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BIEA Conference: Connections and disconnections in the history and cultures of Eastern Africa

March 27, 2015

This conference will explore the place of Eastern Africa within global approaches to the study of the region’s past and present.  The fields of history, archaeology, anthropology and literature have all witnessed a global turn in recent years. The global paradigm is fast became a common point of entry to study of the region, particularly among European and North American scholars. This conference will include discussion of such research, but also consider the methodological and intellectual challenges presented by this approach to the study of Eastern African societies in the past and present.

The conference will be organised around four key and overlapping themes in the existing global studies literature: exchange; power and politics; communication; and mobility. Exchange will consider the subjects of commodities, trade and currency. Power and politics will look at the ways in which global networks of power in its various forms have shaped the ordinary lives of the peoples of Eastern Africa.   Communication will explore the forms by which language, media and cultural performance have been inflected with a global discourse. Mobility will consider the implications for Eastern Africa of the global movement of peoples, ideas and objects. The papers will discuss connections and disconnections under these headings.

Eastern Africa will also be discussed in comparative terms, with contributions from papers considering similar questions from elsewhere in the region.

Papers across all four themes will consider four questions:

1. What is Eastern Africa’s place in conceptualisations of the global? The papers collectively will examine the extent to which Eastern Africans have shaped global processes through their agency as much as having been the subjects of forces beyond their control.

2. To what extent can we talk about Eastern Africa’s own transnationalism in global terms? The papers will think about how global approaches to the study of the region provide intellectual or methodological inspiration for transnational studies of the past and present within Eastern Africa.

3. What are the limits of the global? There is much well founded scepticism about global approaches to the study of African societies, past and present, among Africanists. Some of these concerns are grounded in methodology. How feasible is it to develop the necessary linguistic and archival skills to carry out truly global research? But many Africanists have highlighted the danger of unconnected spaces being marginalised in histories that stress connectivity.

4. How do we study the local in a global world? There is a great deal of scholarship still to be written about Eastern Africa which is important for its own sake, not just for what it may tell us about the rest of the world.

Panels will be comprised of four speakers and a chair. There will be no discussant in the interests of encouraging participation from the floor. Papers will not be pre-circulated, but a 3 page abstract will be required from all speakers two weeks in advance of the conference. Abstracts for this conference are now closed!


Connections and Disconnections in the History and Cultures of Eastern Africa
30-31 March 2015, British Institute in Eastern Africa, Laikipia Road, Nairobi

Supported by the BIEA, IFRA and the University of Warwick
30 March
Panel 1: Exchange
Mirjam Tutzer (Goethe University, Frankfurt au Main), ‘The “Global” in the Transregional Concept of Microfinance in Tanzania and Bangladesh.’
Monica Udvardy (University of Kentucky), ‘The Global Traffic in Mijikenda Memorial Statues and the Dialectics of their Meanings.’
Chapurukha Kusimba (American University, Washington D.C.), title t.b.c.
Panel 2: Communication
Salvatory Stephen Nyanto (University of Iowa & University of Dar es Salaam), ‘Between Global and Local: Transnational Islamic Beliefs and the making of Dar al-Islam in Western Tanzania, 1840s-1990s.’
Pamila Gupta (University of the Witwatersrand), 'Goans in Mozambique and Zanzibar: Case Studies from Littoral East Africa.'
Gerard McCann (University of York), ‘Could magazines culture? Transition Magazine, universalism, locality and the future in decolonising East Africa, 1961-68.’
Tom Odhiambo (University of Nairobi), title t.b.c.
Panel 3: Researching the Global from Eastern Africa
Carla Bocchetti (IFRA, Nairobi), ‘Globafrica Project’, to be followed by discussion of common themes and methodologies.
31 March
Panel 4: Mobility
Thomas Häkansson (University of Kentucky), ‘Caravans, Currencies, and Cattle: Wealth, Production, and Politics in East Africa During The Indian Ocean Trade.’
Kathryn de Luna (Georgetown University), "Down-the-Line" in Deep Time:  Worldliness, Mobility, and Sedentism on the Central Frontier, 1000 BCE - 1900 CE.’
Thomas McDow (Ohio State University), title t.b.c.
Stephen Rockel (University of Toronto), ‘The East African Slave Trade: The Global and the Local.’
Panel 5: Power and Politics
George Roberts (University of Warwick), ‘The Cold War Comes to the Swahili Coast: International Affairs in postcolonial Dar es Salaam.’
Sarah Longair (British Museum), ‘Staging Imperial Performance: Political Ceremonies and Spectacle in early British colonial Zanzibar, 1890-1910.’
Emma Hunter (University of Edinburgh), ‘Democracy in Translation: global ideas and local politics in Tanzania’s mid-twentieth-century public sphere.’
Daniel Branch (University of Warwick), ‘Political Traffic: Kenya’s Students and the Global Cold War.'
Closing remarks

Please contact Daniel Branch ( for any queries and/or to RSVP. 


Date: 30-31 March, 2015
Venue: BIEA, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi