Nancy J. Jacobs
Africana Studies and History
My book project is "Birders of Africa: History of a Network." Drawing on Actor Network Theory and employing the approach of micro-history, I examine intersections between African and European birders. I explore how local African, scientific, and colonial forces structured these relationships. Through close examination of individual lives, I identify the aspirations and affective ties that drew birders to seek expertise and status through their collaborations.
I hail from Holland, Michigan and received my BA from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the problems of apartheid South Africa captured my intellectual interest. I received an MA in African Studies from UCLA and a PhD in History from Indiana University. South African historiography had a strong tradition of social history, but looking at rural areas, I felt that a stronger consideration of environmental factors was necessary to understand the decline of agriculture and increase in dependence on wage labor among black South Africans. This was the subject of my dissertation research and of my subsequent monograph, Environment, Power, and Injustice: A South African History (Cambridge 2003). The common theme between my first book and my current research on people and birds is that both probe the nexus between environment, social division, and power.
My book manuscript, "Birders of Africa: History of a Network," examines the interplay between local knowledge and science at the micro and macro levels. At the macro-level I consider the nature of agrarian bird knowledge and the history of ornithology in colonial Africa. I have found Actor Network Theory useful for reframing some debates about imperial science and its relation with local expertise. At the micro-level I work with the biographies of birders engaged in collaboration. These show that the structuring forces of race and empire left room for individual variation. Birders from all traditions sought status as experts, but the rewards of expertise differed greatly.
In addition to this monograph project, I have completed the first of two planned volumes of a sourcebook developed through my own teaching. "African during the Age of European Imperialism: A History in Sources" is forthcoming (2012) with Cambridge University Press. This volume arranges about 100 primary sources in a narrative of the history of colonial Africa. Entries include government documents, memoirs by "ordinary" people and politicians, interviews with illiterate people whose perspectives might otherwise be forgotten, commentary by intellectuals, song lyrics, and photographs. A second volume, on Africa since 1945, is under contract.
M.A. in African Studies, University of California Los Angeles, 1987; Ph.D. in History, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1995
2011 The Harriet W. Sheridan Award for Distinguished Contribution to Teaching and Learning at Brown University
2005 Best of WebCT for AF16 "Twentieth-Century Africa" course website
2004 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program at Brown University Outstanding Mentors Award
2003-04 Program in Agrarian Studies Fellowship, Yale University
2002 American Society for Environmental History Alice Hamilton Prize (Best article published outside the journal, Environmental History) for "The Great Bophuthatswana Donkey Massacre: Discourse on the Ass and Politics of Class and Grass"
2001 Wriston Grant from Brown University for course preparation
2000 Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award from Brown University
1997-98 American Council for Learned Societies/Social Science Research Council, International Postdoctoral Fellowship
1997 American Historical Association Bernadotte E. Schmitt Grant
1994 Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Fellowship
1990-91 Fulbright-Hays Fellowship for dissertation research in Great Britain and South Africa
1990 Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, Title IV (FLAS), Yale University African Studies Center to study Zulu (summer)
1989-90 FLAS, Indiana University African Studies Center to study Tswana
1988-89 FLAS, Indiana University African Studies Center to study Tswana
1984-85 FLAS, University of California at Los Angeles African Studies Center to study Zulu
African Studies Association
American Society for Environmental History
American Historical Association
Teaching is central to my intellectual growth and vitality. Brown students have prodded me into new directions and in nine years of teaching here I have become a different and more creative historian through their influences. At Brown, I have taught courses on Southern African History, West African History, Eastern African History, African Environmental History, African Women's History, South African Life Histories, Twentieth-Century Africa, and Africa Since 1950. My plans for future teaching and research are to continue to seek out intersections between environmental and social history and to deepen considerations of the more recent past in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to my research and teaching responsibilities, I have enjoyed serving as a concentration advisor in the history department and as a faculty fellow (with my husband Peter Heywood) for the Gregorian Quadrangle and Graduate Center.
- Environment, Power, and Injustice: A South African History
- Brown group advocates for South African asbestos victims
- Animated Atlas of African History