To be a historian of Africa is to be a historian of the world, to some degree. I am at heart a specialist on modern southern Africa, but I was trained in earlier periods and other regions, as well as global history and European history. All of these illuminate historical relationships and systems on a broad level. To me, Africa is too often neglected as a central locale in recent global history, and both my research and teaching seek to bring forth elements of the unwritten side of African interaction with the world. My current work primarily concerns colonial-era struggles over notions of territory, state control, and accommodation. The issues raised by that cross-cultural interaction have strong comparative and global resonance, both in how colonial rule played out in various settings and in the general process of often willful miscommunication they entailed. Atop this miscommunication is built much of our own image of the world, and this order is now under siege. Therefore, there is a particular relevance to understanding African history that extends far beyond its littorals and into the very heart of what we think we know about our own histories.
My dissertation, "The Cadastre and the Colony," looked at the process of territorial rationalization in South Africa between 1860 and 1913, and the struggles waged over it from various quarters. I am continuing that work now with further investigations of the remarkable survival of the Venda kingdom and Venda identity through various degrees of territorial power and disincorporation between 1830 and the present. I am also broadening my work into a study of cross-cultural encounters in the context of colonial geodesy--the science of divining the shape of the earth by precise triangulation--along an arc of meridian (30 degrees east longitude) measured between South Africa and Egypt between 1875 and 1955. At the same time, I am also exploring new directions in other sorts of environmental histories, as issues of land, health, resources, sustainability, and "development" all interlock and all bear a heavy burden from the colonial past.