African Studies Scholar Dies

July 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

Author of Africa RememberedAfrican Studies Scholar Dies Philip D. Curtin, a leading but controversial scholar on the African slave trade, who is credited with pumping new life into African studies, has died. He was 87. Curtin, a MacArthur Foundation recipient and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, passed away June 4 of pneumonia at Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pa. In addition to publishing more than a dozen books and helping found the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Curtin sparked a firestorm with his research that questioned the importance of Goree Island, Senegal, which has become a major tourist draw as the “door of no return” where millions of Africans were shipped out as slaves.

“The whole story is phony,” Curtin, a retired history professor at Johns Hopkins University, told the Baltimore Sun in 2004. Although the spot functioned as a commercial center, it was never a key departure point for slaves, said Curtin, who penned the 1969 book “The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census.” In the book, he estimated that 20 million to 30 million Africans were loaded on slave ships, but only 9 million to 12 million survived the Atlantic crossing. He said that most Africans sold into slavery in the Senegal region would have departed from thriving slave depots to the north or south.

Born in Philadelphia on May 22, 1922, Curtin graduated from Swarthmore College and received a master’s degree in history in 1949 and a doctorate in the field in 1953, both from Harvard University. After teaching at Swarthmore, he joined the University of Wisconsin in 1956 and moved to Johns Hopkins in 1975, where he remained until retiring in 1998.

Entry filed under: Obituaries. Tags: , , , , .

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