Carnegie Mellon University

Edda Fields-Black

Edda L. Fields-Black

Associate Professor


Dr. Fields-Black is a specialist in the trans-national of West African rice farmers, peasant farmers in pre-colonial Upper Guinea Coast and enslaved laborers on rice plantations in the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry during the antebellum period.

Fields-Black’s first monograph Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014 paperback, 2008 cloth) 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.

Fields-Black also co-authored Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (Cambridge University Press, 2015, 2017) with Francesca Bray, Peter Coclanis, and Dagmar Schafer), which was awarded the Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2015. She also served as Co-Organizer of “New Histories of Rice Conference” sponsored by the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin, Germany in March 2011.

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. Professor Fields-Black serves as the Faculty Advisor for Carnegie Mellon’s . African and African American Studies Minor.

Dr. Fields-Black is currently working on two projects:

  • Fields-Black is researching and writing a second monograph, tentatively titled Combee’: Harriet Tubman, the Combahee River Raid, and the Civil War Transformations among the Gullah Geechee uses a unique blend of primary sources for the Combahee River Raid to reveal Harriet Tubman’s Civil War activities, reconstruct the communities which were freed from enslavement on Lowcountry rice plantations in the June 1863 Combahee River Raid, and show the Civil War transformations among freed Blacks in the Lowcountry whose descendants are known today as the Gullah Geechee. For her work on the Gullah/Geechee and Creolization, Fields-Black has been awarded a Smithsonian Senior Fellow at the National Museum of American History (Spring semester 2013), an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship (2014-2015), and a Senior Ford Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences (2017-2018).
  • Fields-Black is currently collaborating with three-time EMMY Award winning composer John Wineglass, filmmaker Julie Dash whose “Daughters of the Dust” was the first film by an African-American woman to have a major studio release, and cinematographer David Claessen to produce Casop: A Requiem for Rice, a lamentation for the repose of the souls of the dead who were enslaved, exploited, and brutalized on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia’s rice plantations and who remain unburied, unmourned, and unmarked. Fields-Black is writing the libretto on which Casop is based. Opening February 13, 2019, this musical production for symphony orchestra, choir, and West African drummers and dancers will memorialize the sufferings and sacrifices of Africans enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia Rice plantations and celebrate the critical role their ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South. Learn more about The Requiem for Rice.
  • Dr. Fields-Black is a consultant for “The Power of Place: The Rice Fields of the Lowcountry” permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, SC, the “From Slavery to Freedom” permanent exhibition for the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

Support "Casop: A Requiem for Rice," a new piece of contemporary classical music commissioned by the Pittsburgh Foundation Benjamin Harris Memorial Fund and Nicky Horvitz Gordon Memorial Fund, the Heinz Endowments Small Arts Initiative, and the Opportunity Fund. A true marriage between West African and European classical traditions, Casop: A Requiem for Rice is a modern and African-American inspired take on a classic requiem in the spirit of Verdi, Mozart, Faure, and Britten. It mourns the souls of the enslaved who died on Lowcountry rice plantations, their bodies unburied, their suffering unmourned, and their sacrifices unmarked for future generations. The Orchestral Debut of "Casop: A Requiem for Rice" on February 1, 2019 will feature libretto which recovers the voices of the enslaved by acclaimed historian and executive producer, Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black, and original score by composer, three-time Emmy Award-winner John Wineglass.

Support "Casop: A Requiem for Rice"


Ph.D.: University of Pennsylvania, 2001

Courses Taught

  • Introduction to African History I: Earliest Times to the Origins of the Slave Trades
  • Introduction to African History II: 18th Century to the end of Apartheid
  • Global Histories: Creolization in the African Diaspora
  • Entrepreneurs in Africa, Past, Present and Future
  • Pre-Colonial West African History: 1100 to 1800
  • From the Local to the Global: Globalization in East African History

Department Member Since: 2001