Lynn M. Thomas

  • Professor
  • Chair
  • Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor

Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1997, M.A. Northwestern University, 1993, B.A./M.A. Johns Hopkins University, 1989

Fields: Africa, Comparative Colonialisms, Women, Gender
Phone: 206-543-4499
Office: SMI 308C | Office Hours: By Appointment Only

I am an historian of politics and gender in twentieth-century Africa. As a student, I was drawn to the discipline of history by a desire to gain knowledge of the past in order to better understand the problems and possibilities of the present. In recent years, I have taught undergraduate courses on the history of sub-Saharan Africa since 1880, the history of South Africa, and the history of health and illness in Africa. My graduate course offerings include African historiography, comparative colonialisms, and comparative gender. In addition to my position in the History Department, I am an Adjunct Professor in the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies Department, and in the Anthropology Department, and an active member of the African Studies Program.

My first book, Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya (University of California Press, 2003), examines how and why female circumcision, abortion, childbirth, and premarital pregnancy became the subject of intense debate and intervention in colonial and, after 1963, postcolonial Kenya. Through these reproductive controversies, I argue, girls and young women reworked their relations with men and senior women, and contested the scope of state power. Since completingPolitics of the Womb, my research focus has shifted from east to southern Africa and from the study of dyadic relations between a colony and its European colonial power to considering multi-directional relations between colonies, nations, and empires. In two co-edited volumes, The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization (Duke University Press, 2008) and Love in Africa(University of Chicago Press, 2009), I have explored the twentieth-century emergence of capitalist consumer culture, mass media, and new conceptions of gender, race, and intimacy in Africa and beyond.

My current book project - Race, Skin Lighteners, and Transnational Commerce - is a transnational history of skin lighteners centered in South Africa that extends into the broader southern African region, east Africa, and the United States. Through tracking the production, consumption, and opposition to skin lighteners, I explore how changing politics of gender and race have developed through the movement of things, people, and ideas between a range of locations. Over the years, my research has been supported by fellowships from the Watson Foundation, Social Science Research Council, U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright), Woodrow Wilson Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and American Council of Learned Societies.

I am currently (2010-14) one of the editors of the Journal of African History.

Bibliography:

Books

Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003. 
• Selected for American Council of Learned Societies Humanities E-Book Project. 
• East African edition published in 2005 by Fountain Publishers in Kampala, Uganda.

The Modern Girl Around the World: Modernity, Consumption, and Globalization. Co-edited with Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (Alys Eve Weinbaum, Lynn M. Thomas, Priti Ramamurthy, Uta G. Poiger, Madeleine Yue Dong, Tani E. Barlow). Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Love in Africa. Co-edited with Jennifer Cole. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Articles and Chapters in Edited Volumes

"Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa." History Workshop Journal 73, 1 (Spring 2012): forthcoming.

"Modernity's Failings, Political Claims, and Intermediate Concepts." For AHR Roundtable "Historians and the Question of 'Modernity'." American Historical Review 116, 3 (2011): 727-40.

"Thinking Through Love in Africa." Co-authored with Jennifer Cole. In Jennifer Cole and Lynn M. Thomas, eds., Love in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 1-30.

"Love, Sex, and the Modern Girl in 1930s Southern Africa." In Cole and Thomas, eds., Love in Africa, 31-57.

"Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Commodities and Technologies of the Self." In Evelyn Nakano Glenn, ed., Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters. Palo Alto: Stanford University of Press, 2009, 188-209.

"The Modern Girl as Heuristic Device: Collaboration, Connective Comparison, Multidirectional Citation." Co-authored with Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (Alys Eve Weinbaum, Lynn M. Thomas, Priti Ramamurthy, Uta G. Poiger, Madeleine Yue Dong, Tani E. Barlow). In Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, ed., The Modern Girl Around the World: Modernity, Consumption, and Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008, 1-24.

"The Modern Girl and Racial Respectability in 1930s South Africa." Journal of African History 47 (2006): 461-90. 
• Revised version published as "The Modern Girl and Racial Respectability in 1930s South Africa." In Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, ed., The Modern Girl Around the World, 96-119.

"Schoolgirl Pregnancies, Letter-Writing, and 'Modern' Persons in Late Colonial East Africa." In Karin Barber, ed., Africa's Hidden Histories: Everyday Literacy and Making the Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, 180-207.

"Gendered Reproduction: Placing Schoolgirl Pregnancies in African History." In Stephen Miescher, Catherine Cole, and Takyiwaa Manuh, eds., Africa After Gender? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006, 48-62.

"The Modern Girl Around the World: A Research Agenda and Preliminary Findings." Co-authored with Modern Girl Around the World Research Group (Tani E. Barlow, Madeleine Yue Dong, Uta G. Poiger, Priti Ramamurthy, Lynn M. Thomas, Alys Eve Weinbaum). Gender and History 17 (August 2005): 245-94. 
• Revised version published as "The Modern Girl Around the World: Cosmetics Advertising and the Politics of Race and Style." Co-authored with Modern Girl Around the World Research Group. In Modern Girl Around the World Research Group, ed., The Modern Girl Around the World, 25-54.

"Debating the Impact of Female Excision on Childbirth in Colonial Kenya." In Caroline Bledsoe, ed.,Discovering Normality in Health and the Reproductive Body. Proceedings of a Workshop Held at the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, March 9-10, 2001. PAS Working Papers No. 11. Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, 2002, 95-106.

"'The Politics of the Womb': Kenyan Debates over the Affiliation Act." Africa Today 47 (Summer/Autumn 2000): 151-76.

"Imperial Concerns and 'Women's Affairs': State Efforts to Regulate Clitoridectomy and Eradicate Abortion in Meru, Kenya, c. 1910-1950." Journal of African History 39 (1998): 121-45.

"'Ngaitana (I will circumcise myself)': The Gender and Generational Politics of the 1956 Ban on Clitoridectomy in Meru, Kenya," Gender and History 8 (1996), 338-63. 
• Reprinted in Nancy Rose Hunt, Tessie P. Liu, and Jean Quataert, eds., Gendered Colonialisms in African History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 16-41. 
• Revised version published as "'Ngaitana (I will circumcise myself)': Lessons from Colonial Campaigns to Ban Excision in Meru, Kenya." In Bettina Shell-Duncan and Ylva Hernlund, eds., Female "Circumcision": Culture, Controversy, and Change. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000, 129-150.

Booklet

A Kenyan Woman's Guide to the Law. Editor. Nairobi: FIDA, 1990.

Publications: