Current Institutional Affiliation
Deputy Director

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2000
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Columbia University
Picture Taking and the Production of Urban Identities on the Kenyan Coast, 1940-1980

This dissertation project shall compile a social history of representation in coastal East Africa, specifically Mombasa and Lamu in Kenya. By examining studio portrait photography (late 1880s-present) this research will explore how this region's social and cultural environments have been represented over time and space. To pursue this goal, this study follows four general lines of inquiry: (1) how are the Swahili people constructed in colonial photography (1850-1900) and later, in the more commercial photography along the Swahili coast (1900-1940s)?; (2) what were/are the social roles of photographers in these three cities?; (3) what is the social history implied by studio photographs with regards to symbols of status, gender, dress, and idealized images of individuals and families?; ( 4) finally, what are the different histories and social worlds of Lamu and Mombasa as retrieved from the memory of both the photographers and their subjects? The goal of this study is to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the formation of Swahili coast identities. It shall underscore the special role that images play in the construction of histories. Through archival research, close historical analysis of public records and travel accounts, observation, focus groups, and both formal and informal interviews, this study shall explore the social histories and worlds of Mombasa and Lamu as implied by selected photographs and as commented upon by both the photographers and the subjects themselves.