Edda L. Fields-Black

Associate Professor
Ph.D.: University of Pennsylvania, 2001
Department Member Since: 2001


Dr. Fields-Black is a specialist in early and pre-colonial African history whose research interests extend into the African Diaspora.

Fields-Black’s first monograph Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014 paperback, 2008 cloth) uses a unique blend of interdisciplinary sources and methods to chronicle the development of tidal rice-growing technology by the inhabitants of the West African Rice Coast region, the region where the majority of captives disembarking in South Carolina and Georgia originated. By integrating linguistic evidence, biological and botanical studies of mangrove ecosystems, oral traditions, and travelers’ accounts from the first European traders to visit the coastal region, Deep Roots reconstructs a historical period pre-dating the first written sources for the region and beginning more than a millennium before the trans-Atlantic slave trade when both West African rice and rice farmers became important commodities. This important study is the first to apply the comparative method of historical linguistics to the Atlantic languages of West Africa’s coast. The narrative reveals the development of highly specialized and intensely localized agricultural technology and identities indigenous to West Africa’s coastal littoral. It presents a rare picture of dynamic early coastal West African societies, challenging Africanists’ assumptions that rice-growing technology diffused from the interior to the coast. A picture of a dynamic, diverse, highly specialized and localized pre-colonial Africa also stands in sharp contrast to Americanists’ constructions of a static, undifferentiated pre-modern Africa which acted as the progenitor of cultures in the African Diaspora. Deep Roots builds on the underlying premise of the comparative method of historical linguistics—inheritance, innovation, and borrowing—to fashion a theory of cultural change which is sufficiently open and elastic to encompass the diversity of communities, cultures, and forms of expression in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Fields-Black is also co-authored of Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (Cambridge University Press, 2015) with Francesca Bray, Peter Coclanis, and Dagmar Schafer and served as Co-Organizer of “New Histories of Rice Conference” sponsored by the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin, Germany in March 2011.

Her research has been funded by the Woodrow Wilson, Ford, Annenberg, and Mellon Foundations as well as by Fulbright-Hays. Professor Fields-Black’s has received funding from the Henry Luce Foundation Project: The Greening of Early Undergraduate Education at Carnegie Mellon and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation: Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology. Professor Fields-Black serves as the Faculty Advisor for Carnegie Mellon’s African and African American Studies Minor.

Dr. Fields-Black is currently working on two projects:

• Fields-Black is researching and writing a second monograph, a historical study of the Gullah/Geechee. In the Spring semester of 2013, she was a Smithsonian Senior Fellow at the National Museum of American History. For the 2013-2014 academic year, Fields-Black has received an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship to study Creole linguistics and continue her work on the Gullah/Geechee.

• Fields-Black is also collaborating with internationally acclaimed artists, painter Jonathan Green and filmmaker Julie Dash, to produce The Requiem for Rice which begins as a lamentation for the souls of the dead who were enslaved, exploited, and brutalized on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia’s rice plantations; many remain unburied, their graves unmarked, and their tragedies unmourned. It ends in celebration of the critical role enslaved Africans’ ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South. Simultaneously a modern take on a classic requiem—in the spirit of Verdi, Mozart, Faure, and Britten, The Requiem for Rice will be performed by a full symphony orchestra and choir and an African and African-American inspired take on a classic requiem featuring classical West African dance and drumming and African-American spirituals. Fields-Black is writing the libretto on which The Requiem is based. The Requiem will premiere in October 2017 at the newly constructed Gaillard Performance Hall in Charleston, SC in The Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians’ Festival.

Dr. Fields-Black is a consultant for “The Power of Place: The Rice Fields of the Lowcountry” permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, SC, the “From Slavery to Freedom” permanent exhibition for the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Courses Taught

Introduction to African History I: Earliest Times to the Origins of the Slave Trades
Introduction to African History II: 18th Century to the end of Apartheid
Global Histories: Creolization in the African Diaspora
Entrepreneurs in Africa, Past, Present and Future
Pre-Colonial West African History: 1100 to 1800
From the Local to the Global: Globalization in East African History

Contact Info

Department of History
Baker Hall 362
P: 412.268.8012
F: 412.268.1019