I am a historian of southern Africa, African urbanism, and decolonization, with specific expertise in informal settlement and the histories of Mozambique and its capital Maputo.
My 2019 book, Age of Concrete: Housing and the Shape of Aspiration in the Capital of Mozambique (Ohio UP) makes use of an enormous if underutilized open-air historical archive: the streetscape of Maputo’s subúrbios, informal areas where most of the city’s population has lived, now and in the past. Neighborhoods such as these, the norm in cities across Africa, usually appear in urban histories as undifferentiated, ahistorical shantytowns, and in policy briefs as problems to be solved. But the subúrbios are almost as old as Maputo itself. Each of the houses there, built incrementally over a lifetime and more, represents a household’s greatest single investment and largest bequest to generations that follow. The story of house construction in the subúrbios, on tenuous ground and in trying circumstances, is simultaneously a history of how people in Maputo have related to each other and to the colonial and then postcolonial state. Political history is in this sense material history.
My newest project, “A State at Year Zero: An Oral History of Mozambique’s Independence,” funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant from the government of Canada, focuses on the very first flush of independence: the months just before and just after a new flag was flown, on June 25, 1975. People at all levels of Mozambican society were attempting to interpret the colonial past, and rapidly address it, at the very moment that era officially became the past. For these first postcolonial theorists, as it were—government ministers, but also schoolteachers, doctors, nurses, and countless others—the emergency-like circumstances of the time, well before true planning took place, were also opportunities for discovery: of the state bureaucracy and how it worked, and also of Mozambican society in all its diversity.
Age of Concrete: Housing and the Shape of Aspiration in the Capital of Mozambique. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019.
“Maputo.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Oxford University Press, 2016—. Article published November 19, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.013.808.
“The Shape of Aspiration: Clandestine Masonry House Construction in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique (1960-75).” Journal of African History 59, no. 2 (2018): 283-304.
“A Voortrekker Memorial in Revolutionary Maputo.” Journal of Southern African Studies 41, no. 2 (2015): 335-352.
“Chamanculo in Reeds, Wood, Zinc & Concrete.” S.L.U.M. Lab, no. 9 (2014): 43–46.
“From Racial Discrimination to Class Segregation in Postcolonial Urban Mozambique.” In Geographies of Privilege, edited by France Winddance Twine and Bradley Gardener, 231-261. London: Routledge, 2013.
(with Allen F. Isaacman) “Harnessing the Zambezi: How Mozambique’s Planned Mphanda Nkuwa Dam Perpetuates the Colonial Past.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 45, no. 2 (2012): 157-190.
Age of Concrete was a finalist for the 2020 African Studies Association Bethwell A. Ogot Prize for best book in East African Studies.
Aaron Wilford, M.A. student
Jake Harms, M.A. student
Hotel Universo, my research blog, has long been on hiatus, but it stores dozens of entries on the histories of Mozambique, Portugal, and elsewhere.