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Making Global Connections Through African Nova Scotian Research

Posted by Michelle Williams on June 5, 2024 in News, Research
From left to right: Dr. Merle Bowen, Professor Michelle Williams, Professor Melisa Marsman
From left to right: Dr. Merle Bowen, Professor Michelle Williams, Professor Melisa Marsman

Local researchers recently welcomed Dr. Merle Bowen, a professor in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, to Nova Scotia after partnering on a project titled, “Understanding Rural Land Issues Faced by African Nova Scotians as a Distinct People.” Supported by a Dalhousie University Global Research Seed Fund Grant, the project is part of a collaboration between Bowen and the African Nova Scotian community-based research linked to Dalhousie’s African Nova Scotian Strategy and the African Nova Scotian law research cluster at the Schulich School of Law.

Bowen is building on her earlier work in Mozambique and Brazil in order to study what she calls, ‘African Nova Scotians’ protracted struggle for land, livelihood, and citizenship rights.’ She states, “By looking at land and labour, the study will bring to light untold stories of African Nova Scotian ingenuity and resilience.” Her research is closely aligned with the SSHRC-funded African Nova Scotian Research Ethics Project led by Professors Michelle Williams, Schulich School of Law, and Dr. Barb Hamilton-Hinch, School of Health and Human Performance, as well as the work of Professor Melisa Marsman, Schulich School of Law, on African Nova Scotian land allocation and title.

“We are delighted to connect the distinct African Nova Scotian experience to other communities of African descent experiencing similar struggles across the Americas,” says Williams. “The culturally-sensitive research approaches developed through work with Brazil’s Quilombo people parallel the need for African Nova Scotian culturally-specific research approaches.”

On May 22, 2024, Bowen presented her work at the Rowe Building on “Conducting Culturally Sensitive Surveys/Research in Quilombo Communities” and joined members of the African Nova Scotian Advisory Council and other researchers in considering an African Nova Scotian Research Ethics framework.

The following evening, in collaboration with the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust, Bowen visited the African Nova Scotian community of Upper Hammonds Plains to provide insight into her award-winning book For Land and Liberty: Black Struggles in Rural Brazil and to hear about shared African Nova Scotian experiences.

From left to right: Whiley, Bowen, Williams, Marsman, and Karalee Oliver

Curtis Whiley, president of the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust, says, “We were thrilled to have Dr. Bowen visit our community and share the journey of writing her book. Her international experiences and perspectives were powerful and resonated deeply. Through events like this, we realize how connected all people of African descent truly are and the importance of sharing our stories.”

During prior visits to Nova Scotia, Bowen met with Williams, Marsman, and members of Nova Scotia’s Land Titles Initiative, who introduced her to several African Nova Scotian communities that continue to face land-based challenges, including Guysborough County. Throughout the month of June, she will continue her research by meeting with African Nova Scotian community members in the Guysborough area.

Marsman shares, “Working with Dr. Bowen and learning more about her research has inspired new ideas and new perspectives in me on the land-based challenges confronting African Nova Scotian communities. I look forward to our continued relationship and mutual desire to advance this important work.”