The Dynamic Past: How Science Helps Give Voice to Silenced Stories

This session explores how tools of science, including new technologies, techniques, and collaborations in a variety of fields have supported the reclamation and revitalization of culture, heritage, and identity for communities of African descent.

Faith and Spirituality in Enslaved Landscapes

Speaker Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Whitney Battle-Baptiste illustrates how engaged collaboration with faith practitioners, descendent knowledge-keepers, and other community stakeholders has enriched (or corrected) scholarly understanding of the past.

Genetic Anthropology as a Tool for Reclaiming our Histories

Speaker Jada Benn Torres

Jada Benn Torres highlights her work towards reimagining and reclaiming the experiences of African and Indigenous peoples throughout the Caribbean.

Africatown Legacy: Impacts of the Search for the Last Slave Ship

Speaker Joycelyn Davis and respondent Robert Turner

Joycelyn Davis shares her perspective on the impacts of the rediscovery of the slave ship Clotilda and its relevance to broader environmental and health concerns, cultural revitalization, & economic growth of the Africatown community in Mobile, AL.

The Dynamic Past: How Science Helps Gives Voice to Silenced Stories–Live Discussion

Speakers Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Jada Benn Torres, respondent Robert Turner, and moderator Rob O’Malley

Live Discussion with Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Jada Benn Torres, and respondent Robert Turner


This session was hosted as part of the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting, “Understanding Dynamic Ecosystems.”

Modern scholars recognize that the past is not static, and that advancing historical knowledge is a process of searching out the marginalized, forgotten and unknown. This process provides opportunities for contemporary scholars to give voice and agency to people and communities whose stories have long been ignored or deliberately silenced.

This session highlighted Black scientists, historians, community representatives, and others. It explored how tools of science, including new technologies, techniques and collaborations in genetics, linguistics, archaeology, and archival research, have supported the reclamation and revitalization of culture, heritage, and identity – including dimensions of faith and spirituality – for communities of African descent. The session concludes with reflections and dialogue with attendees about the role of community engagement, including planning, assessment of risks and potential rewards, and the need for equitable and just decision-making around the impact of scientific research.

Speakers and Moderator

Headshot of Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Whitney Battle-Baptiste, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Whitney Battle-Baptiste is a Professor of Anthropology and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Battle-Baptiste is a scholar and activist who sees the classroom and the campus as a space to engage contemporary issues with a sensibility of the past. Her academic training is in history and historical archaeology. Her research is primarily focused on how the connections of race, gender, sexuality, and class through an archaeological lens. Her research includes archaeological investigations in Nashville, Boston, Great Barrington, and the Bahamas.

Headshot of Jada Benn Torres

Jada Benn Torres, Vanderbilt University

Jada Benn Torres, is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Genetic Anthropology and Biocultural Studies Laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her primary research area is the Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean where she explores population genetics of African and Indigenous Caribbean peoples. She also she publishes on the impacts of genetic technologies on contemporary populations with specific regard to issues of race and identity. A second emerging area her research combines the tools and theories of genetic epidemiology with anthropology in order to holistically consider women’s health disparities.

The Dynamic Past: How Science Helps Give Voice to Silenced Stories

Joycelyn Davis, Africatown-C.H.E.S.S.

Joycelyn Davis is the Community Engagement Officer for Africatown – CHESS, co-founder of the Clotilda Descendants Association, and a sixth-generation descendant of Charlie Lewis, one of the Africans who arrived on the Clotilda. She, along with other descendants, organize an annual festival to remember the survivors of the Clotilda, honor their families, and educate the public about the community built by the survivors when they were freed.

Robert Turner Headshot

Robert Turner, Historic Vernon AME Church

Rev. Dr. Robert Richard Allen Turner is the pastor of Historic Vernon A.M.E. Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has the only edifice which survived the 1921 Race Massacre on Greenwood. He is is fighting in Tulsa for justice for the victims of the 1921 Race Massacre, getting burial sites excavated, and seeking reparations.

Additionally, Dr. Turner is now the Academic Dean for Jackson Theological Seminary, in Little Rock Arkansas. He also sits on many commissions, task forces, and advisory boards.

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