Tasha Rijke-Epstein is a historian of Madagascar as a node of Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism with research interests in urban history, material culture, built forms, museums and public history, and politics of kinship and belonging.
Her current book project begins with a question: Why after nearly two centuries of peaceful coexistence among multiple ethno-linguistic and religious groups in Mahajanga, Madagascar, was there a sudden eruption of violent riots against Comorians in 1976-77 resulting in 1,000 deaths and the mass expulsion of 16,000 people? It argues that built forms and urban materials were not simply territorial sites in the city’s past, over which competing groups fought in 1976-77, but were themselves constitutive of how people could forge or destroy ties of affection and affiliation. Drawing on oral accounts, ethnography, photographs and postcards, letters, municipal documents, architectural plans, property records, maps and newspapers, she compiles biographies of urban sites. These biographies reveal the ways competing migrant groups, informed by different moral frameworks, produced senses of belonging through their engagements with city spaces and material forms (homes and sanitation infrastructure, streets, mosques, cemeteries and parks)—especially through labor, leisure, consumption and creative expression. Pulling together the insights of Science and Technology (STS) and material culture studies, it reframes Africanist questions concerning the politics of difference as material-spatial, embodied and ideological.
Her article, “Neglect as Effacement: The Multiple Lives of Le Jardin Ralaimongo, Mahajanga, Madagascar” is forthcoming in Africa in 2018. Research for this article and the current book project in the U.K., France, and Madagascar has been supported through generous funding by Fulbright-Hays, the Museum Studies Program and Rackham Graduate School at University of Michigan. She was formerly editorial assistant at Comparative Studies in Society and History.
She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan, and a MPhil from University of Cape Town.
At Vanderbilt, she teaches courses on the history of Africa, technology and science, and urban history.