The Architecture of the Bight of Biafra
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Intersected by small creeks, rivulets, and dotted with mangrove swamps, the interior of the Bight of Biafra is a region with a long history of decentralized political arrangements and intricate trading networks predating the emergence of the Atlantic world. While merchants in the region were active participants in the trans-Atlantic trading system, they creatively resisted European settlement and remained under indigenous sovereignty until the middle of the nineteenth century. The city of Old Calabar has garnered substantial scholarly interest as a slave-trading and palm-oil port, though its impermanent architectural traditions are often underexamined. In the relative absence of physical architectural documentation, this study draws from a close reading of written sources—traveler’s accounts, slave traders’ diaries, memoirs, colonial records, and oral histories— as well as contemporary field work to trace transformations in the region’s-built environment from the sixteenth century to today. Each chapter focuses on a particular spatial paradigm in this dynamic process. The book uncovers the manifold and inventive ways in which actors strategically adapted the built environment to adjust to changing cultural and economic circumstances. In parallel, it highlights the ways these spaces were rhetorically constructed and exploited by foreign observers and local agents. The central thesis of this volume is that historically these spaces of entanglement have been productive sites of Black identity formation involving competing and overlapping interests. They occupy multiple positions and temporalities, and ensnare real, imagined, and sometimes contradictory aims. By historicizing these spaces, this study challenges linear assumptions about agency, progress, and domination in the literature on colonial and postcolonial cities and adds an important sub-Saharan comparative case study to the scholarship on globalization and modernity.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Compound
Chapter 2: Masquerade
Chapter 3: Offshore
Chapter 4: Enclave
Chapter 5: Zone
Chapter 6: Entanglements
Glossary of Terms
Joseph Godlewski is an Associate Professor at the Syracuse University School of Architecture. He holds a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. His writing has been featured in various forums including The Plan Journal, Architecture Research Quarterly, e-flux, CLOG, MONU, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, and the book The Dissertation: An Architecture Student’s Handbook (Routledge, 2014). His recent textbook, Introduction to Architecture: Global Disciplinary Knowledge (Cognella, 2019) seeks to expand the repertoire of conventional architectural theory anthologies. Joseph is a contributing member of the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative (GAHTC).