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David Bresnahan

Lecturer
David Bresnahan

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Biography

Ph.D., African History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2018
M.A., African History, Ohio University, 2010
B.A., History, Elizabethtown College, 2008

I am an historian of East Africa and the Indian Ocean world. Very broadly, I am interested in exploring ways to incorporate small-scale societies and places seldom visible in global histories into larger macro-narratives. My current book project is a longue durée study of the Mijikenda-speaking societies that live adjacent to the Swahili port city of Mombasa (in contemporary Kenya). Departing from scholarship that analyzes East Africa’s participation in early global exchange solely through Islamic maritime networks operating out of Swahili urban centers like Mombasa, my research shifts attention to social and economic innovations in the port city’s rural, non-Muslim interior. These communities shrunk their settlements at the same moments that Mombasa urbanized; they were very receptive to the ritual knowledge of outsiders, but rejected Islam; and they pioneered long-distance inland trade routes that transformed East Africa’s economy, but only participated selectively in maritime commerce. I conceptualize the project as a “dissonant” global history because it shows that Mijikenda speakers’ divergences from Indian Ocean world norms often generated new possibilities for interconnectivity along East Africa’s littoral.

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