Top Young Historians: 26 – Lisa A. Lindsay


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

26: Lisa A. Lindsay, 7-24-06

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, July 2004-present (Assistant Professor, 1999-2004)
Area of Research: Lindsay teaches broadly in African history, but her research focuses primarily on the social history of West Africa, particularly Nigeria.
Education: Ph.D. in History (African), University of Michigan, 1996
Major Publications: Lindsay is author of Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern NigeriaLisa Lindsay JPG (Heinemann, 2003), and the coeditor with Stephan F. Miescher of Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa (Heinemann, 2003). She is currently working on Captives as Commodities: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (a textbook under contract with Prentice Hall, to be published in 2007). More recently, and inspired by her teaching on the Atlantic slave trade, Lindsay has been researching the story of a South Carolina ex-slave who in the 1850s migrated to his father’s place of origin in what is now Nigeria. During the 2004-05 academic year she was pursuing this project as a fellow at the National Humanities Center.
Awards: Lindsay is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Article Prize (for “Domesticity and Difference,” AHR, 1999);
UNC Spray-Randleigh Fellowship, 2006;
American Council of Learned Societies Ryskamp Fellowship, 2005-07;
National Humanities Center fellow, 2004-05;
UNC Center for International Studies Faculty Curriculum Development Grant, 2004;
UNC Junior Faculty Development Grant, 2003;
UNC University Research Council Grant, 2002 and 2006;
ACLS research fellowship, spring 2001;
National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship, fall 2000.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 1997-99, and Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History and Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, 1996-97.

Personal Anecdote

White American girls typically do not dream of becoming historians of Africa; nor did I. But growing up in Louisiana in the civil rights era, I couldn’t help but notice the legacies of race and slavery-in the newly-integrated public schools I attended, as well as in the jazz and blues I was learning to play on the saxophone. Later in college and graduate school, I discovered an Africa that was historically connected to me as an American, somewhat familiar to me as a Southerner, and endlessly fascinating to me as a member of the human community.

In the mid-1980s, while I studied international politics at Johns Hopkins University, half a world away apartheid South Africa exploded in street demonstrations and government terror. The semester I took my first African history course, I was arrested with hundreds of others for protesting in front of the South African Embassy in Washington. My comrades and I built a shanty town on the Hopkins quad to urge divestment from South African stocks, and we even took our “port-a-shanty” to sully the premises of offending banks. My political indignation reflected my growing sense that Africa deserved Americans’ attention and fueled my curiosity about the many ways Africans and Americans have been connected in the past.

As a graduate student I concentrated on the history of West Africa because in comparison to South Africa its recent past seemed rather less terrible, and because I had a vague sense that the slave trade had given American Southerners and Atlantic Africans something of a shared history. Since 1991, when I traveled to Nigeria for the first time, I have often noticed its similarities to southern Louisiana. My family’s homeland is swampy, hot, and humid, with loquacious storytellers, lively music, thirsty mosquitoes, and spicy stews. In and around Lagos I found a region that is swampy, hot, and humid, where raconteurs share proverbs, music travels through the night air, mosquitoes never give up, and fiery pepper soup makes Tabasco seem like Cool-Aid. And then there’s the petroleum-soaked political corruption, but maybe now I’m reaching!

The year I lived in Nigeria conducting dissertation research (1993-94), I witnessed three changes of government, two general strikes, countless fuel shortages, and a military coup. I got sick with dysentery, mysterious rashes, and malaria; scabies infected my hands and arms when I worked in a particularly dusty archive. (Flea soap did the trick.) The apartment my husband and I lived in had not been inhabited for a decade, and even after we renovated it there were daily electricity outages and weeks without running water. But people looked after us, as so often happens in Africa, offering care and support as well as adventures. It was through one friend that I got to play saxophone with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Africa’s most innovative and radical pop star, whose politically-charged, infectiously danceable music I had first come to love when I heard it in Baltimore.

Its vibrant rhythms-in music as well as in the daily human pursuits of survival, connection, and delight-are what propel my scholarship in West African history. In the classroom and on paper I try to convey both the distinctiveness of African history and the connections shared between Africa and the rest of the world. My first book was fundamentally comparative, placing southern Nigeria’s gendered labor history in a wider context. My current project emphasizes the links within one family’s history between West Africa and the United States. The goal in all of this work is to intrigue students and readers with what makes Africa different from America and at the same time provoke their empathy for fellow humans half a world away.


By Lisa A. Lindsay

  • This book’s underlying concern is with a broad issue: what effect does the expansion of wage labor have on relationships between men and women and on understandings about how women and men structure their lives? Is the normative pattern that emerged in Western Europe and North America, with men working for wages and women reproducing the household in unpaid labor at home, a universal one? Does long-term wage labor necessarily become a male preserve over time? … Fundamentally, these are questions about the social reproduction of labor. …Working with Gender JPG … [I]n southwestern Nigeria the gendered ideals implicit in colonial policies met an equally powerful but very different body of assumptions about the respective roles of men and women.While the colonial state created the conditions under which nearly all wage jobs were filled by men, this did not mean that it turned men into the major providers for their wives and children, especially since most people did not work for wages and women had access to their own [trading] incomes. … For trade unionists and individual wage earners, the image of male providers was useful for making demands from the colonial state, even it if sat uneasily with women’s important economic activities. At home, steady wages and the breadwinner ideal had implications for men’s marital relationships, household budgets, and self-esteem, even if those budgets were partially kept afloat through women’s contributions. And in negotiations over household resources, women drew upon the fledgling male breadwinner norm to make their own claims to men’s paychecks…. [T]he disjunctures as well as the overlaps between discourse and practice surrounding the male breadwinner norm in southwestern Nigeria suggest not only that people shape their lives according to ideas about gender, but that they shape expressions of gender in order to better their lives. — Lisa A. Lindsay in “Working with Gender”
  • “The 1945 [Nigerian general] strike reveals the gendered nature of colonial discrimination, and opposition to it, in Africa….In Nigeria, as in the rest of the continent, the question of applying universalistic principles to colonial workers was related to what kind of men they were and what kind of households they should live in. … Colonizers used local gender relations and household structures as justifications for racial discrimination in wage setting. At the same time, working men claimed political rights in gendered terms. … The conflicts and debates surrounding the 1945 Nigerian general strike show that tensions between universalizing impulses and African particularities, key to postwar colonial politics, rested in large part on gender and family life-for both colonial officials and African workers. In spite of the active participation of Nigerian women in politics and the economy, the male breadwinner ideal came to stand for respectability and rights, in the colony as in the metropole.” — Lisa A. Lindsay in “Domesticity and Difference,” AHR 104, 3 (June 1999)”

About Lisa A. Lindsay

  • “In this carefully documented archival and field research study, Lindsay takes on the literature about labor in the African formal sector through the lens of the social history of Nigerian railway workers. The choice is an inspired one…. As the title announces, the key theme is gender and domestic life. Here Lindsay presents a more historically nuanced interpretation than others, largely by including the place of the family in labor struggles for pay, benefits and working conditions alongside a social history of workers’ family life….By maintaining her own theme, Lindsay is able to give full play to her archival and interview material to show the internal complexities of the familial imagery that made it such a key resource…. This excellent study allows us to consider such a possibility, and to follow the implications for the analysis of economic life in the turbulent present.” — Jane I. Guyer reviewing “Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern Nigeria”
  • “This collection of essays by twelve distinguished African, African-American, Euro-American, and European historians (plus two anthropologists and one scholar of religion) examines the construction of gender roles in twentieth-century sub-Saharan Africa. With two exceptions—an essay about Nigerian men in the 1990s and another about a female king in Nigeria—the essays are about the interaction of African men as workers, herders, teachers, soldiers, policemen, and nationalists with colonial authorities, missionaries, and colonists. The collection includes chapters covering eight countries of East, West, and Southern Africa (four are about Nigeria and two about Ghana). The theme threading through the volume is the ways in which African men responded to colonial policies that affected, and in some cases profoundly changed, their traditional gender roles…. The editors write that gender—male and female—is “crucial to understanding the history of modern Africa, its women, and its men” (p. 22). Beyond understanding, there is a need for insights into the ways these superb studies of masculinity contribute to the transformation of gender inequalities. — Meredeth Turshen, Rutgers University reviewing “Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa”
  • “In this anthology, scholars juggle regional studies with men’s studies. They question whether Connell’s theories on masculinities can apply to the African continent. In exploring masculinities, they see four lines of inquiry: 1) the idea of the African “big man” is changing; 2) colonialism helped to shape African views on manhood; 3) independence struggles were gendered; and 4) the modern era has affected African masculinities.
    This book brilliantly discusses how Africans are subjects, rather than objects. Though whites, imperialists, and colonialists are brought up often, African wars, unionizing, bravery ceremonies, and other willful actions are emphasized. Though Foucault is never mentioned in this book, the idea that power is never absolute resounds clearly here.
    Though the editors very consciously view their work as lying within the men’s studies field, in no way are women left out of the picture. The desire to find wives, keep wives, and be with wives is a continual staple of African manhood.
    Traditional scholars should not be scared away from this book. Many academics may feel that masculinity is a nebulous topic that should be left for babbling postmodernists. However, this book would satisfy traditional scholars. The book discusses history, economics, and sociology in very concrete ways; it merely adds gender into the broader picture….
    I liked this work. I hope more scholarship is produced on African men and other men of the developing world. This was an important intersectional work. I applaud the thinkers paving the way in this burgeoning field.” — Jeffery Mingo on reviewing “Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa “
  • “She really cares about her students. She recognizes that everyone in the class brings something unique to the class and that all opinions are worth hearing. Her enthusiasm for the subject is contagious, and even though I wasn’t too excited about taking the class at first, it wound up being one of my favorites at Carolina!”…
    “Fabulous Prof-one of the best-enthusiastic without being obnoxious, highly intelligent & knowledgeable-she is the reason I chose history as my major!”…
    “Professor Lindsay is the best teacher I have had at UNC. She’s lively and funny, and deeply intelligent without being hard to understand. Her common sense approach makes you feel like you understood this all along, you just hadn’t had the information you needed.”…
    “Lindsay is by far one of my favorite professors at UNC. She made me switch my major to History. If you really want to learn a lot about Africa, I suggest taking her classes and talking to her about the subject matter apart from class.”…
    “One of the best professors I’ve had. Amazing person and truly loves the material she teaches. Sparkling personality and enthusiasm makes subject matter come alive. Teaches clearly and will readily answer questions on the spot if you are confused. Take her classes!”…
    “Dr. Lindsay is one of the most inspiring professors I’ve come across at Carolina. Her eyes sparkle when she teaches, and she cares not only about her subject matter, but about her students. I wish the history dept. had 20 more professors like her!” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, July 23, 2006 at 6:22 PM

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