Carina Ray’s scholarship was sparked by her personal experiences
The newest AAAS professor will begin teaching courses next semesterWhen Carina Ray was an undergraduate at University of California at Santa Cruz in 1993, she was drawn to study abroad in Ghana because she wanted to connect with her Puerto Rican family’s African roots. The trip ended up being the beginning of a career dedicated to the study of what blackness means in West Africa.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Ray is a groundbreaking scholar of African history whose work is shedding new light on the history of race in Africa. She has been appointed as an associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis and will begin teaching courses in the fall of 2016.
Back in 1993, Ray was initially surprised that most Ghanaians she met saw her as white. Her longwinded explanations about being multiracial failed to persuade people otherwise.
“I realized it was more instructive to listen to Ghanaians talk about their own perceptions of blackness and how race works there.”
She found the subject was rarely written about from an African perspective, and that led her to pursue a PhD in African History at Cornell University followed by a robust teaching and publishing career devoted to a deeper understanding of race in Africa.
Out of that search for meaning came Ray’s first book, “Crossing the Color Line: Race, Sex, and the Contested Politics of Colonialism in Ghana,” which cuts to the heart of how interracial sex became a source of colonial anxiety and nationalist agitation during the first half of the twentieth century. The book has already received praise from noted scholars, including philosopher Kwame Appiah and historian Antoinette Burton.
Ray’s attention is now focused on a new book project, “Somatic Blackness: A History of the Body and Race-Making in Ghana.” Reaching further back into the pre-colonial past, her latest research explores how indigenous historical actors have thought about and constructed blackness as a symbolic and somatic signifier, and later as a political identity.
“It is only through a deeper understanding of African self-perceptions that we can better understand how ideas about the body, blackness, and human difference have changed over time in response to encounters with the Sahel and North Africa on the one hand,” she said, “and the trans-Atlantic world and Europe on the other.”
Her own experience of finding research she is passionate about and that is innovative has led her to believe her students can do the same.
“I want students to think about how their life experiences and unique view points can inspire their own cutting edge research agendas,” she said.
Ray was attracted to the position at Brandeis because of the history of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, its stellar faculty, and its commitment to further growth through a cluster hire of African diaspora studies scholars, which began last school year. She comes to Brandeis from Fordham University, where she was an associate professor of history.
"Carina Ray is a leader in her field and one of the nation's most innovative historians of Africa and the African diaspora,” said Chad Williams, associate professor and chair of the African and Afro-American Studies Department. “Brandeis is incredibly fortunate to have a scholar of her caliber join our faculty. AAAS is excited to welcome her as a cornerstone of our department as we continue to build for the future."
Ray is one of 14 new tenure and tenure-track faculty to be appointed to positions at Brandeis this year. In addition to teaching “Introduction to African History,” she will offer a slate of new courses including “Race, Sex, and Colonialism,” “20th Century African Icons,” and “Assassination: A Political History of Post-Independence Africa.”