Zanzibar's House of Wonders and Stone Town Coastline.jpg

Current Research

2017-08-26 10.55.45.jpg

Scholarly Contributions

 

In centering the fissions within this transnational community, my project makes the following major historiographical contributions:

  • The narrative that I construct departs radically from the commonly accepted timeline of Zanzibari history by decentering the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution.  

  • I offer an example of "bottom up" transnationalism, a reading of a transnational community from the point of view of those "left behind" by the dominant flows of human migration.

  • I am the first scholar to consider the ways that the longstanding connections between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have been a gendered history that did, contrary to certain scholarly accounts, include women. 

  • I join a growing call to deconstruct inherited colonial categories in Africanist scholarship: Zanzibaris did not live their lives defined neat racial categories that mapped easily onto similarly neat socioeconomic roles. 

Publications based on this research

Journal Articles

Under Review: “Mama didn’t go: Mobility as a gendered and classed privilege, Zanzibar-Oman 1964-1980s,”Journal of Eastern African Studies

Conference Papers

“Inventing a paper-thin border: migration policy as an arena of colonial struggle in Zanzibar” at African Studies Association annual meeting, November 2022

 

“A political issue of some magnitude: Late colonial migration policy and Zanzibari Arab nationalism, 1940s-50s” at Rethinking Late Colonialisms in Africa workshop, September 2022

“Immobility during mass migration: biography of a murdered family’s things” at a panel sponsored by the Islam in Africa Studies Group at the African Studies Association annual meeting, November 2019 

“Microhistories of Global Oceans: A Comparative Historiography of Atlantic and Indian Ocean Microhistories” at the MSU Africanist Graduate Student Research Conference, Michigan State University, March  2016

 

“‘We Follow by Jet Planes’: Migration between Zanzibar and Oman in the latter half of the Twentieth Century” at Migration Without Boundaries: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference on Migration, Michigan State University, October 2014

My current manuscript project tells the history of migration between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula from the "bottom up."

Scholarship on the history of transnational connections between Zanzibar and Oman has centered a small cast of elite men, highlighting the acts of Sultans and the priorities of the merchant class. My research refocuses on the experiences and priorities of the non-elite. Specifically, I highlight the ways that this historical narrative shifts when it takes into account the experiences of women, the lower classes, and rural actors. 

Immobility is a central theme in the history of this transnational community. 

While the Arab community of East Africa has generally been understood as a fluidly mobile transnational elite, a "bottom up" history reveals the importance of immobility in the experiences of most of its members. Access to mobility should be understood as far more lumpy and uneven than is generally considered in scholarship on transnationalism. 

The central contradiction driving my project is that many Arabs in Zanzibar simultaneously have never left their small island and yet perceive themselves as part of a transnational community of Omani-Zanzibaris. Scholarship on international migration has frequently seen transnationalism as relatively uniform and inevitable by assuming that people within transnational communities necessarily think and behave transnationally. In practice, this seamless image is uneven—members of the same community and even the same family have different access to and interest in mobility, transnational exchanges, and cosmopolitan identities. 

The relative immobility of the lower classes and women in the wake of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution fundamentally changes the timeline of Oman-Zanzibar connections. 

 Examining the history of Omani-Zanzibaris throughout the “long” 20th century radically departs from the current scholarly timeline of Western Indian Ocean history. The dominant historical narrative of this region in the 20th century is one of regional fragmentation, racial division, and violence. In the case of Zanzibar-Oman connections, the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar, which caused a mass exodus of the Arab population, and the 1970 coup in Oman, which offered Arab-Zanzibari emigrants a new home, are generally viewed as endpoints of centuries-old exchanges of people, goods, and culture.

 

By centering the individuals who were largely excluded by economic and social barriers to mobility from this exodus, my research challenges this metanarrative. I examine how intraregional connections of the Western Indian Ocean have fluctuated over time while remaining a persistent feature of the area. Indeed, when viewed through the experiences of my interlocutors as opposed to the lens of economic and political regimes, the Zanzibar revolution of 1964 does not represent an end point as it is more frequently viewed, but rather an intensification transnational connections.

I'm interested in the emotive, cultural, and material histories of transnational families.

During my first summer in Oman, I met a woman selling Swahili fabrics at a "woman's market" in the Omani interior. She invited me back to her home, where she served me Zanzibari food and introduced me to her family. She and her family chatted with me in Swahili about how the Zanzibari restaurants that are all over Oman are good, but not compared to the African food that she makes at home. 

My research centers such intimate spaces of family life, arguing that these spaces were key sites in the creation of an Omani-Zanzibari transnational community infrastructure.