mapping Cosmopolitanism: An Eighteenth-Century Printed Ottoman Atlas and the Turn to Baroque,” in “The Graphic Arts,” ed. Holly Shaffer, special issue, Ars Orientalis 51 (2021). See also Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 94–96, 108–9.
For further consideration of the (ethno)religious dimensions of the Ottoman baroque in its own time, see Paolo Girardelli, “Architecture, Identity, and Liminality: On the Use and Meaning of Catholic Spaces in Late Ottoman Istanbul,” Muqarnas 22 (2005), 233–64; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 151, 153, 273–74.
For examples of the more recent scholarship, see Tülay Artan, “Istanbul in the 18th Century: Days of Reconciliation and Consolidation,” in From Byzantion to Istanbul: 8000 Years of a Capital (exhibition catalogue) (Istanbul: Sakıp Sabancı Museum, 2010), 300–312; Shirine Hamadeh, The City’s Pleasures: Istanbul in the Eighteenth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008).
On the untroubled attitude of eighteenth-century observers toward the new style, see Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 168–69.
On the timing of the style, see Ünver Rüstem, “Hagia Sophia’s Second Conversion: The Building Campaign of Mahmud I and the Transformation from Mosque to Complex (1739–43),” in Hagia Sophia in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Emily Neumeier and Benjamin Anderson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming); Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 57–82, 118–19. On the reach of the baroque, see Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 154–69. On the baroque as a global style, see, for example, Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Baroque and Rococo (London: Phaidon, 2012), 349–95; Michael Snodin and Nigel Llewellyn, eds., Baroque, 1620–1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (exhibition catalogue) (London: V&A, 2009). On elite Ottomans’ interest in European visual arts, see Gül İrepoğlu, “Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Hazinesi Kütüphanesindeki Batılı kaynaklar üzerine düşünceler,” Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Yıllığı 1 (1986), 56–72; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 45–46, 83, 85–88, 99–102, 104, 206–7. On turquerie, see Nebahat Avcıoğlu, Turquerie and the Politics of Representation, 1728–1876 (Farnham: Ashgate 2010); Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 167–68. On Ottoman and foreign observers’ admiration for the new building style, see Hamadeh, The City’s Pleasures, 216–37; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 154–57, 169, 209. On the presence of Byzantinizing features in Istanbul’s eighteenth-century architecture, see Maurice Cerasi, “Historicism and Inventive Innovation in Ottoman Architecture, 1720–1820,” in 7 Centuries of Ottoman Architecture: “A Supra-National Heritage,” ed. Nur Akın, Afife Batur, and Selçuk Batur (Istanbul: YEM Yayın, 2001), 34–42; Rüstem, “Hagia Sophia’s Second Conversion”; Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 198–207; Yavuz Sezer, “The Architecture of Bibliophilia: Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Libraries” (PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016), 153–61. Dr. Sezer’s recent death from COVID-19 has robbed us of one of the leading new historians of Ottoman architecture.
For discussion of the illustrated complex, see Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 222–34.
Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 151–52, 166–67, 168–69.
See, for example, Nasser Rabbat, “Islamic Architecture as a Field of Historical Enquiry,” Architectural Design 74, no. 6 (2004), 20.
The word baroque itself has likewise occasioned considerable scholarly anxiety, although, as I have noted previously, it remains in use “as a helpful, if imperfect, way of addressing a series of connected visual traditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” See Rüstem, Ottoman Baroque, 15–16. For further interrogation of the baroque as a term and as a concept, see Helen Hills, ed., Rethinking the Baroque (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2011), although Howard Caygill’s contribution to that volume, ostensibly on the Ottoman baroque, instead focuses on the sixteenth century.