York Prof. Paul Lovejoy receives Distinguished Africanist Award

York Distinguished Research Professor in African history Paul Lovejoy, director of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples, was chosen over 10 other nominees to receive this year’s Distinguished Africanist Research Excellence Award from the University of Texas at Austin for his dedication, lifetime of service and contributions to the discipline.

Lovejoy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History, has dedicated his career to researching and teaching African history. He is currently working on several projects, including ongoing research on the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, and he is just starting a new project,  titled "Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative of Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad".

Left: Paul Lovejoy accepts the Distinguished Africanist Award in Texas from Ed Dorn, former dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin

"Being recognized in this fashion came as a complete surprise to me, hence what this has meant to me is very personal," says Lovejoy. "As I listened to the statement of my achievements, I felt very humble and appreciative of everything that York University has allowed me to pursue, every dream of collaboration and every attempt to increase the accessibility of knowledge so that people can learn their own histories."

In August, Lovejoy will return to Sierra Leone, where he is principal investigator on a British Library grant under their Endangered Archives Program. He also plans to finish what he calls a long-overdue book this summer, Testimonies of Enslavement: Stories of Slavery in Central Africa. In addition, as director of the Harriet Tubman Institute, he is involved in the organization of various conferences and workshops, about eight over the coming year.

"The award is important because it recognizes what we are doing at the Tubman Institute and it shows that Canada is not peripheral to the history of Africans in diaspora."

He has authored, co-authored or edited 36 books, including Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed., 2000), Identity in the Shadow of Slavery (Continuum, 2nd rev. ed., 2009) and Salt of the Desert Sun: A History of Salt Production and Trade in the Central Sudan (Cambridge University Press, 2003). In 1994, his co-authored book Slow Death for Slavery: The Course of Abolition in Northern Nigeria, 1897-1936 (Cambridge University Press, 1993) received the Wallace K. Ferguson Prize from the Canadian Historical Association.

He is series editor for the Harriet Tubman Series on the African Diaspora with an initial 20 volumes set for publication by the end of 2010. In some of his recent publications, he has reopened debate on the role of slavery and the slave trade in Africa. Although trained as an economic historian, Lovejoy has argued forcefully that slavery and the slave trade were unlike any other institution or trade. Slaves, he argues, were "people" active in the shaping of their world and not "things" as commonly expressed in many slave studies.

He is a leading scholar who pioneered the study of the history and dynamics of the African diaspora from an African perspective. Through his research, he traces the history of migration from Africa into diaspora, following individual enslaved Africans to their destinations in the Americas. Lovejoy collaborates with an international network of researchers in Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, Brazil, Latin America, Africa and Europe, creating digitized historical data for his research.

His contributions and investment in African studies are reflected in his dedication to scholarship, administrative leadership, mentoring and interdisciplinary innovation.

Lovejoy is a research professor at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery & Emancipation at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom and a member of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project in Paris. He received a President’s Research Award of Merit from York last year (see YFile, Nov. 5, 2009). In 1994 and 1995, he received the Canada Council for the Arts Killam Senior Research Fellowship.