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Ron Eglash on the Histories, Cultural Significance of Black Braids

February 22, 2021

Writer Precious Fondren included an extensive interview with Stamps Professor Ron Eglash in her recent article for The Toledo Blade, Style that speaks: Braids are more than ‘just hair’ for Black women, exploring the histories and cultural significance of braids in the Black community.

One of Eglash’s research areas is rooted in documenting how indigenous concepts of recursion in West and Central Africa created fractal patterns throughout African design practices. His book African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design had a broad influence in the field of Black Studies. His suite of NSF-funded simulations, co-created with Stamps Professor Audrey Bennett, and called “Culturally Situated Design Tools” (CSDTs), have been used in US schools from Alaska to Florida, as well as international locations, to allow students to learn math and computing through “heritage algorithms” that include cornrow braid iterations as well as Navajo weaving patterns, Latino percussion ratios, and the nonlinear curves of urban graffiti.

“It wasn’t just used to identify which ethnic group you belong to, but also what social group within that group too,” said Ron Eglash, a University of Michigan professor in the Stamps School of Art and Design. “People think of traditional African societies, they think of things being very set in their way. And that’s just not true. Braiding was literally a brilliant innovation that has lasted and changed through the millennia.”

Style that speaks: Braids are more than 'just hair' for Black women | The Blade

Ron Eglash on the Histories, Cultural Significance of Black Braids

Photo courtesy of Eglash’s Culturally Situated Design Tools: https://csdt.org.