Africana Studies professor wins award for first book

Oscar de la Torre
Thursday, January 2, 2020

A book by UNC Charlotte Africana Studies associate professor Oscar de la Torre, “The People of the River: Identity and Environment in Black Amazonia, 1835-1945,” has received the inaugural Outstanding First Book Award from the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora.

“I am honored that the association has recognized my research,” De la Torre said. “It is exciting that my first book is the inaugural book to receive this new award from an organization of international scholars who help people gain a broader understanding of the Africana Diaspora.”

The award committee chose the book because of its depth of scholarship and the unique innovative methods the author uses. His methods combine micro- and macro-social perspectives on the social and political history of black peasants in Amazonia, in studying how Afro-Brazilians relate with the natural world.

Published in 2018 by UNC Press, the book offers a view into the rich history of the black peasants of Amazonia from the mid-19th to the 20th century, as they made the transition from slavery to freedom. Afro-Brazilians used their connection to the land and their oral memories from the time of slavery to forge black identities that lasted to the political revolution of 1930, De la Torre argues.

Prior to abolition, enslaved and escaped blacks found in the tropical forest a safe haven to form communities of runaways and to transform slavery from the inside, but the landscape was a cultural storehouse within which they shaped their stories and records of confrontations with slave owners and state authorities.

“It is through this prism that he illuminates Afro-Brazilians’ identity formation around kinship structures and folk stories, as well as their efforts to maintain autonomous communities as they struggled over land, labor and citizenship,” the committee wrote. “An ambitious work of history that also incorporates theoretical insights and methods from the discipline of anthropology, de la Torre makes an important contribution to the history of the African diaspora.”

Prior to coming to UNC Charlotte in 2012, De la Torre was an assistant professor of history at the University of Central Oklahoma. He earned his doctoral and master’s degrees at the University of Pittsburgh. He also received a post-doctoral fellowship with Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.

The Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora is an organization of international scholars who examine the African Diaspora through history, dance, anthropology, literature, women’s studies, education, geology, political science, sociology, language, art, music, film, theater, biology, photography and other disciplines.