Afro-American biohistory: Theoretical and methodological considerations

1990 1990

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Abstract (summary)

The dissertation research addresses questions and issues concerning the study of Afro-American biohistory. Afro-American health and lifestyles were investigated from an integrative bio-cultural framework that interrelates demographical, historical, socio-cultural, and biological factors. The central focus of the dissertation research was the bio-social experiences and conditions of free, urban dwelling Afro-Americans in 19th century Philadelphia. The First African Baptist Church cemetery population, interred circa 1823-1841, studied represents a sample of that Afro-American community.

Theoretical considerations centered around the questions and approaches to the study of health and disease patterns in historical Afro-American populations in the Americas. Methodological considerations centered on the contributions of physical anthropological methods (skeletal biology, paleodemography, paleopathology, histology and bio-cultural modeling) in assessing the health of historical Afro-American populations.

Skeletal biological methods included paleodemographic and paleopathologic (including histologic) assessment of health and disease status.

The objectives of the research were to: (1) provide a synthesis of the relevant questions and issues regarding Afro-American health and illness prior to the twentieth century; (2) propose a protocol and framework for studying Afro-American health and lifestyles in the Americas; (3) begin to reconstruct the lifestyle(s) of 19th century urban Philadelphia Afro-Americans and of the First African Baptist Church (FABC) cemetery population in particular; (4) undertake a comprehensive health status assessment of the FABC skeletal material.

All adult (100%) FABC dentition (n = 51) available for study exhibited enamel defects; of these 84.3% had multiple defects. The peak period of onset of hypoplasias was ages 2.0-4.0 years, most probably associated with the weaning period and infectious disease. Infectious disease rates (25.3%) were lower than other Afro-American skeletal series. The incidence of trauma in the FABC population was low (17.3%), with the majority occurring in older males. The highest mortality (25%) was for infants ($<$1 year). Life expectancy at age twenty was 24.7 years.

FABC skeletal population, as representative of the FABC congregation members and free Philadelphia Afro-Americans, were generally healthier than their slave or emancipated counterparts. Stress indicators point to episodes of nutritional and disease stress which affected fetal growth, infants and younger children, reproductive age females and young adult males who may have been at greater risk due to early entry into the labor force.

Indexing (details)

Physical anthropology;
Black history;
Minority & ethnic groups;
0327: Physical anthropology
0328: Black history
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0631: Sociology
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Pennsylvania
Afro-American biohistory: Theoretical and methodological considerations
Rankin-Hill, Lesley Marguerite
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 51/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Armelagos, George J.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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