Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of History
Co-Director, Vanderbilt History Seminar
I specialize in the modern history of Africa, with a particular focus on the colonial and postcolonial periods. Although I teach survey and topical courses on all regions of Africa (and on all periods), my research interest lies in Nigeria. I am the author of three books. My first book is Colonial Meltdown: Northern Nigerian in the Great Depression, (Ohio University Press, 2009). My second book is Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria, (Indiana University Press, 2014), which was awarded finalist for the Herskovits Prize in African Studies by the African Studies Association. My third book, Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014), is a collection of analytical essays on a variety of topics relating to Nigeria, Africa, and global African communities. I have published over a dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as several chapters in edited volumes. I am the editor of Entrepreneurship in Africa: A Historical Approach (Indiana University Press, 2018). I am currently working on my fourth sole-authored book entitled Emirs in London: Subaltern Travel and Nigeria’s Modernity. Under contract with Indiana University Press, the book analyzes the travel narratives of Northern Nigerian Muslim aristocrats who traveled to Britain in colonial and early postcolonial times. I do so through an exploration of the travelers’ own textual, visual, and material portrayals of their experiences and adventures in the colonial metropole, as well as through a rigorous and critical reading of a diverse array of colonial sources—correspondence, metropolitan newspapers, reports, photos and images, intelligence notes, itineraries, etc. These texts provide us with a tool to understand how privileged aristocratic subalterns used travel to unravel the mythologies surrounding the white man and his society, inverted the familiar European ethnological gaze on Africa, and developed a robust corpus of narratives and claims about Britain as they sought to establish themselves as knowers of metropolitan secrets, brokers of imperial modernity, and authoritative colonial intermediaries. Additionally, the texts enable a historiographical engagement with scholarly conversations about representations of the metropole in the experiential discourses and in the repertoires of self-fashioning of colonized African peoples. I was twice the recipient of the fellowship of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). My research has also been supported by awards and fellowships from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the American Historical Association, Franklin Roosevelt Institute, and the British Library. I regularly grant interviews to international print and electronic media on contemporary African and Nigerian topics. My commentaries and essays on African topics have appeared in TIME magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, History News Network, Logos journal, The Mail and Guardian, The Conversation, Global Post, The Tennessean, Pambazuka.com, African Arguments, Africascountry.com, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Republic, and other publications.