"To Enter Africa from America": U.S. Empire, Race, and the African Question, 1847-1919 is a collaborative interpretive scholarly work that analyzes American responses to and representations of the exploration and colonization of, migration to, and missionary work in Africa—all of which were part of a larger transnational discourse on the African Question—from 1847 to 1919. The project uses the phrase “African Question” as it appeared in primary sources referring to Africa and Africans under imperial rule. The project explores the extent to which American involvement in Africa—whether state-sponsored or as a result of initiatives taken by individuals—contribute to, interact with, influence, and/or complicate U.S. race relations with African Americans (i.e., “the Negro Question” or “Negro Problem”).

1847 to 1919 represent key dates in American engagement with the African Question and the Negro Problem. The independence of Liberia in 1847 represented the loss of America’s first overseas colony. The very existence of the African republic, founded by the American Colonization Society in 1822 and settled by U.S. Blacks forced America to rethink its suppositions about African Americans as members of the body politic. The year 1919, in turn, marked a watershed in not only in U.S. foreign and domestic racial affairs, but also in the international debate on the African Question. Most notably, that year saw the unleashing of often lethal white attacks on black communities during “Red Summer,” the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles that divested Germany of its African colonies, the peaking of Marcus Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement, and the convening of the First Pan-African Congress.

TEAA takes its title from a passage in the 1877 article “America in Africa” published by Gilbert Haven, a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He argued that the United States should take an active interest in Africa because European designs on the continent threatened to subjugate Africans and exploit the region’s natural resources. Haven called on America to “enter Africa” more vigorously as the United States had both an African presence at home (African Americans) and an American constituency in Africa (Americo-Liberians). Seizing on Haven’s notion of “entry” in a theoretical sense, TEAA investigates the various means (physical, political, ideological, religious, and literary), sites, and moments of U.S. engagement with Africa.

Traditional methodologies of intellectual and cultural history are not conducive alone to grappling with the transnational scale of American responses to the African Question. Africa is a continent diverse in its peoples and cultures, and a varied group of Europeans colonized it. The colonization of Africa involved an extraordinarily diverse series of events that occurred over vast space and time. Thus, the actual colonization itself generated a corpus of documents in various languages that are impossible for one person to read and interpret. Thus, as a collaborative digital research project, TEAA will be able to utilize and interpret government documents, periodical materials, literature (plays, poems, novels and travel narratives) and visual culture (photographs, maps, cartoons, and sketches). Creating data sets and interactive maps will enable the collaborators to visualize, analyze, and interpret American engagement with the African Question in terms of race, national identity, empire, and modernity. This digital project will include three major components: (1) interactive thematic maps using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software; (2) TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) marked-up documents; and (3) a curated and annotated gallery of images.