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Lehigh doorknob in Linderman Library
Kwame Essien portrait

Kwame Essien

Associate Professor

Room 323 - Maginnes Hall

Ph.D., History & African Diaspora, University of Texas-Austin, 2010

M.A., African Studies, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, 2006

B.A., History, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, 2002

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Additional Interests

  • Cultural History, Slavery, Africa, and African Diaspora (United States and Brazil)
  • Reverse Migrations
  • Biography (Alfred C. Sam “Chief Sam”)
  • African Health and Wellness, Herbal Medicine
  • History of Homosexuality in Africa

Research Statement

Kwame Essien’s interdisciplinary research focuses on comparative histories of slavery, reverse migrations, race, cultures in Africa and the African Diaspora/Atlantic world, and the history and colonization of herbal medicine, health interventions in Africa from the pre-colonial times. 

Essien’s book, Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana: The Tabom, Slavery, Dissonance of Memory, Identity and Locating Home (Michigan State University Press, 2016) is the first academic book that examines the untold story of freed slaves from Brazil who resettled in Gã (Accra), Ghana from the early 1820s. Essien argues that freed Africans escaped slavery in Brazil into colonial oppression in Ghana. The returnees’ unmatched fortitude enabled them to make various contributions to the social history of colonial Accra. Essien provides ample archival and ethnographic evidence to show how the returnees thrived socially, culturally, and economically despite the challenges they encountered after their settlement.

Essien’s new project, a comparative study tentatively entitled Another Long Journey Home traces the histories of African America reverse migrations to Ghana. Another on-going project, a comparative study tentatively entitled Collaborators, Traitors and Opportunists in Ghanaian History, explores the complex interactions between Europeans, Kwaku Andoh II, the chief of Elmina (1884-1898) and other kings and chiefs of coastal Ghana from the late nineteenth century. Essien explores individual and collective interactions and exchanges between Europeans and selected coastal leaders, during the abolition of slavery and the onset of British colonization.

Essien was selected as a Co-PI for the $100,000.00 Accelerator Grant in 2017: "Enhancing the Value of Short-term Volunteer Mission in Health from Host Perspective." The proposed study was the first to rely on in-country researchers to investigate the specific concerns of host communities with regards to interactions with volunteers and students and the first to study the efforts made by host countries to ameliorate these concerns. It involves conducting in-depth interviews with key individuals from the major in-country stakeholders, including government entities, health associations, and host organizations involved with medical missions, regional and community medical facilities, healthcare NGOs, church and service organizations, universities, and medical schools.


Essien was born and raised in Ghana where he began his educational journey from primary school through college—Accra Polytechnic in 1991. He taught at Deks Preparatory School in Tema from 1991-1993. His motivation for researching and writing about the life histories of ex-slaves and their descendants in Ghana came from his mother and grandmother, who shared stories about his great-great-uncle, Chief Kwaku Andoh II—the chief of Elmina. Elmina is an important slave port in coastal Ghana, between 1884 and 1898. In 1999, Essien visited the Boone Hall Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina to gain a better understanding of the African experience in America. He could hardly contain his amazement at how similar the pictures of the plantation’s slaves were to his own community members in Ghana. The images of horror and heroic stories in the slave dungeons at Elmina and those of the Boone plantation intensified his interest. 

This remarkable transformative experience awakened him to the reality of the historical connections between the people of Elmina and those of African descent in the Atlantic world. The transformation shaped his research interests in reverse migrations, focusing first on the history of African American expatriates including Dr. W.E.B Du Bois, Maya Angelou, activists, and intellectuals who relocated to Ghana in the mid-twentieth century. Ultimately, drawing from this knowledge, intersecting themes, and overlapping experiences of the returnees, Essien wrote his first single authored book about former enslaved Africans from Brazil who settled in the Gold Coast from the early nineteenth century after their freedom to contribute their skills to develop the Gold Coast.

Essien believes that studying abroad is an extension of his research and classroom learning. He has raised money from donors for underrepresented students to experience international education, especially at the slave castles and sites of memory. Between 2014 and 2018, he led various study abroad programs to Ghana with over 70 students to expand Lehigh’s summer global initiatives. He has collaborated with faculty in the LVAIC consortium as well as Northampton Community College to facilitate study abroad programs to Ghana and other parts of Africa.   

Essien was awarded the 2017 Lehigh University Alfred Noble Robinson Faculty Award for showing “extraordinary enthusiasm for Lehigh’s goals and priorities often working beyond their direct area/unit on university-wide projects or committees. Also, he was awarded a certificate of participation by the Graduate Student Senate in fall 2018 for "extraordinary service, time and commitment to mentoring Lehigh University graduate students."

During his time as the Interim Director of the Africana Studies Program (2018-2019), Essien served as the Principal Investigator (PI) and the co-PI of the Africana Studies Program’s National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge grant. He worked with his colleagues and the Development Office to complete $1.2 million endowment fund raising efforts

  • increased enrollment of Africana majors and minors
  • worked with students to create virtual reality (VR) technology footages of historical sites, slave forts and castles/dungeons in Ghana
  • introduced VR technology for the first time in class teaching (History Department and Africana Studies)

Essien is a soccer player and a soccer coach. He is a volunteer at the Greater Bethlehem Soccer League in the Lehigh Valley area. Prior to his tenure at Lehigh University, Essien was a Derrick K. Gondwe Fellow at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania (2009-2011). He was a school bus driver in Greensboro, North Carolina in the Guilford County district for 7 years, when he was a student at Guildford Community College and The University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Essien was also a soccer coach at the Guilford College YMCA in Greensboro.  


Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana: The Tabom, Slavery, Dissonance of Memory, Identity and Locating Home (Michigan State University Press, 2016).

Pan-Africanism and the Politics of African Citizenship and Identity (NY, London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2013); with Toyin Falola.

Culture and Customs of Sudan (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009); with Toyin Falola.

Refereed Journal Articles

“‘Afie ni Afie’ (Home is Home): Revisiting Reverse Trans-Atlantic Journeys to Ghana and the Paradox of Return,” Ìrìnkèrindò: a Journal of African Migration, Issue 7 (June 2014): 47-75.

“(In) visible Diasporan Returnee Communities: Silences and the Challenges in studying Trans-Atlantic history in Ghana.” Ghana Studies 17 (2014): 63-99.

“Cutting the Head of the Roaring Monster: Homosexuality and Repression in Ghana," African Study Monographs, Vol. 30, no. 3 (September, 2009), 121-135; with Saheed Aderinto.    

“Performance in Transatlantic Communities in Africa: The Case of Brazilian-Africans and American African in Ghana” in Pan-Africanism and the Politics of African Citizenship and Identity (NY, London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2013).

“A abertura da casa Brasil: A History of the Tabom People, Part 1” in Kwesi Kwaa Prah Back to Africa Vol. 1: Afro-Brazilian Returnees and their Communities (Cape Town, South Africa: CASAS Book Series, 2009): Chapter 9.

“African Americans in Ghana and Their Contributions to ‘Nation Building:’ 1985 through 2004.” In Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola (eds.), The United States and West Africa: Interactions and Relations (NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008): Chapter 8. 

Book Reviews

  • Alice Bellagamba, Sandra E. Greene, and Martin A. Klein (Eds.), African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade (NY: Cambridge University Press, 2017) in Africa Studies Quarterly, Vol. 17, Issue 2 (June 2017) 84-86
  • Edmund Abaka, House of Slaves and “Door of No Return”: Gold Coast/Ghana Slave Forts, Castles & Dungeons and the Atlantic Slave Trade (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2012) Ghana Studies. Vol. 19, Issue 1 (2016)
  • Elizabeth Wrangham, Ghana During the First World War: The Colonial Administration of Sir Hugh Clifford (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2013) in Journal of West African History, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (2015)
  • Claire L. Wendland, A Heart for the Work: Journeys through an African Medical School (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), AAS Journal (2013). 
  • Philip M. Peek (Ed.), Twins in African and Diaspora Cultures: Double Trouble, Twice Blessed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011; in African Studies Quarterly, 2013.
  • Tejumola Olaniyan and James H. Sweet (Eds.), The African Diaspora and the Disciplines (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010); in Africa Today, Vol. 59, no. 4 (Summer 2013), 148-150.
  • Godfrey Mwakikagile, Relations between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities, 2nd Edition (New Africa Press, 2007); (Souls Journal, 2010).
  • Abdi Roble and Doug Rutledge, Somalia Diasporas in the United States: A Journey Away (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); (Souls Journal, 2010).   
  • Bayo Holsey, Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).  African Studies Quarterly, 2010.             
  • Saidiya V. Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (NY: Farra, Straus and Giroux, 2007); in Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol. 3, no. 2, (September 2009).  
  • Nicholas Shaxson, Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); in Africa Today 55, no. 4 (2009), 137-138.
  • Augustine A. Ikein, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha and Steve Azaiki (Eds.), Oil, Democracy, and the Promise of True Federalism in Nigeria (CO, Boulder: University Press of America, Inc., 2008); in African and Asian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2009), 338-340; with Dzidzor Darku.
  • James T. Campbell, Middle Passages: African America Journeys to Africa, 1787- 2005 (NY: Penguin Press, 2006); in Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol. 43, no. 3 (2007): 363-366.
  • John Edward Phillips (Ed.), Writing African History (NJ: University of Rochester Press, 2006); Journal of African Asian Studies 6, 4 (2007): 536-552.
  • Kelvin K. Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill, N.C: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Journal of African and Asian Studies, Vol. 6 (2007): 209-211.

Encyclopedia Entries                          

  • “Black Nationalism / Ethiopia / Greensboro Four” The Jim Crow Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009). 
  • “British Indirect Rule / The Role of Gender in Sub-Saharan Economic Activities/ Ten Million Africans: the demographics of slavery” ABC-CLIO World History Encyclopedia, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2009). 
  • “Destinations” in Toyin Falola and Amanda Warnock, Encyclopedia of Middle Passage (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007).

Recent Presentations

“Horrors of Slavery in Ghana through Virtual Reality”, Invited, 22nd Annual Africa Conference, The University of Texas-Austin, March 30-April 1.

“Ripples in a Pond: Black Oklahomans, Chief Sam and the Origins of African American Reverse Migrations to the Gold Coast/Ghana,” Guest Talk, "Series on Blacks in America", Department of History, St. Joseph’s University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, February 23, 2023. 


Essien’s courses cover wide range of themes including slavery, reverse migrations—migrations to and from the Atlantic world/diaspora; introduction to Africana Studies, women, gender, sexuality, and race in African societies; globalization and Africa, Aid and NGOs in Africa, the history of colonial, missionary and pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly and intervention in combating diseases, healing and wellness in Africa and others.

At the graduate level, Essien has served as the Committee Chair, major-field advisor, second reader for various dissertation topics covering African history, African American history, the African diaspora, and transnational history.

Selected Courses:

Introduction to Africana Studies—AAS 003
African Civilizations—HIST 005
Cultures of Africa and Africana People (First Year Seminar)—HIST 90
Women, Gender & Sexuality in African Societies—HIST 131
Keeping Africa & Africans Healthy: A History of Illness & Wellness—HIST 176
African Women, Lives & Voices—HIST 322
Africans & the Atlantic World—HIST 330
United States and Africa—HIST 331
Readings in Atlantic World History: “Slavery, Sites of Memory and Trans-Atlantic Experiences” —HIST 421, Graduate Level