Colonialism and Violence in African History: Methods, Sources, and Problems - 16 - 17.03.2017

Doctoral Workshop with Professor Caroline Elkins (Harvard)

Starting in the ‘long’ 19th century, colonialism in Africa lasted well into the 20th century, finding its formal end during decolonisation processes throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, the last country under formal colonial rule on the continent, Namibia, gained its independence. However, the aftermath of colonialism in Africa is experienced in various forms until today. This is not least due to the pivotal role violence played during the time of conquest, colonial domination and the process of decolonisation. While earlier research on African history has demonstrated the centrality of violence in establishing, consolidating, undermining and overthrowing colonial order and rule, more recent studies have taken interest in understanding the connections, similarities and differences as well as the varying nature and extent of this violence in specific historical contexts. This workshop, therefore, seeks to bring under the spotlight recent developments in the historiography of violence in colonial Africa with the aim of expanding participants’ scopes of knowledge, as well as to both encourage and inspire on-going and future researches on the subject. To this end, the workshop will cover, inter alia, the question of relevant historical sources on violence, methods and approaches, epistemological problems concerning the writing about violence in African history, as well as possible insights that can be gained.
On Thursday, 16 March 2017, Professor Caroline Elkins (Harvard University) will give a lecture entitled “History on Trial: Mau Mau and the High Court of Justice” as part of the research seminar of the chair of African history. The main part of the workshop will take place on Friday, 17 March 2017. In the morning, Professor Elkins will guide a discussion on the questions and issues stated above, based on pre-circulated texts. The reading will be selected by Elkins and distributed in advance. In the afternoon of the same day, students will present their own research, to be followed by discussions after each presentation, based on the above outlined aspects such as methods, approaches, sources and other issues arising when engaging with the topic of colonialism and violence in African history.

Organized by Brian Ngwenya, Kai Herzog, Raphael Jenny and Zanele Leu. With the generous support of the Freie Akademische Gesellschaft Basel (FAG).


Caroline Elkins is a professor of history and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and the founding director of Harvard's Center for African Studies. Her first book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. Professor Elkins's current research interests include colonial violence and post-conflict reconciliation in Africa, and violence and the decline of the British Empire. She is currently working on two projects: one examining the effects of violence and amnesia on local communities and nation-building in post-independent Kenya; the other analyzing British counter-insurgency operations after the Second World War, with case studies including Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and Nyasaland. 

When & where

16 March 2017, 6 - 8 pm at the Department of History, University of Basel, Hirschgässlein 21, 4051 Basel

17 March 2017, approx. 9 am - 6 pm at the Main Building of the University of Basel, Petersplatz 1, 4051 Basel, Fakultätenzimmer (Room No. 112)


For all participants: via email no later than 15 February at, Please specify if you would like to present a paper. Students interested in presenting their project are asked to submit a paper by late February 2017.

For PhD and MA students aiming to earn 1 ECTS point: additionally via MoNA

The workshop is open to MA and PhD students.




Department of History, Hirschgässlein 21, 4051 Basel, Seminar Room 1

18.00-19.30: Evening Lecture

Caroline Elkins (Harvard University): “History on Trial: Mau Mau and the High Court of Justice”  

19.30-20.15: Apéro


Main Building of the University of Basel, Petersplatz 1, 4051 Basel, Fakultätenzimmer (Room No. 112)

09.00-09.30: Introduction and Welcome Address

09.30-11.00    Student’s Presentation Session 1

11.00-11.30    Coffee Break

11.30-13.00    Student’s Presentation Session 2

13.00-14.00    Lunch Break

14.00-16.00    Panel Discussion

Introduction: Professor Caroline Elkins (Harvard University)

Discussion based on circulated reading

16.00-16.30    Final Remarks