Dr. Fields-Black is a specialist in early and pre-colonial African history whose research interests extend into the African Diaspora.
Fields-Black's first manuscript Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008) uses a unique blend of interdisciplinary sources and methods to chronicle the development of tidal rice-growing technology by the inhabitants of the West African Rice Coast region, the region where the majority of captives disembarking in South Carolina and Georgia originated. By integrating linguistic evidence, biological and botanical studies of mangrove ecosystems, oral traditions, and travelers' accounts from the first European traders to visit the coastal region, Deep Roots reconstructs a historical period pre-dating the first written sources for the region and beginning more than a millennium before the trans-Atlantic slave trade when both West African rice and rice farmers became important commodities. This important study is the first to apply the comparative method of historical linguistics to the Atlantic languages of West Africa's coast. The narrative reveals the development of highly specialized and intensely localized agricultural technology and identities indigenous to West Africa's coastal littoral. It presents a rare picture of dynamic early coastal West African societies, challenging Africanists' assumptions that rice-growing technology diffused from the interior to the coast. A picture of a dynamic, diverse, highly specialized and localized pre-colonial Africa also stands in sharp contrast to Americanists' constructions of a static, undifferentiated pre-modern Africa which acted as the progenitor of cultures in the African Diaspora. Deep Roots builds on the underlying premise of the comparative method of historical linguistics—inheritance, innovation, and borrowing—to fashion a theory of cultural change which is sufficiently open and elastic to encompass the diversity of communities, cultures, and forms of expression in Africa and the African Diaspora.
Dr. Fields-Black is currently researching and writing a second book about technological developments in West Africa and their influence on antebellum South Carolina and Georgia. In addition, she is collaborating with Francesca Bray and Peter Coclanis on a conference and publication tentatively entitled "New Histories of Rice." This collaborative project, which looks at the history of rice and rice farmers in Asia, West Africa, the US South and West has been funded by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.
Professor Fields-Black serves as the Faculty Advisor for Carnegie Mellon's African and African American Studies Minor and teaches courses on African history from the early pre-colonial to the neo-colonial period, slavery and freedom in Africa and the New World, West African history, globalization in African History, and the making of the African Diaspora. Her research has been funded by the Woodrow Wilson, Ford, Annenberg, and Mellon Foundations as well as by Fulbright-Hays. Professor Fields-Black's has received funding from the Henry Luce Foundation Project: The Greening of Early Undergraduate Education at Carnegie Mellon and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation: Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology.