David Gordon

Professor of History, Chair of History Department

Teaching this semester

AFRS 2364/HIST 2364. Conquest, Colonialism, and Independence: Africa since 1880

Focuses on conquest, colonialism, and its legacies in sub-Saharan Africa; the violent process of colonial pacification, examined from European and African perspectives; the different ways of consolidating colonial rule and African resistance to colonial rule, from Maji Maji to Mau Mau; and African nationalism and independence, as experienced by Africa’s nationalist leaders, from Kwame Nkrumah to Jomo Kenyatta, and their critics. Concludes with the limits of independence, mass disenchantment, the rise of the predatory post-colonial state, genocide in the Great Lakes, and the wars of Central Africa. Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Africa and Colonial Worlds.

AFRS 2822/HIST 2822. Warlords and Child Soldiers in African History

Seminar. Examines how gender, age, religion, and race have informed ideologies of violence by considering various historical incarnations of the African warrior across modern history, including the military slave, the mercenary, the revolutionary, the warlord, the religious warrior, and the child soldier. Analyzes the nature of warfare in modern African history and how fighters, followers, African civilians, and the international community have imagined the “work of war” in Africa. Readings include scholarly analyses of warfare, warriors, and warrior ideals alongside memoirs and fictional representations. Note: This course is part of the following field(s) of study: Africa.

David M. Gordon, Professor, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

His research and publications focus on the history of southern and central Africa over the last two centuries, including Atlantic and Indian Ocean trading networks, British, Portuguese, and Belgian colonialism, property regimes, environmental cultures, the historical imagination, spiritual agency, and humanitarianism. His most recent monograph, a history of how spiritual beliefs have influenced human agency, is entitled Invisible Agents: Spirits in a Central African History (Ohio University Press, 2012). He has also edited a collection with Shepard Krech entitled Indigenous Knowledge and the Environment in Africa and North America (Ohio University Press, 2012). Employing select documents used in his course, “Apartheid’s Voices,” he recently published a short history and a collection of documents for the popular Bedford Series in History and Culture, Apartheid in South Africa: A Brief History with Documents.

His first book, a history of fishing, changing tenure rules and forms of wealth from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial periods in the borderlands of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nachituti’s Gift: Economy, Society and Environment in Central Africa, was published by the University of Wisconsin Press, and was a finalist for the Herskovits award for the best book in all disciplines of African Studies. He has published articles in numerous scholarly journals, edited collections, and digital publications, including the Journal for African HistoryJournal of Southern African StudiesWilliam and Mary QuarterlyHistory in Africa, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Slavery and Abolition, Past and Present, Oxford Bibliography in African Studies, and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

He is currently involved in two long-term research projects. The first, a culmination of his research in central Africa, uses art and oral tradition alongside archival sources to explore nineteenth century political transformations in the central African interior that were connected with global trade and culminated in the violence of the Congo Free State. The second concerns the struggle for health and human rights in apartheid South Africa, centered around the establishment of a liberated health clinic in the midst of an uprising against apartheid.

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PDF Curriculum Vitae



Apartheid in South Africa. Bedford/St. Martin's. The Bedford Series in History and Culture. 2017.

Invisible Agents: Spirits in a Central African History. Ohio University Press. New African Histories Series. November, 2012. [Monograph] Invisible Agents: Spirits in a Central African History. Ohio University Press. New African Histories Series. November, 2012. 

[Edited Collection] (with Shepard Krech) Eds. Indigenous Knowledge and the Environment in Africa and North America. Ohio University Press. Series in Ecology and History, 2012.

[Monograph] Nachituti’s Gift: Economy, Society, and Environment in Central Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. Awards: Finalist and Honorable Mention, Melville J. Herskovits Award, Best Book in African Studies, 2006.

Selected Refereed Journal Articles and Book Chapters

Examples of recent refereed journal articles and book chapters include:

2018: “Kingdoms of South Central Africa: Sources, Historiography, and History,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia. Under Review

2018.  “Localizing the Global: The Wanderwörter of Nineteenth-Century South Central Africa,” in, Tracing Language Movements in Africa. Eds. Ericka Albaugh and Kathryn de Luna. Oxford University Press.

2018:  “A Tin-Trunk Bible: Writing and Orality in a Sacred Text of the Lumpa Church,” In Media, Marginality and Religion in Modern Africa. Eds, Felicitas Becker, Joel Cabrita, and Marie Rodet. In Print, Ohio University Press. .

2017:   “Precursors to Red Rubber: Violence in the Congo Free State, 1885-1895.” Past and Present. In Print. August 2017.

2017:   “Slavery and Redemption in the Catholic Missions of the Upper Congo, 1878-1909.”. Slavery and Abolition. Published online 10 March, 2017. In Print. Vol. 38.3 (September, 2017).

2016 :  “(Dis)Embodying Sovereignty: Divine Kingship in Central African HIstoriography,” Journal of African History 57.1(2016), 47-68.

2014 :  “Interpreting Documentary Sources on the Early History of the Congo Free State : The Case of Ngongo Luteta’s Rise and Fall. ” In History in Africa : A Journal of Method. Vol. 41(2014), 5-33.

2014:   “Les seigneurs de guerre dans le centre-sud africain au XIXème siècle.” L'impact du monde atlantique sur les anciens monde africain et européen, XVe-XIXe siècle. Edited by Guy Saupin. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2014.

2013:   “Wearing Cloth, Wielding Guns: Consumption, Trade, and Politics in the South-Central

African Interior during the Nineteenth Century.” The Objects of Life in Central Africa: The History of Consumption and Social Change, 1840-1980. Edited by Robert Ross, Marja Hinfelaar and Iva Pesa. Brill, 2013.

2013:   “Conflicting Conversions and Unexpected Christianities in Central Africa.” In Unexpected Consequences of Christian Missionary Encounters. Edited by Heather Sharkey. Syracuse University Press.

2009:   “The Abolition of the Slave Trade and the Transformation of South-Central African Interior.” William and Mary Quarterly. Special Edition on Global Consequences of 1807 Abolition. LXVI.4 (October 2009), 915-938.

2009:   “Community of Suffering: Narratives of War and Exile in the Zambian Lumpa Church.” In Recasting the Past. Edited by Derek Peterson and Giacomo Macola. Ohio University Press. New African Histories Series. (2009), 191-209.

nachitutisOther Publications

Over fifty other publications, including book reviews, encyclopedia entires, bibliographies, and contributions to debates and roundtables, appearing in American Historical Review, AfricaJournal of African History, Journal of Southern African Studies, International Journal of African Historical StudiesIsis, History: Reviews of New Books, Australasian Review of African Studies, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Canadian Journal of African Studies, African Studies ReviewH-AFRICA, History Compass.

Selected Presentations

Examples of presentations at scholarly conferences and invited lectures, include:

Panel Organizer “The Politics of Vision in African History.” Presentation: “The Historiography of Invisible Worlds: How Africanists See Spirits.” African Studies Association, Nov. 2012.

“National Histories from Sub-National Perspectives.” Roundtable on "National Histories or Histories of Nationalism,” African History Today,” Paris, 15-16 June, 2012.

Panel Organizer “Christianity and Liberation” Presentation. “Conflicting Visions of Christian Liberation in Post-Colonial Zambia.” African Studies Association, Washington D.C., 17-20 Nov., 2011.

“Humanism and Conflicting Christian Citizenships in Post-Colonial Southern Africa.” Presented at the South African Historical Society Conference, Durban, 27-29 June, 2011.

 “Illegitimate Trade and the Political Economy of Warlordism in the South Central African Interior during the Nineteenth Century.” Presented at Central African Research Themes IV, Zambia, 2010.

 “The Transformation of the Atlantic World and the Rise of Warlordism in the South Central African Interior.” Presented at Colloquium on “The Impact of the Atlantic World on the Old World of Africa and Europe” Nantes, France, June 6-9, 2010.

“Spirits and Alternative Sovereignties in Central Africa.” Presented at North Eastern Workshop on Southern Africa, Burlington, Vermont, April 9-11, 2010.

Workshop Organizer, “Culture and Power in Central Africa.” Paper Presentation “Spirits of the Crocodile”. Rice University, Humanities Research Center, 22 March, 2009.

Panel Organizer, “The Political Imagination in African History.” Presentation, “The Pentecostal Political Imagination and the Downfall of Kenneth Kaunda.” American Historical Association, New York, 2-5 January, 2009.

Examples of recent presentations at scholarly conferences and invited lectures, include:

2017    "The Warlords of the Congo Free State in Memory and Archives," Workshop on Congo Free State, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium, Oct. 18.

2017:   “Humanitarianism and Violence in the Congo Free State.” Lecture to Yale University African Studies Center, February 8.

2016:   “’Pacification” and ‘Peacekeeping in the Congo: Toward a History of Humanitarian Violence from the Congo Free State to Recent Times,”  Walter Rodney Seminar Series, Boston University, Nov. 7.

2016:   “The Redemption of Slaves and Pagans in 19th century Congo: Tracing the origins of modern humanitarianism. Bowdoin College, March 1.

2015:   “(Dis)embodying Sovereignty: Divine Kingship in Central African Historiography.” Presented to University of Pennsylvania, African Studies Center, April 10.

2015:   “(Dis)embodying Sovereignty: Divine Kingship in Central African Historiography.” Presented to African Studies Center, Northwestern University, April 1.

2016:   Peacekeeping” and “Pacification”: Toward a History of International Humanitarianism and Violence in the Congo.” Paper Presented to African Studies Association Conference, Washington DC, Dec. 1-3. Panel Chair. “Peackeepers and Warmongers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

2016:   “Slavery and Redemption in the Catholic Missions of the Upper Congo, 1878-1906.” Domestic Slavery, 15th -19th Centuries: Sources, Cross-Perspectives and Definitions. Paris, March 24-5, 2016.

2015:   “Divine Kingship in South-Central Africa,” South African Historical Society, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2015.

2013:   “Authority and the East-Central African Caravan Trade: A Congolese Warlord and his Followers at the End of the Nineteenth Century.” African Studies Association, Baltimore, November 2013.

2014:“Violence and Colonialism: Reconsidering the Congo Free State, 1885-1908.” Paper presented to seminar series at University of Witwatersrand, University of Western Cape, and University of Cape Town, South Africa.

2014:“Pentecostalism and Politics in Southern Africa: Reflections on Zambia and South Africa.” Presententation to State Department Analytical Exchange on “Prophecy, Revealed Knowledge and Prophetic Authroity in Africa,” August 24, 2014.

2014:   “Rendering the Invisible: Divine Kingship in Central African Historiography.” Presented to the Davis Center seminar on Belief / Unbelief, Princeton University, April 11, 2014.

2014:    Podcast, “Spirituality in Central African History,” Episode 78 of Africa Past and Present -- the podcast about African history, culture, and politics. University of Michigan. Available at http://afripod.aodl.org

Honors Projects Supervised

List of Honors Projects Supervised by Prof. David Gordon:

  • Lily Woodward (2017) “The Politics of Incorporation: Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and the Law”*
  • Sophie Binenfeld (2017) “Liberalism and Its Limitations: A Jewish Journalist in Apartheid South Africa.”
  • Natalie Kiley-Bergen (2017) “African Population Movements in the Indian Ocean World: Genetics as an Historical Source.”
  • Patrick Toomey, Jr. (2017) “Navigating Sexuality and Queer Masculinity in Apartheid-era South Africa: Simon Nkoli’s Struggle.”
  • Tasha Sandoval (2013) “Memory Collection in Post-apartheid South Africa: The District Six Museum through Oral History, Exhibition and Community.”
  • Katherine E. Doble (2013) “The Angolan War: Forging Transnational Memory”
  • Molly Porcher (2012) “Continuity and Change in Representations of African History in American Public Schools.”
  • Lawton Salley (2012) “Walter Rodney and the Development of the Postcolonial Anti-Imperial Struggle.”
  • Fatoumatta Kunjo (2010) “Casamance Histories: Lalo Kebba Drammeh’s Performance of the Ngansu-Masing Epic.”
  • Jesse McCree (2007) “Spatial Distance, Social Distance:  White Reactions to an Informal Settlement in Hout Bay, Cape Town and the Politics of Exclusion in Post-Apartheid South Africa”*

 * Indicates honors in Africana studies