During the Renaissance in Europe, information about the African continent, particularly the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions, was rediscovered from classical antiquity. This information merged with ideas and concepts brought to Europe by contemporary travelers. This paper will explore the resulting confusion, and use this to address several methodological questions about the formation and uses of Renaissance knowledge. It will do so on the basis of four case studies – the legends and accounts of the so-called “silent trade,” the trade in African animals, the trade in sub-Saharan gold, and the reuse of classical triumphs in art and literature in the context of slavery – all of which showcase a mixture of classical and contemporary sources. The research ultimately asks how Europeans, through their framing of knowledge about African populations and cultures, sought to establish a hegemony that perpetuated violent practices of displacement and enslavement.
About the speaker
Dr. Carlo Taviani teaches at the Università degli Studi di Teramo and is fellow of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). His main research project is titled ‘Genoese Merchant Networks in Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean (ca. 1450–1530).’ It is centered on the involvement of Italian traders in the early transatlantic slave trade and on how they used, changed, and transplanted economic and trading institutions.