I study the history of Africa from a transnational and global perspective. My dissertation examines historical claims, contestation, and memory in the production of Nelson Mandela's autobiographies. I assess the ways that Mandela was ‘written’ into history and himself scripted the opening narrative of democratic South Africa and its twentieth century background.
The writing of Mandela’s memoir began in the political section of Robben Island prison in the early 1970s. A transcribed and secreted copy of the manuscript was smuggled out of prison in December 1976 and on to London the next year. I trace its global journey and incarnations en route to a freed Mandela in 1990. I explore its remaking into the international best-seller Long Walk to Freedom, and its many offshoots and translations. The autobiography’s reworking by Mandela and various collaborators in the intense period between Mandela’s release and election as President of South Africa in 1994 sheds light on the concretization of Mandela as the international icon of the struggle and architect of the transformation of South Africa. The standpoints of Mandela’s fellow activists, prisoners, political and business associates on the memoir project further interrogates what Mandela has come to mean. I also look at how the dominance of one narrative in the production of history can silence others.
Long term I aim to examine the ramifications of collaboration between authoritarian states, particularly those in Latin America, and apartheid South Africa. I hope to explore the instigating role of various actors in fomenting state-sanctioned violence in Africa and elsewhere, especially instances in which state security agencies violated sovereignty and international law. I have a broad interest in socially constructed notions of citizenship, nationality, race, and identity, and how these impact on the ways in which people interact with one another, the state, and the environment.