Stamping History: Stories of Social Change in Ghana’s Adinkra Cloth


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


Adinkra is one of the best-known textiles of Africa. This dissertation examines how adinkra cloth has evolved from royal dress among the Akan of Ghana in the early nineteenth century to its expanding role today as a global icon of Africa. The Akan wear adinkra to communicate messages through the cloth’s symbols that evoke proverbs, moral beliefs, and cultural values. Adinkra has contributed to how the Akan shape their identity and relationships. By reframing adinkra as an expressive form of fashion and social memory, this dissertation argues that the Akan have given multiple, changing meanings to adinkra that revitalize the past in contemporary life. No other cultural practice tells this story of Akan and Ghanaian history from various perspectives over the last 200 years. Through ethnographic and archival research in Ghana, the UK, and the Netherlands, this dissertation reveals the dynamics of adinkra to write a social history of Akan visual culture.